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Sage Thrasher

Oreoscoptes montanus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: MIMIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

This smallest of the thrashers is a widespread denizen of the West’s vast sagebrush steppe. Sage Thrashers are furtive creatures that hunt for insects beneath a protective sagebrush canopy. In spring the males sing seemingly endless cascades of song from tall perches. Although they are reminiscent of mockingbirds, Sage Thrashers are browner, more spotted, and lack bold white wing flashes. Their sagebrush habitat is vulnerable to degradation via grazing, development, and invasive plants.

Birds of North America Online
Year End Match

Keys to identification Help

Thrushlike
Thrushlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Sage Thrashers are fairly small songbirds with relatively long legs and tail. They are the smallest of the thrashers. The bill is much shorter and straighter than the bills of other thrashers. When perched, Sage Thrashers often stand erect with their wings slightly drooped, like a thrush.

  • Color Pattern

    Sage Thrashers are drab gray above with spotted underparts. Black spotting on the breast turns to fine streaks along cinnamon-tinged flanks. In summer, these streaks can become less distinct from feather wear. Tips of the outer tail feathers are white, there are two whitish wingbars, and the eye is yellow.

  • Behavior

    The often shy Sage Thrasher runs stealthily through the brush, along corridors of bare ground. During spring and summer, singing males perch prominently atop the tallest shrubs. When alarmed, Sage Thrashers flick their tail upward repeatedly.

  • Habitat

    Look for Sage Thrashers in expanses of dense sagebrush with scattered bunchgrasses and bare ground. During migration and winter, they occupy a broader rage of open, arid habitats, such as grasslands with scattered shrubs and open pinyon-juniper woodlands.

Range Map Help

Sage Thrasher Range Map
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Similar Species

Northern Mockingbirds are lankier than Sage Thrashers, with a longer tail and a slightly shorter bill. They are also more contrastingly patterned, with smooth gray upperparts, clean whitish underparts, and bold white flashes in the wings and tail. Bendire’s Thrasher and Curve-billed Thrasher of the Southwestern deserts have longer tails than Sage Thrashers, with much longer and more downcurved bills. They also have buffier or browner underparts than Sage Thrashers, with less prominent breast spotting that never extends to the belly or lengthens to streaks near the flanks.

Find This Bird

Look for Sage Thrashers in relatively undisturbed stretches of sagebrush. Your best bet is in spring, when the males are likely to spend much of the early morning out in the open, singing. Listen for a long, bubbling stream of notes and chatters, or a low call note that sounds like a Red-winged Blackbird.