Walk Slowly

Brown Thrasher

Toxostoma rufum

Family Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers )

Most birders want to see the exotic, the magnificent. I’m not different. I want to see a painted bunting. I want to see a Trogan. A Quetzal, a Lady Gouldian Finch, a bee-eater, and all the rest of the world’s insanely colorful birds. But I also love the more familiar birds, the birds I see all the time. I like to say hello to them, to ask them how they are. I don’t understand a word of what they say, but I like the sound and I assume they can’t understand a word I say either, but perhaps they like the sound. Or maybe they think what is that weirdo barking at me about?

The brown thrasher isn’t necessarily a looker, but they sure can sing when they’re in the mood. I sat out one evening behind the bus listening to a brown thrasher sing for the better part of an hour. I’m pretty sure that in that time it never completely repeated a phrase of its song.

Some of the time I watched it through binoculars, studying at the way the short brown and white featherers around its throat rise and fall with the melody line it sang. The bird sat at the very tip of a dead branch a couple of meters up, not far from my head. Every now and then he would stop and focus his beady black eye to regard me with a look that implied some suspicion, what was I up to? Had I paid my ticket to hear the show?

It was the first day we were back in Georgia. Fifteen months of travel and we were right back where we started in a deciduous forest, mixed oak, beech, pecan and other hardwoods with clumps of pines here and there. Just beyond the campground there was a small reservoir, perfect habitat for red headed woodpeckers, one of my favorite birds. But it was not the woodpeckers that ended up impressing me that evening, it was the Brown Thrasher.

The kids had a hard time falling asleep that night. It was our first long driving day in well over a month and they had not had a chance to get their energy out. In between getting glasses of water and patting backs to get them to sleep, I sat outside and listened to the thrasher. Occasionally he’d be joined by a nearby Carolina Warbler, but nothing, not even the cawing of crows or the short, sharp chip of cardinals, seemed to deter or influence his song in any way. Olivia asked me at one point, what are all those birds singing? Not birds I said, bird. One thrasher singing away until the light faded and it roosted down for the night.