The wonderful song of the brown thrasher
While picking blueberries recently at a favorite spot of mine, not far from Itasca State Park, I was thrilled to observe a family of one of my favorite birds to watch and listen to. A striking bird, few birds can match the beautiful red-brown color of the appropriately named brown thrasher.
Sometimes mistakenly referred to as a species of thrush, brown thrashers are related to mockingbirds, catbirds, and seven other species of thrashers found throughout North America. However, only one thrasher exists in Minnesota — the brown thrasher.
Brown thrashers also belong to a collection of birds of the family Mimidae, which is often referred to as, simply, mimids. The word mimid is derived from mimic, and as anyone can attest, brown thrashers and the closely related gray catbird are excellent mimics of different sounds and of other bird calls and songs (but not as accomplished a mimic as its other relative, the northern mockingbird).
This brown thrasher, a summertime resident throughout all of Minnesota, is the most widespread of the eight species of thrashers. The other thrashers, all located in the southern, southwestern, and western parts of the United States, include the long-billed, Bendire's, curve-billed, California, Crissal, Le Conte's, and sage thrashers.
All but one thrasher, the sage thrasher, are similar in body design, shape of head and beak, and length of tail. Interestingly, it's the sage thrasher that looks like the thrush of the bunch. Its overall appearance, including the plumage, is more thrush/robin-like than any of the other thrasher species.
The brown thrasher is one of those birds that can practically live right under our noses from year to year without our hardly noticing that the bird exists. Indeed, without a good ear for bird calls and songs, many people never know that brown thrashers are nearby, given the species' propensity for occupying dense thickets and rarely coming out for us to see. And like another of their close relatives, the gray catbird, brown thrashers prefer the security of heavy foliage and dark shadows of dense shrubs and trees of the forest understory.
The song of a singing male brown thrasher defending his territory is a sweet melody to be sure. Once heard, his song is not easily forgotten. Often described as "rich, melodious, sweet, and clear," one thing to "note" is that the brown thrasher enjoys repeating himself. His musical phrases are repeated two to three times as he goes through his vocal repertoire of phrases.
Authors of wild bird field guide books often like to describe songs of birds in words, as an aid for our ears and brains to register and forever recognize the songsters' identities. Take for example the song of the white-throated sparrow, which is usually written out as, "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody."
In the case of our brown thrasher, his song is often written in its repeated phraseology such as, "Chuck it, chuck it. Hoe it, hoe it," and so on. This method, a method that assists our memories, is called mnemonics. Another popular brown thrasher song mnemonic is, "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."
Who knew that birding could be so fun?!
At this writing, mated pairs of brown thrashers are busily taking care of their nestlings that, by now, have likely fledged. Earlier, at the time of incubation, both the male and the female shared incubation duties of four to six light-colored, speckled eggs. And following an incubation period of 10 days to two weeks, the eggs hatch, and, once again, each pair shares parenting duties by feeding their new family a healthy supply of insects.
The nests of brown thrashers are located in dense thickets, often low, within thick shrubs, especially in thorny shrubs and trees such as hawthorn, gooseberry, and prickly ash coverts.
Consisting of an assemblage of materials such as stems of grass and other vegetation, dead leaves, strips of bark, and small twigs and rootlets, the nests are built cooperatively by the pair that can take up to a week to build. Nestlings are able to leave the nest, fully feathered and flying, as early as nine days, but usually closer to two weeks. One brood per season is typical, but up to two broods per season also occurs as well.
John J. Audubon, in his book Birds of America, called the brown thrasher "The Brown or Ferruginous Thrush," hence one of the reasons why the brown thrasher was once believed to be a member of the thrush family. Writing fondly of the brown thrasher song, Audubon colorfully described the song, ". . . pours forth its loud, richly varied, and highly melodious song . . . But, alas! It is impossible for me to convey to you the charms of the full song of the Brown Thrush; you must go to its own woods and there listen to it. In the southern districts, it now and then enlivens the calm of autumnal days by its song, but it is generally silent after the breeding season."
Yes, the beautiful brown thrasher with its rich song and rich red-brown plumage and long tail, curved beak, and yellow eyes is a sight to behold and listen to, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.