California Thrasher

(photo gallery below)

The California Thrasher is the largest our thrashers and sports a down-curved bill shaped like a scythe. The best time to see this thrasher is in the spring, California Thrasher|La Purisima Mission, Lompoc, CA when the male perches on a bush to sing his songs for his lady love.  The rest of the time, you are most likely to see this thrasher on the ground foraging for food.

Description

The California Thrashers is a relative of the Mockingbird. This large, gray-brown bird is about 11-13” long. It is very similar in coloring to the California Towhee. The most obvious field mark is the long, thick, down-curved bill. It also has dark brown eyes with a pale eyebrow, and dark cheeks. The face has fine streaks, and it has a buffy patch under the chin. The underparts are pale gray-brown; they are unmarked, but the belly and undertail coverts are washed with orange. It has a long, dark, fan-shaped tail with gray on the corners. It has gray-brown feet and legs. The sexes are similar in appearance.  Juveniles resemble the adults, but their coloring is not as contrasting.  They have buff edges on their wing feathers.

Range and Habitat

The habitat of the California Thrashers is wooded thickets, chaparral areas, foothills, parks, and gardens.  You can find them in California, from the Sacramento Valley, south to Baja, California.  They are found west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Behavior

A California Thrasher holds its tail erect feeding, walking and hopping along the ground.  Its bill is designed for picking up small objects with the tip of its bill.  While foraging, it swings its bill from side to side, using the bill to probe into the leaf litter or dig in the ground for insects, grubs, and spiders. You might see a thrasher turning it head sideways and peering at the ground. The California Thrasher will also eat Toyon berries, acorns and seeds.  It can cover a lot of ground as it forages.  California Thrashers can be attracted to gardens with seeds and bread crumbs. Mated birds are often seen feeding on the ground next to each other.

These birds sing year-round.  Their songs are similar to the mockingbird’s song, but the thrashers calls are quieter and more subdued than the mockingbird’s. The songs are low and harsh with a long series of notes and phrases. They repeat their songs only one or two times; they have been known to imitate other species and sounds.

The California Thrasher has swift and shallow wing beats when it flies.  It has shorter wings than other thrashers and prefers to run to escape instead of flying. They run swiftly with their tails held in the air.  Both males and females are strongly territorial and will defend their territories year around.

Breeding and Nesting

California Thrashers have long-term pair bonds. The male thrasher sings his song from an elevated bush. The mated pair may also sing to each other for long periods of time.  February-June is the breeding season with the first clutch in February-March. Both of the parents build the nest which is made of twigs and hidden in a bush.  The female lays 3-4 eggs and the young hatch in about 14 days.  Both parents incubate the eggs and brood their young. The young have well-developed legs when they are hatched which enables them to run and hide to avoid danger.  They remain with their parents for 3-4 months. The female lays her second clutch while the male continues to feed the first clutch.

Photo Gallery California Thrasher

(click to enlarge)