Bendire's Thrasher Life History

Habitat

Habitat Deserts

Bendire’s Thrashers thrive in desert habitats including arid grasslands, shrublands, and even some agricultural habitats. In the northern parts of the range they also breed in sage-juniper desert. Farther south, they occur in deserts with scattered cholla, yucca, mesquite, palo verde, acacia, agave, or Joshua tree. Though Bendire's range overlaps with Curve-billed Thrashers, they typically use more open areas with shorter vegetation, while Curve-billed uses cactus forests and stream corridors. In southern New Mexico and Arizona, Curve-billed Thrashers often nest in cholla-dominated deserts and may exclude Bendire’s there. Bendire’s Thrashers are only rarely reported in locations above 8,000 feet in elevation, where oaks, fir, or pine are the dominant species.

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Food

Food Insects

Like most thrashers, Bendire’s forages mostly on the ground, using its bill to uncover and dislodge prey, mostly insects and spiders. When prey is lodged in the ground, these birds peck, probe, and hammer with the bill almost like a woodpecker to extract the item. They also flip over vegetation and stones when searching for prey. Unlike some thrashers, Bendire’s rarely use their feet to uncover prey, and they use the bill for digging less than longer-billed species do. On occasion, Bendire’s Thrashers climb into shrubs or small trees to glean insects or take fruit. Prey items include grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, termites, and caterpillars.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Shrub

Most nests are set in shrubs, trees, or cacti, especially cholla, mesquite, juniper, yucca, and Joshua tree, about 5 feet off the ground.

Nest Description

Male and female build a bowl-shaped stick nest neatly lined with grass, hair, rootlets, feathers, and sometimes human-made products such as wool or cotton. Nests average about 10 inches across and 6 inches tall, with interior cup 3 inches across and 2.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Egg Description:

White or very pale blue-green with dark speckles.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless.

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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

Often seen in pairs year-round, Bendire’s Thrashers are probably monogamous in their mating system. In the southern parts of the range, where they are nonmigratory, Bendire’s Thrashers remain year-round in the same territory, presumably defending it throughout the year against others of their species. In a few sites where wintering birds were studied (outside of the usual breeding range), individual birds appeared to remain within wintering territories as well. During the breeding season, males sing somewhat conspicuously from perches on shrubs or small trees, but no courtship display is known. Both parents construct the nest, and both feed the young. Family groups sometimes forage together for several weeks after the young fledge.

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Conservation

Conservation Red Watch List

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Bendire’s Thrasher populations declined by an estimated 4% per year between 1968 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of about 86% during that time. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 83,000, rates the species a 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and includes it on the Red Watch List. If current rates of decline continue, Bendire's Thrasher will lose another half of its population by 2035. In some areas, Bendire’s Thrasher may have benefited from open areas created by livestock grazing, but this has been outweighed by development and destruction of its preferred habitats.

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Credits

England, A. Sidney and W. F. Laudenslayer Jr. (1993). Bendire's Thrasher (Toxostoma bendirei), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2019). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 1019 Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2019.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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