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Brown Thrasher

Toxostoma rufum ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: MIMIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly downcurved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas. Brown Thrashers are exuberant singers, with one of the largest repertoires of any North American songbird.

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Songs

Brown Thrashers, like catbirds and mockingbirds, are mimics with extremely varied repertoires consisting of more than 1,100 song types. The male sings a loud, long series of doubled phrases with no definite beginning or end, described by some people as “plant a seed, plant a seed, bury it, bury it, cover it up, cover it up, let it grow, let it grow, pull it up, pull it up, eat it, eat it.” While mockingbirds tend to repeat phrases three or more times, Brown Thrashers typically sing phrases only twice before moving on. They include somewhat crude imitations of other species in their songs, including Chuck-will’s-widow, Northern Flicker, White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush, and Northern Cardinal.

Calls

Their calls consist of one to a few repeated notes, the most common of which sounds like a smacking kiss. Other calls include harsh, slurred, whistles, soft chirrups, and hissing sounds.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Brown Thrashers may come to feeders on or near the ground with dense cover close by. You can also attract them by planting shrubs that produce berries.

Find This Bird

To find Brown Thrashers, keep your eyes and ears alert around tangled thickets, hedgerows or forest edges in central and eastern North America. Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they rummage through the leaf litter. During spring and early summer, males climb higher to sing from exposed perches. Listen for a song with a pattern of a Northern Mockingbird, but with phrases repeated only in pairs rather than in triplets.