Brown Thrasher

Toxostoma rufum


Early Spring Date: March 23
Late Spring Date: May 26
Most Frequently Seen April 12-25

Brown Thrashers are common breeding birds in the Washington metro area. They are uncommon at Monticello Park and do not breed there. They start to show up at the park in early to mid-April. They can be difficult to find unless they are singing, which they usually do not do in the park. Most Brown Thrashers winter in states to the south, but a few spend the winter in the Washington Area. Migrants from the south usually arrive earlier than other spring migrants, because they have a shorter distance to travel. A more reliable place to see them is Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where they sing on territory during the early spring.

Where to See Them in the Park

Brown Thrashers usually skulk and are difficult to see. They are most likely to be in low vegetation at the upper end of the park. On rare occasions, you could see one in the stream.

Physical Description


Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Photo by William Young

Brown Thrashers are mimic thrushes, related to mockingbirds and catbirds. They look like the equivalent of a mockingbird with red hair and freckles. The head and back are rufous, and each wing has two white wingbars. The underparts are light with heavy brown streaks. They have intense yellow eyes, and their long dark bill curves downward. They sometimes forage on the ground.

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Juvenile Brown Thrasher
Juvenile Brown Thrasher - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

Like the other members of their family, Brown Thrashers are accomplished mimics. They sing each of the songs they are copying 2 or 3 times. The mockingbird sings each song 4 or 5 times, and the catbird sings each song only once. When on breeding territory, Brown Thrashers often perch on a branch near the top of a tree early in the morning and sing loudly and persistently.

Hear the vocalizations of the Brown Thrasher.

Notes

Thrashers can be aggressive, even though their name has nothing to do with thrashing things. John James Audubon's Brown Thrasher painting in his Birds of America labeled the species as the Ferruginous Thrush, with ferruginous meaning "the color of iron rust". Thrushes and thrashers are in different families, but one of the species for which a Brown Thrasher could be mistaken is a Wood Thrush. The Wood Thrush is plumper, lacks wingbars, has dark eyes, and has spots rather than streaks on the breast.

Origin of Names

Common Name: Brown from the plumage. Thrasher from thrusher, a thrush.
Genus Name: Toxostoma means "bow mouth", from the curved bill.
Species Name: Rufum means "reddish", from the plumage.

Brown Thrasher video footage

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