Thrasher Thrasher

Ridge and Valley Improvisation, from the Undiscovery Channel on Vimeo

I was up on top of the ridge this morning, bending down to photograph some trailing arbutus blossoms, when I heard the brassy, jazzy phrases of a brown thrasher for the first time since last summer. Since I don’t have any other way to record audio in the field, I shot a video with my digital camera. (Note the traffic noise from I-99, over a mile away on the far side of the mountain.) An hour later, a thrasher was singing in my parents’ front yard — possibly the same bird.

If you’re familiar with either of its close relatives, the catbird or the mockingbird, you’ll recognize the tone quality and improvisational character, but what distinguishes the thrasher is his tendency to sing most phrases twice. He also does far fewer impersonations of other birds than either a catbird or a mocker, and is the most creative of the three:

So far, researchers have documented between 1000 and 2000 songs, depending on which researchers you listen to. Not only that, but brown thrashers actually sing two songs simultaneously even though they emerge from their throats as a single song, according to Barry Kent MacKay in his informative book Bird Songs.

Every year brown thrashers learn more songs despite singing only during a brief period each spring while they establish territories and attract mates.


This might be a good time to mention that the May 1 edition of the Festival of the Trees will be hosted at what I guess must be the world’s most popular birding blog, 10,000 Birds. Here’s the announcement post, including information on where to send your tree-related links for inclusion in what is sure to be a well-written and widely read edition.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. Ah, spring birdsong. Perhaps I should have a go at recording some of my local birds – though I’m not sure what equipment I’ve got.

    Slight copy-editing snafu:

    If you’re familiar with either of its close relatives, the catbird or the brown thrasher

    …or the mockingbird, presumably.


  2. Thanks for catching that. Amazing how one can read something over half a dozen times and still missing something so obvious — and in such a short post!

    I’d love to hear tips from anyone more gadget-savvy than me — which would be almost anyone, I think — about the best and/or most affordable portable digital recorders. Because the mike on a digicam is not the greatest. On the other hand, given my extremely limited funds, perhaps I should save up for a digital video camera instead.


  3. [This is a test of a new comments-editing plugin. Seems to work.]


  4. Yes, it seems to work, even for me!

    (And I can edit, too!)

    Sorry.. but now I have to take part of that back. I peaked in at the comments on a post a couple below this one (the shovel one, maybe, with 9 some comments) and that page only partly loads.


  5. Damn. I don’t know what to tell you. If I’m lucky, it’s a bug in WordPress 2.5 which will be fixed when 2.5.1 comes out in another three weeks. But it could be a problem with my theme, too. I’m afraid I’m not geeky enough to troubleshoot much beyond what I’ve done already. All I can tell you at this point is to try downloading Firefox and see if that makes a difference.


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