On a recent birding field trip at the Montana Audubon Center, the group spotted a Brown Thrasher. The Brown Thrasher is one of the largest North American songbirds measuring approximately 11 inches with bright streaked underparts and a long tail. They have bright yellow eyes. The Brown Thrasher’s repertoire is one of the largest of our songbirds including over 1,100 song types.

Like their cousin, the Gray Catbird, they rarely venture out into the open. They are found in deciduous forest and suburbs and generally only appear in our region in summer months. However, documented sightings have been reported to winter over mostly in Eastern Montana by eating fruits and spreadable suet.

Their diet consists of insects, invertebrates, berries, fruit and nuts. The fruit portion of their diet includes blueberry, huckleberry, elderberries, hackberries, Virginia creeper, sumac, raspberry, currant, grape, cherry, and strawberry. Their name may come from the use of their long, strong bill to dig and sweep aside debris in search of food.

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, between 1966 and 2015 populations declined by 41%. Partners in Flight estimates 100% of the population spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 8% breeding in Canada. They rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score.

Brown Thrashers probably increased their range during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as humans cleared forests for agriculture, suppressed fires in the Great Plains, and put out bird feeders. However, their shrubby habitats are now declining throughout the eastern U.S. as fields and forests regrow or are cleared altogether. Brown Thrashers often die in collisions with television towers (during migration) or with cars (since they often occur in roadside habitat). They can become unintended casualties of pesticides that people use to control insects, including dieldrin used on fields and heptachlor used to combat Japanese beetles.

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Kathy and her husband, John, own and operate the Wild Birds Unlimited, located in Billings at 111 S. 24th St. West and at www.wbu.com/billings.