Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

brown thrasher

Brown thrasher./Ed Guthro

General: This large, long-tailed bird has bright rufous coloring above, and a pale breast heavily streaked with black. Searching for food on the ground, brown thrashers use their down-curved bills to pick up and sling aside leaves, uncovering uncover insects (more than half of the annual diet) and nuts. Brown thrashers also eat berries and other small fruits. Brown thrashers are shy birds and may flee into escape cover at the sight of a human. They prefer thick and thorny habitats, including hedgerows, forest margins and clearings, areas of dense low trees, and old fields overgrown with shrubs. Brown thrashers build their nests in tangled cover, typically 1.5 to 20 feet above the ground and occasionally on the ground itself.

Status:) Breeding Bird Survey censuses have tracked a significant decline in the species’ population since the mid-1960s, and many states in both the East and the Midwest classify the brown thrasher as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Loss of young forest and shrubland habitat is one factor in this ongoing decline; cowbird parasitism and nest predation may also play a role.

How to Help Brown Thrashers: Forest management techniques that encourage dense shrubby growth can boost local populations. Two approaches seem to work: thinning the overstory canopy of forest trees, which allows light to reach the ground and low cover to flourish; and conducting clearcut timber harvests in wooded areas, spurring the regrowth of trees and shrubs. Brown thrashers reach their highest population densities around three years after cutting.

Both public and private landowners can create habitat by using these techniques. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

For more detailed information on this animal, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing brown thrashers and other young forest wildlife.