The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is the only thrasher species native to the eastern half of the United States - east of the Rocky Mountains and central Texas.
During the breeding season, these birds are a common sight in forests stretching from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast and south Florida.
Brown thrashers live in forested habitats with dense, low-growing vegetation. They prefer nesting in shrubs or thickets that offer ample protection from predators and the elements.
As a partially migratory species, thrasher populations retreat from their northern breeding grounds in the fall and migrate to similar habitats in the southeastern United States.
We will discuss the distribution, habitat, and migration of the brown thrasher in greater detail throughout the article. Read on to discover more!
Brown thrashers live in forested habitats with dense, low-growing vegetation
The distribution range of the brown thrasher covers much of eastern North America. They occur east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada down to south Florida, the Gulf Coast, and east-central Texas.
These birds primarily overwinter in the southeast, from central Texas to Florida along the coastal plains. However, small populations are found as far north as the Great Lakes and New England in the winter.
Within the US, brown thrashers are primarily found east of the Rocky Mountains. Breeding populations occur from central Montana to the southern tip of Maine and south from east Texas to Florida.
Breeding pairs are scarce farther north in Maine, as well as in the northernmost sections of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Brown thrashers typically migrate to the southeast and lower midwest (southern tip of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana) for winter. Populations are primarily concentrated around the Gulf and coastal plains.
However, small flocks can occur interspersed along the Atlantic coast to southern Massachusetts, the Great Lakes area, and southeastern New Mexico and Arizona.
Within the US, brown thrashers are primarily found east of the Rocky Mountains
Brown thrashers live in the eastern half of the United States, from the southern tip of Maine and most of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire to southern Florida. This stretch includes all east coast states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.
The brown thrashers’ range also moves inland throughout Appalachia and the Midwest, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
They cover the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well, and continue west until bumping up against the Rocky Mountains.
Inhabited western states east of the Rockies include eastern Montana, Wyoming, and the northeastern corner of Colorado. The thrasher also resides in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and east-central Texas.
Lastly, this bird populates the southeast along the Gulf Coast and Coastal Plains (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas).
Brown Thrasher feeding on an insect
Brown thrashers are only present throughout a small portion of southern Canada. The western reaches of the birds’ range stretch to the extreme southeastern corner of Alberta (small numbers of the species occasionally venture a little farther north and west). They are also common throughout southern Saskatchewan, breeding as far north as Saskatoon.
Southern Manitoba, southeast Ontario, and southwest Quebec are also home to the brown thrasher. They are particularly abundant along the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City and in the Ottawa Valley.
Brown thrasher habitat primarily consists of areas with dense, low-growing vegetation, such as thickets within mixed-conifer and deciduous forests.
Thrashers also nest amongst shrubs near swamp edges and in the thick undergrowth of pine and riparian woodlands.
These birds will visit and nest in suburban areas, as well. You may spot them flying in and out of ornamental shrubs and hedgerows.
Mixed-conifer and deciduous forests are one of the best places to spot Brown Thrashers
Brown thrashers are a common bird but can be relatively hard to spot. They blend in well with their forest surroundings and often spend a lot of time in thickets and other dense vegetation.
The best place to see a brown thrasher is amongst its preferred habitat - wooded areas or forest edges with thick, low-growing vegetation.
Brown Thrashers nest in dense shrubs or brambles and spend a good portion of their days foraging for insects, berries, and seeds on the forest floor.
If you take a walk through the woods or find a spot near a briar thicket to sit quietly, you have a higher chance of spotting a brown thrasher.
Brown Thrashers can often be seen foraging on the ground
Brown thrashers are active throughout the day. They spend close to half of their waking hours' foraging. The rest of their day consists of preening, loafing in trees, and caring for their young (when relevant).
The brown thrasher is considered a partial or short-distance migrant. Breeding populations in Canada and the northern US migrate to the southeastern states and east-central Texas for the winter.
Spring migration for the brown thrasher typically begins in early March, at which time the first migrants make their way into Kentucky. Those flying farthest north arrive at their breeding grounds by late April.
Fall migration begins in late August or early September in Canada and the northern US. Brown thrashers migrating from warmer regions leave closer to late September or early October. Most birds arrive at their wintering grounds by mid-October or early November.
Brown Thrasher gathering a stick for nest construction
Brown thrashers primarily live in the southeastern United States during the winter. Northern populations migrate south, with the highest concentrations ending up in east-central Texas, the Gulf Coast, and the coastal plains.
The full wintering range for the brown thrasher reaches north from the Gulf coast to southern Virginia and the dense deciduous and pine woodlands of southern Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. Populations also occur in eastern Oklahoma.
During the summer breeding season, brown thrashers are common across much of the United States and southern Canada, east of the Rocky Mountains. You will find them in dense forest undergrowth, thickets, and hedgerows throughout New England and the Great Lakes, west to central Montana.
The thrashers' range also stretches south to east Texas and Florida. Populations in the southeastern United States are permanent residents. They remain in or near their breeding territories all year long, rather than migrating farther south for winter.
Brown Thrasher on a snow-covered spruce in the winter
It is unusual for brown thrashers to live or travel in groups. Outside of the breeding season, they are typically solitary creatures. Thrashers will only occasionally gather in small groups of up to four during migration or while on wintering grounds.
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