A New Note from a Brown Thrasher

Though the month of October seemed unusually quiet here, with fewer migrants and fewer returning winter residents than in previous years, there have been several interesting moments. On one of many sunny, cool days with clear blue skies and Monarch Butterflies drifting over one or two at a time, a Brown Thrasher perched in a large dogwood tree and sang some smooth, rounded notes that I’d never noticed before. Quite different from its usual long song of paired phrases, these calls were one or two syllables at a time, and they sounded different, rich and more fluid – but in between them the thrasher also gave a few of its loud, sharp chack calls. I watched as it made these calls – and I now suspect a Brown Thrasher might have been my unseen “Baltimore Oriole” heard earlier in the month, because the area where I heard it is one where many Brown Thrashers can be found. For a more skilled birder who knows all the songs well, I’m sure there would have been no confusion between the two. But I’m always having to relearn what I already knew, anyway – and wishful thinking can do a lot, too.

Brown Thrashers do have a very large repertoire – but this particular call seemed to have a quite different character from its usual song. It’s only a “new” call to me, though. The species account in Birds of North America Online, citing A.C. Bent, describes one common call of a Brown Thrasher as a “whistled teeola,” and The Sibley Guide to Birds mentions “a rich, low whistle peeooori or breeeew.” Either of these could describe the notes that I heard – notes I’ve never before noticed from one of our most familiar birds. Which only goes to show how much I easily miss.

(John F. Cavitt and Carola A. Haas. 2000. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

(David Allen Sibley, 2000, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.)

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