Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brown Thrasher

On our morning walk, my wife and I were excited to see some birds who made their first 2012 appearance in our area. The month of May is the highlight of the Birder's year here. The migrating Warblers will be coming through SW Michigan, and some will stay.

We live east of Townsend Park, on a "Natural Beauty Road". That means it's gravel, will not be paved, and seldom mowed. Only a handful of cars come by each day. So we can stand in the middle of the road, binoculars to our eyes, and not worry about traffic. You can see why we like it out here in the Cannonsburg area.

This Brown Thrasher has an incredible "play list". A member of the Mimidae family of birds. This group appears to mimic other calls/songs. Gray Catbirds produce a variety of disjointed songs. The Brown Thrasher repeats twice. The Northern Mockingbird repeats three times.

He's nicely put together for using only shades of brown and white. From behind, you notice the rusty highlights. Through the binoculars, the streaked breast is prominent, and the eyes are almost too intense: deep yellow iris with black pupil. And how about that long, slightly curved bill?

I recommend an excellent book that is more than a typical field guide: Guide to Bird Behavior by Donald and Lillian Stokes. It was a handy, easy to use reference for my students when we studied Ornithology. From Stokes, the kids learned about: Territory, Courtship, Nest-Building, Breeding, Plumage, Visual and Auditory Displays. Stokes says that once they mate up, the male's song becomes softer, and over a smaller range.

Many of the NBN (Nature Blog Network) members are Birders, and familiar with various field guides and their authors. Sometimes, I try to view it from a non-birders perspective, and wonder if they're amused or confused at the way the songs and calls are translated into printed "words", and then there are those bizarre spellings.

The Brown Thrasher for example:

VOICE: Song a succession of deliberate notes and phrases, each phrase usually in pairs. Call a harsh chack!
from: Field Guide to Birds of North America - Roger Tory Peterson

VOICE: Song of rich, musical phrases each repeated two or three times with pause between each set. Often gives partial phrase such as whichoo-which. Calls include a loud, sharp chak, a low, toneless growl chhhr; a sharp tsssuk; a rich, low whistle peeooori or breeeew.
from: The Sibley Guide to Birds - David Allen Sibley

The loud, ringing song has been written in this vein: "Hurry up, hurry up; plow it, plow it; harrow it; chuck; sow it, sow it, sow it; chuck-chuck, chuck-chuck; hoe it, hoe it."
from: Reader's Digest - North American Wildlife - Editor: Susn J. Wernert

Song: teeahwee teeahwee, teeoo teeoo, chay chay, etc.
Smack-Call: A one-note call that sounds like a loud kiss; given during situations of alarm.
from: Guide to Bird Behavior - Donald and Lillian Stokes.

Dear Brown Thrasher:

I will still notice you in late spring
when your loud call becomes quieter
still heard by your mate
both protecting the brood.

I will still credit you for each
tent-caterpillar caterpillar you eat
from the crotches of small branches
in the Black Cherry trees.

I will still brag to others
as you show off your colors
the "rusty"-ness on your back
and on your long, fine tail.

I will still regard and admire
your very streaked breast
but I doubt that I will ever find
your well-concealed nest.