The brown thrasher and wood thrush are two bird species native to eastern North America. They have similar plumage patterns, but when you take a closer look, the two birds are quite different in looks and behavior.
Perhaps the most notable difference in appearance between the brown thrasher and wood thrush is their size. Thrashers are notably larger birds with long bills and tails. They also have distinctive yellow eyes. On the other hand, thrushes are smaller and rounder birds that look similar to a robin.
These two species also have different habitat preferences. The thrush resides in eastern hardwood forests, while the thrasher prefers open grassland and scrub habitat.
Several other contrasts exist between the wood thrush and the brown thrasher, which we will discuss in more detail below. Read on to discover more!
The brown thrasher and the wood thrush are native to eastern North America (east of the Rocky Mountains). Their ranges primarily overlap in the northern half of the United States and southeastern Canada, where both birds spend the summer breeding season.
Overlap between the two species includes the east coast, south to Virginia, west to South Dakota (along the Missouri River), and extreme eastern Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Brown thrasher range extends farther west, butting up against the eastern slopes of the Rockies. It also reaches farther west in Canada, along the southern borders of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan to Alberta.
Close up of a Brown Thrasher foraging on the ground
The wood thrush, on the other hand, extends farther south. These birds overwinter in Middle America, primarily along the Atlantic slope from southern Veracruz in Mexico, south to western Panama, and along the Pacific Slope from Oaxaca, Mexico to Panama.
Unlike the brown thrasher (which overwinters in the southeastern United States), the wood thrush rarely spends winter in the U.S.
Close up of a perched Wood Thrush
The wood thrush is smaller than the brown thrasher in mass, as well as bill and tail length. Thrushes average 48 to 72 grams, depending on the time of year, while brown thrashers range more consistently between 68 and 89 grams.
Neither brown thrashers nor wood thrushes are rare species - both are listed as birds of low conservation concern. Which species is more common primarily comes down to the habitat you are looking in.
For instance, the wood thrush prefers eastern hardwood forests, whereas the brown thrasher inhabits open prairies, thickets, and pine-oak scrub habitats.
Brown Thrasher perched in a hedge
The eyes of the brown thrasher and wood thrush differ significantly. Thrashers have distinctive yellow irises and black pupils, whereas thrushes have solid black irises.
Brown thrashers and wood thrushes also have noticeably different head shapes. The head of the thrasher is larger and more elongated, with a long bill. Wood thrushes have small, rounded heads shaped more like that of a robin.
Wood Thrush singing from a branch
Wood thrushes primarily eat small animals that live in the soil. They will also consume snails, salamanders, insects, and some fruit. These birds typically probe and glean their meals from the forest floor, or occasionally use their bills to move leaves and uncover prey.
On the other hand, brown thrashers mainly consume insects, such as beetles. They also eat fruit and nuts. The aptly named thrasher uses its bill to sweep rapidly along the ground, moving litter and picking up prey. Brown thrashers will occasionally fly-catch as well.
In flight, the thrasher exhibits slow, heavy movements that are sometimes jerky. They generally fly low to the ground and only short distances when foraging.
The wood thrush is much smoother in flight. This bird's short, broad wings give it a lot of power, even at low speeds.
Close up of a Brown Thrasher at a bird feeder
Both species have fairly small call repertoires. The most common brown thrasher call used by both sexes is the tick or tchuck, similar to a loud smacking sound. Wood thrushes have a series of calls used to express agitation, these often sound like bup bup, tut tut, or cheuh-huh.
When it comes to songs expressed by the males of both species, the brown thrasher has one of the loudest and longest repertoires of any bird in North America. Their calls typically contain one or a few sharp notes.
The male wood thrush is much quieter. The first part of its song is low-pitched and nearly inaudible unless you are close to the bird. The second part carries better; it consists of flute-like notes that sound like eeohlayI.
Close up portrait of a Wood Thrush
Although these two species have similar plumage patterns, a closer look reveals their differences. The brown thrasher is a duller brown on its upper parts, with buffy white underparts streaked with black. They also have white wings bars and yellowish eyes.
Wood thrushes are more cinnamon-brown, with olive-brown wings and tails. Their underparts are also a brighter white with large dark spots on the breast, flanks, and sides. The wood thrushes eyes are dark with dull white rings circling them and the legs are pinkish.
Males and females of both species are sexually monomorphic, meaning there is no significant difference in their size or color patterns.
One of the quickest ways to tell the difference, is the color of the eyes - Brown Thrashers have a distinctive yellow color, whereas Wood Thrushes have brown eyes
The female brown thrasher is larger than the female wood thrush, measuring about 235-305 mm long and weighing an average of 69 g. On the other hand, the female wood thrush is a medium-sized bird, weighing between 40-50 g.
Thrasher females also have longer bills and wings than thrushes. Plus, the brown thrasher boasts two white wing bars, whereas the wood thrush has solid-colored wings.
Juvenile brown thrashers and wood thrushes look similar to their parents. However, there are a few key differences between the birds’ first basic and adult plumages.
The young wood thrush is darker overall, with more streaking and spots on the crown, neck, back, and wings. Thrasher juveniles have lighter underparts with less defined spotting.
Also, their irises are not yet yellow, but more olive-gray. Both the thrush and thrasher keep their first basic plumage from June to August.
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