Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

GenusToxostoma (1)
SizeLength: 23 - 30 cm (2)
Wingspan: 29 - 32 cm (2)
Weight61 - 89 g (2)

The brown thrasher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Thrush-like in appearance, the brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is a relatively large, skulking bird native to North America (2) (3). It is reddish-brown with white underparts which are boldly patterned with black (2) (3). It also possesses a long tail and long, thick-set legs (2). The male and female brown thrasher are similar in appearance and size, while the juvenile has pale yellow-brown spotting on its underside and bars of pale yellow-brown on the wings, compared to the white bars of the adult’s wings (2). This species also has striking yellow eyes (2).

The brown thrasher has an amazing repertoire of songs, one of the largest of any North American bird (2) (3). Its songs generally consist of a loud, long series of variable phrases, with each phrase usually repeated twice and punctuated by a pause (2) (3). It also occasionally mimics the calls of other birds as part of its repertoire (3).

The brown thrasher is native to North America, where its breeding range includes much of the eastern and central United States and stretches as far north as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec in Canada (3).

During the winter, the brown thrasher moves from the northern portion of its range to the south, wintering from Oklahoma south to Florida and Texas. It can also occasionally be found in New Mexico and in western parts of North America, and has even been recorded on two occasions in Europe (3).

During the breeding season, the brown thrasher prefers open, brushy country where it can be found in a variety of habitats including thickets, scrubby fields and riparian woodlands (2) (3). It also occasionally breeds in urban habitats such as gardens (3).

The winter habitat of the brown thrasher includes various woodlands, thickets, hedgerows and gardens (3). 

The diet of the brown thrasher consists mainly of invertebrates, predominantly beetles, although fruits and nuts are increasingly consumed outside of the breeding season (3). This species is a ground forager, searching for its food by using its long bill to sweep through leaf litter and soil (2) (3).

The brown thrasher breeds from May to June, with the male singing from conspicuous places such as treetops in order to establish a territory and attract a mate. Although the brown thrasher does not engage in elaborate courtship displays, the male has been observed to sing a soft courtship song to the female (3). Both sexes take part in nest building, constructing a bulky cup of twigs in dense shrubs, or sometimes on the ground (2) (3).

A clutch of between two and six eggs is laid in the nest and these are incubated by both the male and female brown thrasher (3). The chicks hatch after 10 to 14 days and are fed by both adults until they leave the nest, fully feathered, at only 9 to 13 days old (2) (3). During the breeding season, the brown thrasher defends its nest aggressively. It will chase and attack potential predators and has been observed attacking snakes, dogs and even humans (3). Adults will also engage in ‘broken-wing’ displays, feigning injury in order to lure potential predators away from fledglings (3).

Although the brown thrasher is widespread and relatively common, it nevertheless faces a number of threats (3). It is known to be susceptible to pesticides and is also noted as one of the most common species to be hit by cars in parts of Illinois (3). As with many species, the degradation of the brown thrasher’s habitat is likely to play a role in its future (3).

The brown thrasher is also vulnerable to natural threats such as predation by snakes and brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) (3).

There are currently no known specific conservation efforts aimed at the brown thrasher. Priorities for the future include further research into the life history of this species in order to quantify potential threats and how best to address them (3).

Find out more about the brown thrasher:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
  2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Brown thrasher, Toxostoma rufum (September, 2011)
  3. Cavitt, J.F. and Haas, C.A. (2000) Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  4. BirdLife International (September, 2011)