How many songs do you know? How many could you sing from memory? A hard question, likely, but I doubt many of us could remember any more than a few hundred, at most, from memory.
There is a beautiful bird in our backyard right now that knows and sings in excess of 3,000 songs. No, that’s not a typo, for researchers have determined the brown thrasher has more than 3,000 distinct songs — and no songbook — all of them stored in a tiny bird brain and retrieved at will. That is absolutely astounding.
Brown thrashers got their name from the thrashing sound they make as they forage for food in dried leaves and other vegetation on the ground. Where the “brown” came from is beyond me, because, in fact, they possess beautiful rufous- or rusty-coloured feathers on their back, wings and long tail. The underparts of the bird are buff with black streaks. Additional identifying features are the bright orange-yellow eyes and the downward-curved bill, all of which make them easy to identify by sight. But their wonderful, relentless, warbling songs are what really make a bird lover take note. Males and females are similar in colouration and size.
The brown thrasher is the state
bird of Georgia and its name
and likeness were given to the
NHL team, the Atlanta Thrashers,
before they moved to Winnipeg
and became the Winnipeg Jets.
Brown thrashers are secretive birds, frequenting bushes, thickets and scrubby hedgerows and scrub land. They scoot into dense cover when they are disturbed. At times, they will wander into urban parks and scruffy underbrush. Our property, lined with a thick cedar hedge, is also a welcomed venue for them.
Nests are built in fairly low bushes, and the female will lay four or five pale blue eggs dappled with light brown spots. Females alone take care of the incubation, which lasts about two weeks. Both male and female feed the young. Most couples will have two broods per year. Males are very protective of the nest and the surrounding area, singing loudly at the first indication of an intruder in their territory. They have been known to attack people and dogs that encroach on the nest. They use their long, downward-curved bill to flip over decaying vegetation to locate insects and grubs on the ground. They will also forage for berries when they are available.
The species population numbers remain fairly stable in spite of the decline of significant habitat (i.e. the loss of hedgerows and scrub land in many parts of Ontario).
On your next trip into the country, search out a scrubby fence row and take some time to relax. Listen for the melodious songs of the brown thrasher.
Written by David A. Homer.
Nuts for Nature
Don’t miss out on the Nuts for Nature Carden Family Festival. It’s a full day of activities and displays at the Carden Recreation Centre and, thanks to sponsors, it’s free to attend. See a full description of the event on our website.