Brown Thrasher PS IMG_8442

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Toxostoma rufum

Text and Photos by Peter Vankevich

One of the three mimics on Ocracoke. Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird are the other two. This is a large songbird bird with a long slightly curved bill, bright yellow eyes, wing bars, rufous back, long tail and a white breast with dark bold streaks and spots. It is sometimes confused with the shorter Wood Thrush.  During breeding season, they eat primarily insects and throughout much of the year feast on berries and fruit.

Their song is a loud, long, continuous series of extremely variable song units. Their calls consist of one to a few repeated notes, the most common of which sounds like a smacking kiss.  They also have calls that have been described as harsh, slurred, whistles, soft chirrups, and hissing sounds.

Distribution includes suitable habitat throughout eastern and central United  States, southern and central Canada.

Listen :
(audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)

When to see:  Possible year-round, perhaps more common in spring and fall as northern birds migrate and there are more fledglings in  post-breeding season.

Where:   Campground area, nature trail, Springer’s Point, possible wherever there are dense thickets and shrubs. They can also be seen flying across route 12 between the village and the Hatteras ferry dock.


Brown Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia since 1935, officially recognized in 1970.

Clearing of forests creating brushy habitats may have increased their numbers in some areas of their breeding range.

It is noted for having about one thousand song units in its repertory. Unlike the precise Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrashers can only crudely mimics other birds.

Thrashers nest in thick shrubs or in the lower parts of leafy trees. Because of the lower nesting area, snakes are considered to be one of the greatest threats to newly hatched thrashers.  Whether there is a cause and effect to this threat, thrashers fledge in one of the shortest times for passerine birds with an average of only nine days.

One of the greatest nature books of all time is the 1841 publication of Birds of America by John James Audubon. This large book consists of 435 hand-colored, life-size prints depicting nearly 500 bird species of North America.  Whereas previous artistic depictions of birds were rather stiff and formal, Audubon brought life to them.  With the Brown Thrasher (which he also called the Brown Thrush and the Ferruginous Mockingbird), Audubon used high drama in his painting of this bird, depicting a snake attacking a nest and holding the mother in its grasp. Her mate and another thrasher are counter-attacking. Now that is solidarity!plate-116-ferrunginous-thrush-611-final

Many people are familiar with Audubon’s artwork, but not his writings where he can be equally dramatic.

Here is one of his more of his colorful observations of the Brown Thrasher’s singing ability:

“Whenever a fair morning occurs, it mounts the topmost twig of a detached tree, and pours forth its loud, richly varied, and highly melodious song. It scarcely possesses the faculty of imitation, but is a steady performer; and, although it sings for hours at a time, seldom, if ever, commits errors while repeating the beautiful lessons set to it by Nature, all of which it studies for months during spring and summer.

Ah! reader, that I could repeat to you its several cadences, all so full of sweetness and melody, that one might imagine each last trill, as it dies on the ear, the careful lullaby of some blessed mother chanting her babe to repose;–that I could imitate its loudest notes, surpassed only by those of that unrivalled vocalist, the Mocking-bird! 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.”

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Brown Thrasher feeding PS IMG_8375

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