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.