A bit excessive (?)

I had to make a complete stop on my run this morning.  It’s early enough that traffic just makes me slow down, so it’s really a big deal when I stop entirely.  Today’s stop was for a songster.  ‘Rod Stewart,’ you ask?  Uhm…no.  Sorry, Rod, my mom’s a fan, but I would have sped up.

Today’s stop was for a nice looking Brown Thrasher.  I’ve seen these birds around the neighborhood before, but they are far less common than many of the other local species.  Thrashers, by nature, also tend to be a bit secretive.  When I moved out to California and was trying to learn my local birds out there, I once spent about 40 minutes trying to find a bird that I could hear moving around in the dense brush.  I did finally get rewarded with the sight of a California Thrasher (related to the local Brown one) before it took off through the poison oak (I opted not to follow at that point).

Anyway, I digress…so today I stopped for the Brown Thrasher.  He was perched low in a young maple tree that was just starting to get some leaf buds on it and singing his little heart out.  Thrashers, like Northern Mockingbirds, are part of the group of birds called the mimic thrushes (in the family Mimidae).  All of these birds are well-known for their singing capabilities, but the Brown Thrasher is one of the most impressive of all.  Like the mockingbird, it will often repeat phrases that it sings.  It can be distinguished from the mockingbird based on the number of repeats that it does, however.  Additionally, Brown Thrashers have a seemingly endless variety of syllables that they use in their songs!!  One of the early papers that addressed singing behavior in these thrashers found that one male that was recorded singing for nearly two hours (that’s a consecutive two hours, not spread out over days) was estimated to have approximately 1800 different song units in his performance.  1800!  1800!!  That’s a lot of singing and a LOT of variability.

Kroodsma, D.E. and L.D. Parker. 1977.  Vocal virtuosity in the Brown Thrasher. Auk 94:  783-785

Northern Mockingbirds get all the fame, but it’s only because they are better at PR.  They get right up where you can see them.  The Brown Thrashers are the really impressive, hard-working songsters out there.  Keep an ear open.  You’ll hear them before you see them.

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About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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