Brown thrasher thrives among mockingbirds

Posted Aug. 21, 2008, at 11:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

A few months ago I had discovered a brown thrasher had apparently taken up residence in my neighborhood. The bird seemed to have staked out a close thicket of small trees and shrubs, and I found him one day singing his heart out from within the tangle of branches.

The season was still early and foliage had not fully unfurled as of yet; I was able to get an excellent view of this large thrush-like bird. The bold, dark brown streaks on his white chest and belly contrasted with the beautiful chestnut feathers on his back and especially his long tail. He peered down at me with a golden eye as I studied him through my binoculars.

This bird belongs to the family Mimidae, the “mimics,” which also includes the gray catbird and the northern mockingbird. However, I had read mockingbirds may compete with thrashers for resources. Yet here was this thrasher, right in the thick of mockingbird territory. Was the bird only passing through or was it destined to be pushed out by the mockingbirds, never to find a mate and raise young?

I had high hopes I’d see and hear the bird again, but time and again, as I approached its thicket on my afternoon walks, I failed to detect the bird’s presence. Instead, I found a mockingbird perched almost exactly where I had previously spotted the thrasher.

As usual, the mockingbirds were thick as thieves. I had even found a nest nearby and observed an adult mockingbird feeding its two nestlings.

Weeks passed, and I assumed the thrasher had disappeared – pushed out by the mockingbirds.

Then, one evening at the end of a walk, I approached the thicket where I had seen the thrasher. It was late, and I was in a hurry to get home.

I heard a familiar song coming from within the thicket. The song had a very soft, whispered quality and was none too clear at times. I almost assumed it was just another mockingbird and began to walk away. Something, though, I’m not sure what it was, made me turn back, just to be sure.

And there, right in front of me, was an adult thrasher – with an insect in its beak. To my great delight, I watched as a fledgling thrasher hopped up to accept the insect from its parent. I was thrilled to realize the bird had attracted a mate and had successfully fledged at least one young.

The evening had more surprises in store for me, yet.

Once the parent bird disappeared – hunting for more insects, no doubt – I watched the young thrasher as it attempted to forage for itself. It hopped from twig to twig, exploring the undersides of leaves for delectable morsels. It clearly did not quite have the hang of insect hunting yet and was glad to accept another handout from its parent.

Movement within the thicket called my attention to another fledgling – this time, a mockingbird – which was keenly interested in the food the thrasher had for its own young. The juvenile watched the adult thrasher closely as it moved away and resumed foraging nearby, and I wondered if the thrasher would actually feed the young mockingbird, or if the mockingbird would have the cheek to beg from the thrasher. It didn’t; and when the adult thrasher flew out of sight again, the mockingbird began foraging on its own. It appeared to be older and more capable of hunting for its own food.

I was thrilled these two birds had been able to co-exist and so entertained by this private little glimpse into their lives.

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