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Crissal Thrasher Life History



Crissal Thrashers live in deserts and dry, scrubby or brushy habitats, especially along dry creek beds (arroyos) or in canyons and foothills. They show a strong preference for mesquite thickets (called “bosques”), brushy riparian corridors (including those with invasive saltcedar), and chaparral-like scrub in canyons. They tend to avoid very open, low desert with yucca and cholla (habitat favored by LeConte’s Thrasher), and usually do not venture far upslope into pinyon-oak-juniper woodlands, preferring instead the habitats in between, where there is an extensive shrub layer. However, their habitat varies across their large range, and in some areas, they nest among scattered pinyon pine, oak, and juniper.

Crissal Thrashers usually do not inhabit areas higher than 7,000 feet elevation in the United States, but in Mexico they range to nearly 8,000 feet. Unlike Curve-billed Thrasher, Crissal seldom appears in suburban areas. In the United States, typical plant species associated with Crissal Thrasher nesting habitat include catclaw acacia, honey mesquite, screwbean mesquite, desert-thorn, desert ironwood, desert plume, desert apricot, desert willow, seep willow, cottonwood, and smaller species such as big sagebrush, wormwood, hop-sage, arrowweed, bitterbrush, little-leaf squawbush, algerita, javelina bush, and various Mormon tea, buckthorn, manzanita, and brickellia species. In lower elevations, they sometimes occupy habitats dominated by cacti, creosote, and various saltbush (genus Atriplex) species, including quailbush, spiny saltbush, and four-wing saltbush. In higher elevations, they may nest in brushy areas where there are scattered, small oaks (gray, scrub, Arizona white, Emory, and golden-cup), pinyon pine, and alligator juniper. In places where two or three other species of thrasher are present, Crissal normally favors more thickly vegetated habitats than the others.

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InsectsCrissal Thrashers eat mostly insects and spiders. They forage mostly on the ground, using their large, curved bills to flip over vegetation and stones and to excavate holes in search of prey. They brace themselves with their strong legs and tail as they forage, sometimes probing into crevices, bunches of grass, or other vegetation. They also eat fruits and seeds, especially when not nesting. Their prey includes spiders, false scorpions, and adults and larvae of crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, ants, bugs, butterflies, termites, flies, and earwigs. They consume juniper berries and wild grape and probably other fruit in season. Crissal Thrashers seldom visit feeding stations. Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubNests are set in very dense shrubs or trees, often in mesquite, usually about 4 feet above the ground and often directly beneath a large branch.

Nest Description

The nest is built of twigs and lined with rootlets, plant stems, hair, bark strips, grass, and feathers. Nests average about 12 inches across and 5 inches tall, with interior cup 3.1 inches across and 1.7 inches deep (a rather small cup for such a large bird).

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-4 eggs
Egg Description:Pale blue and unmarked.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with sparse down.
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Ground ForagerCrissal Thrasher pairs usually defend nesting territories year-round, and males sing any time of year to mark territory, typically most vigorously and conspicuously at the beginning of the breeding season. In lower elevations, the nesting season begins as early as January, with first eggs laid in February, whereas birds at higher elevations may begin nesting in April. Nesting activity continues into July in some areas. Males often sing after the breeding season in fall. Pairs of Crissal Thrashers are often widely spaced across the landscape, interacting infrequently with neighboring pairs, but during conflicts they may chase rivals away, sometimes raising the wings as they run at them. Both male and female share incubating and chick-rearing duties, and some pairs raise two broods, especially in the southern parts of the range and at lower elevations. Several observations suggest that parents may drive young birds out of their territory after fledging and a short period of dependence. Crissal Thrasher is not migratory over most of its range, though in the northwestern portion of the range they may withdraw to lower elevations or migrate south. Back to top


Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations of Crissal Thrasher in the United States were stable or declined slightly between 1968 and 2016. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 110,000 and rates the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. Loss of habitat to agriculture, grazing, and development threatens some populations.

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Cody, Martin L. (1999). Crissal Thrasher (Toxostoma crissale), 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. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Shuford, W. D., and T. Gardali (2008). California bird species of special concern. A ranked assessment of species, subspecies, and distinct populations of birds of immediate conservation concern in California. Volume 1, Studies of Western Birds. Western Field Ornithologists and California Department of Fish and Game, Camarillo and Sacramento, CA, USA.

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

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