People who are not very well acquainted with the birds about them usually mistake the long-tailed brown thrasher for a thrush because he has a rusty back and a speckled white breast, which they seem to think is an exclusive thrush characteristic, which it certainly is not.
The oven-bird and several members of the sparrow tribe, among other birds, have speckled and streaked breasts, too. The brown thrasher is considerably larger than a thrush and his habits are quite different. Watch him nervously twitch his long tail, or work it up and down like one end of a see-saw, or suddenly jerk it up erect while he sits at attention in the thicket, then droop it when, after mounting to a conspicuous perch, he lifts his head to sing, and you will probably “guess right the very first time” that he is a near relative of the wrens, not a thrush at all. As a little sailor-boy once said to me, “He carries his tell-tail on the stern.”
Like his cousin, the catbird, the brown thrasher likes to live in bushy thickets overgrown with vines. Here, running over the ground among the fallen leaves, he picks up with his long slender bill, worms, May beetles and scores of other kinds of insects that, but for him, would soon find their way to the garden, orchard, and fields. Yet few farmers ever thank him. Because they don’t often see him picking up the insects in their cultivated land, they wrongly conclude that he does them no benefit, only mischief, because, occasionally, he does eat a little fruit. It seems to be a dreadful sin for a fellow in feathers to help himself to a strawberry or a cherry or a little grain now and then, although, having eaten quantities of insects that, but for him, would have destroyed them, who has earned a better right to a share of the profits?
Do you think the brown thrasher looks any more like a cuckoo than he does like a thrush? Simply because he is nearly as long as the dull brownish cuckoo and has a brown back, though of quite a different tawny shade, some boys and girls say it is difficult to tell the two birds apart. The cuckoo glides through the air as easily as if he were floating down stream, whereas the thrasher’s flight, like the wren’s, is tilting, uneven, flapping, and often jerky. If you make good use of your sharp eyes, you will be able to tell many birds by their flight alone, long before you can see the colour of their feathers. The passive cuckoo has no speckles on his light breast, and the yellow-billed cuckoo, at least, has white thumb-nail spots on his well-behaved tail, which he never thrashes, twitches, and balances as the active, suspicious thrasher does his. Moreover the cuckoo’s notes sound like a tree-toad’s rattle, while the thrasher’s song—a merry peal of music—entrances every listener. He seems rather proud of it, to tell the truth, for although at other times he may keep himself concealed among the shrubbery, when about to sing, he chooses a conspicuous perch as if to attract attention to his truly brilliant performance.
The thrasher has been called a ground “thrush” because it so often chooses to place its nest at the roots of tall weeds in an open field; but a low bush frequently suits it quite as well. Its bulky nest is not a very choice piece of architecture. Twigs, leaves, vine tendrils, and bits of bark form its walls, and the speckled, greenish blue eggs within are usually laid upon a lining of fine black rootlets.
Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Author of “Bird Neighbours,” “Birds that Hunt and Are Hunted,”
“Nature’s Garden,” and “How to Attract the Birds.”
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP
1907 by Doubleday, Page & Company