Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A brown thrasher photographed at WildCare Foundation in Noble, Oklahoma
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Brown Thrasher

The widespread thrasher of eastern North America, the brown thrasher is generally a secretive bird of dense thickets and hedgerows. Often seen feeding on the ground, probing for insects with its long slender bill, the brown thrasher frequently sings from open exposed perches at the top of trees. Polytypic. Length 11.5".


Sexes similar. Similar in size to American robin, but more slender, much longer tailed. Upperparts entirely bright rufous; underparts white to buffy-white, especially on flanks, with extensive black streaking. Wing coverts with black subterminal bar and white tips, forming 2 wing bars. Bill long and slender; little de­curviture. Yellow eye.

Geographic Variation

Western populations larger, paler, with less extensive streaking.

Similar Species

Most similar to the long-billed thrasher of southern Texas, which is more grayish above and has a longer, more decurved bill; redder eye; and much shorter primary projection. Super­ficially similar in coloration to the wood thrush, but note very different size and shape, particularly the brown’s very long tail and its long and slender bill. Also, the wood thrush has more spotting on the underparts, compared to the brown thrasher’s streaking.


Call: most common calls include and a low churr and a loud, smacking spuck, somewhat resembling the call note of a “red” fox sparrow. Song: a long series of varied melodic phrases, each phrase often repeated 2 or 3 times. Rarely mimics other bird species.

Status and Distribution

Breeding: uncommon to dense thickets throughout the eastern United States. Migration: birds from the northern portion of the breeding popu­lation migrate south in the fall, augmenting resident populations in the South. Winter: regularly winters across the southern United States, extending into south-central Texas. Vagrant: occasionally wanders west to Arizona and California. Casual to Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland. Casual in winter in northern Mexico.


Declines have been noted in the Northeast, probably as a result of habitat loss.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006