It's true, it's true. The Brown Thrasher says everything twice.
When this bird sets itself to singing—especially in spring, when many birds are at their singingest—it often perches at the very top of a leafless tree, throws back its head, and lets out with a long series of doubled phrases with no evident beginning or end, no apparent rhyme or reason. It imitates many other birds' songs, but just short snatches of them. And it repeats each snippet, like me when I try to speak Spanish—saying everything twice and hoping the listener can guess my intent by the end of the second attempt.
Unlike my Spanish, however, the Brown Thrasher’s cadence and pronunciation are so good they can fool you. I’m convinced they repeat each song so you’ll know it’s them. Otherwise they might be mistaken for the real thing, and their skill in mimicry might go unnoticed.
The Brown Thrasher's foreign language repertoire is so broad that it can go on for fifteen to twenty minutes without repeating the same doublet. I stood listening to one sing for about ten minutes early one spring morning, and wondered "Where in the world does all that come from!?" I heard snippets of a Robin's warble, a Flicker's rattle, a Meadowlark's soft whistle... and it just went on and on. It's one talented bird.
During the hot days of summer, when more time and energy are spent on tending the brood than on singing, it’s a bit harder to find the Brown Thrasher. For such a large bird—slightly larger than a robin, and with a longer tail—it’s amazing how well it can hide, even in the barest of trees. Many times I have seen one fly into the leafy cover of a small tree and then just disappear. I can often get it to give away its location by imitating its call, a sharp tsk-tsk. It will usually respond in kind, expressing its disapproval at my intrusion into its turf.
Whether it’s “tsk-tsk-ing” you from the cover of a thicket or showing off its language skills from the top of a bare tree, the Brown Thrasher is a wonderful example of the unobtrusive beauty of nature right here in our midst. Look up—or down, depending on the mood—and take note.
Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.