Brown Thrasher At Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Brown Thrasher At Lynde Shores Conservation Area

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An early spring rendezvous in Whitby allowed Bob and me to fit in a stop at Lynde Shores Conservation Area while in the area.  The Cranberry West Tract turned up no birds of note, but we did spy a family of deer, a young buck, doe and two fawns, that kept their distance in the thick brush.  We then popped over to Lynde Shores for a quick tour around the bird feeding trail.  Near one of the feeders, a beautiful Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) was tucked low in the crown of a fallen tree.

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Like ourselves, the Thrasher was taking advantage of some late afternoon sunshine where it cast a wide circle of warmth in the middle of the forest.

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It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, made even more so in my case because there were numerous Wild Turkeys skittering around the area of that feeder, picking up tidbits of food on the surface of the snow.  If you look closely, you can see the Thrasher in the very centre of this photo, hidden in amongst the twigs of this tree.

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What initially caught my eye was the bright reddish-brown back on the bird when illuminated by some small ray of sunlight that filtered in through the branches.

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First taking pictures of the Thrasher from a distance, I could see that the bird had no interest in moving from its secure location.  I slowly crept closer and circled the bird’s perch for different points of view.  My photograph shows the slightly downturned bill and sharp yellow eye of the Brown Thrasher, the only thrasher species common to areas east of Texas.

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Once I had my eyes trained on the Brown Thrasher, it seemed odd to me that it could remain so well hidden when its plumage is so boldly patterned.  Brown Thrashers are fairly large songbirds, slightly bigger than an American Robin, and everything about their slender bodies has long proportions including long, sturdy legs and a long tail, which is often cocked upwards the way wrens hold their tails.

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Bob and I spent a good half hour to 45 minutes observing the Brown Thrasher and it seemed nonplussed by our presence, even appearing to have a little nap.   It is no surprise that the Thrasher remained on its perch because this species of bird spends most of its time on or near the ground.  For about half of every day, they loaf about in low bushes or deciduous thickets.

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I was really taken with the pretty reddish-brown plumage on the Thrasher’s back as it was a rich shade similar to that of a fox.  The buffy white chest is set off by teardrop-shaped markings that are dark brown, and two conspicuous black and white wing bars help with positive identification.

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Brown Thrashers not only perch at length in shrubby tangles but also make use of dense cover for the purposes of foraging.  Their diet is made up of quite a range of things – fruits, nuts, insects, earthworms, snails and even the occasional lizard or frog.  Towards the end of summer, these birds are more herbivorous preferring  seeds, nuts, grains and fruit; in winter, they opt for fruit and acorns.

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One might wonder how these beautiful songbirds can access the nutmeat inside an acorn, but the long strong bill is capable of hammering the nuts to remove the shell.  When foraging for insects, they sweep their long bills back and forth through leaf litter revealing insects and other invertebrates in the process.  One very interesting fact is that a Brown Thrasher has more vertebrae in its neck than either a giraffe or camel.  This enables them to catch rapidly moving insects because their necks are extremely flexible.

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Brown Thrashers come by their name because their movements through noisy leaf litter in search of food results in a thrashing sound.  The name may also have something to do with the fact that these birds thrash or smash large insects before consuming them.

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As Bob and I continued to film and photograph the Brown Thrasher, another birdwatcher happened along.  He was a little more aggressive in his approach, which ended up causing the Thrasher to become agitated.  It became more alert, changed positions on its perch, and finally flew a short 30 feet into a neighboring tree.  Thrashers fly quickly with shallow and jerky wing beats, usually covering only a short distance at a time.  Its position above us in a tree allowed for a different perspective.

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Brown Thrashers will usually utter a cackling call when threatened or bothered, but this one remained silent.  I would loved for it to have broken into song because, one, I have never heard a Brown Thrasher sing, and two, they are known for their vast repertoire of complex melodic phrases.  Alas, the little bird didn’t utter a peep.

red breasted woodpecker - lynde shores conservation area - whitby

While the Brown Thrasher bobbed on a twig that was gently tossed by the breeze, a Red-bellied Woodpecker landed on the trunk of the same tree.  We always delight in seeing these colourful woodpeckers and have come across them numerous times at Lynde Shores.

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Despite the apparent timid nature of the Brown Thrasher, it could become very territorial if defending its nest, so much so that it would not hesitate to attack either a human or a dog, striking the interloper hard enough to draw blood.  As it was, breeding season was still months away, but I could not help thinking that the bird’s presence there on a cold, late-winter day was a sure harbinger of spring.

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