The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is a large and secretive songbird from the Mimidae family, a group of birds celebrated for their incredible vocal abilities. These birds are resident in the Southeast but migrate as far north as southern Canada to breed in the spring and summer.
You might spot these speedy, thrush-like birds sprinting between shrubs as they forage in the undergrowth, but have you wondered about their nesting behavior?
Male and female Brown Thrashers work together to build large, cup-shaped nests that last for many seasons, even though they usually use them just once. These birds prefer to nest in low, dense vegetation and sometimes even on the ground.
Female Brown Thrashers lay three or four eggs per clutch and produce a second brood when they can. These large songbirds are usually shy, but they can be very protective over their nests. They will raise their chicks in backyards with suitable nest sites, but these birds should not be disturbed because they are known to abandon their nests.
Would you like to know more about the nesting habits of the Brown Thrasher? Read along to learn where, when, and how the state birds of Georgia build their nests and raise their young.
A nesting Brown Thrasher protecting it's nest in the undergrowth
Brown thrasher nests are not easy to find. Nevertheless, they lose over eighty percent of their eggs and chicks to predators like snakes and domestic cats. Continue reading to learn more fascinating Brown Thrasher nesting facts.
Brown Thrashers usually nest in dense, prickly vegetation that is well-protected from predators. They prefer to nest in thorny shrubs like the gooseberry, but they also build their nests in small trees and brush.
Only 20 to 30% of Brown Thrashers return to the same breeding area after migration, although many nests can accumulate in suitable areas over the years. Individual birds are more likely to return if suitable habitat in the area is limited.
Thrashers occasionally reuse old nests after replacing the softer inner lining. Their nests hold their shape throughout the breeding season and remain relatively clean. Nevertheless, a study in Kansas found that just four percent of the nests in the area were reused.
Brown Thrashers do occasionally breed in backyards, although their nests often go undetected. Often these birds will let you know if you’re getting too close to their nest. Sometimes they even fly straight into animals and people!
Brown Thrasher sat on the nest in a dense blueberry bush
Brown Thrashers do not use nest boxes. They prefer to build their nests in dense vegetation.
Brown Thrashers usually nest in shrubs, although they also nest in fairly tall trees. They often build their nests in the following plant species:
Brown Thrashers usually nest relatively low to the ground. Most nests are built between five and eight feet up in a shrub.
Thrasher nests have been found over thirty feet up in the branches of trees, and a small percentage of Brown Thrashers also nest on the ground.
Brown Thrasher gathering nesting material
Brown Thrasher nests are large, shallow cups built from twigs and other dry plant material. The outside consists of larger twigs, with leaves in the middle layers and fine roots lining the inner cup where they lay their eggs.
Brown Thrashers build relatively large nests. Typical nest measurements are listed below.
Close up of a Brown Thrashers nest with five unhatched eggs inside
Like most American songbirds, Brown Thrashers begin nesting in the spring. They show slight regional differences in their timing, with birds in the north starting slightly later. Read on to learn more about the timing of Brown Thrasher nesting.
Brown Thrashers build their nests from the end of March in the south and in April and May further north. They will finish nesting by the start of fall in time for their southward migration.
Brown Thrashers take about a month to raise a single brood to fledging age. The breeding season effectively lasts from the beginning of spring until the start of fall, however, because they often attempt more than one brood.
Brown Thrasher nesting timeline:
Brown Thrashers usually lay their first clutch in April. They begin laying their eggs a day or two after completing the nest.
Brown Thrashers do not usually nest in the winter, although some pairs will begin building their nests as early as late March in southern states like Alabama.
Brown Thrasher perched in a tree, nearby to the nest, which is hidden in the dense foliage
Brown Thrashers build their nests from the outside in. Both parents collect the materials and work on building the nest. So how exactly do these birds build such long-lasting nests?
Brown Thrashers build the main structure of their nest from woven twigs to hold everything together. Next, the outer layer is packed with leaves, roots, and smaller twigs to shape the nest. Finally, they add soft, clean roots from grass plants to make a comfortable inner lining.
Both male and female Thrashers build the nest together
Brown Thrashers build the outer shell of their nests with twigs up to about a foot (30 cm) long and a quarter of an inch (6 mm) thick. They use softer materials like leaves, thin strips of bark, and grass roots for the inner layers of the nest.
Brown Thrashers also harvest materials from old nests. In rare cases, they reuse old nests after refurbishing them with a fresh inner lining.
Both male and female Brown Thrashers contribute to building the nest.
Brown Thrashers collecting sticks to build their nest
Brown Thrasher eggs weigh about 0.2 ounces (6 g) and measure slightly over an inch long and three-quarters of an inch across (26 mm x 19 mm). Their eggs are glossy, with a white to blueish ground color and red or brown speckles. The eggs are most heavily speckled around their widest end.
Brown Thrashers usually lay three or four eggs, although they can lay between two and six. The female lays one egg each day, usually in the early morning.
Male Brown Thrashers assist in sitting on the eggs, although the female does about seventy percent of the incubation.
Close up of Brown Thrasher eggs
Baby Brown Thrashers usually leave the nest at eleven or twelve days old, give or take a day. At this age, they are just two-thirds of their adult weight.
Brown Thrashers usually raise one or two broods in a breeding season, although they might make as many as four nesting attempts after repeated failures. Female Thrashers will lay their second clutch within a week or two after the chicks from the first clutch fledge the nest.
Brown Thrasher fledgling visiting a bird feeder
Brown Thrashers do not usually reuse their nests, even if they are attempting a second brood. These birds can be surprisingly aggressive when defending their nests, but they will also abandon them quite readily if disturbed early in the nesting process.
Brown Thrashers usually nest in shrubs, although a small percentage of pairs will build their nests on the ground.
One of the Brown Thrasher parents spends the night in the nest while incubating the eggs or brooding the chicks. For the rest of the year, these birds spend the night roosting in the shelter of vegetation.
Brown Thrashers can be attracted to your property by growing berry-producing shrubs and by putting out food like mealworms and suet. Planting your yard with a variety of dense shrubs and other native vegetation is a great way to encourage Brown Thrasher nesting.
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