Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2014-035

Common name:

Brown Thrasher

Scientific name: Toxostoma rufum
Date: 26 October 2014 through current date of 8 December 2014
Time: 1:05 pm initial sighting, various sightings throughout daylight hours since
Length of time observed: varied, from 5 seconds to 15 minutes when foraging in visible spot
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: unknown
Location: back yard of 469 Sundial, Moab
County: Grand
Latilong: 18
Elevation: 4,100 feet
Distance to bird: 25 feet approx.; other sightings, 8 to 35 feet
Optical equipment: first sight, none, others Vortex Diamondback 10 x 42 binoculars
Weather:  in 6 weeks varied, sunny, overcast, windy, calm, cold ( a few nights at freezing), warm (in 70's F. some days)
Light Conditions: also varied, some sunny and bright, some dim, some overcast and even
Description:        Size of bird: similar in size to a W. Scrub Jay that was nearby at first sighting, approx. 11 inches
(Description:)       Basic Shape: also similar to W. Scrub Jay, long and slim, long tail, long not conical bill, body sometimes carried horizontally
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: head, back, wings and tail all-over uniform bright rust (bright red-brown, rufous, fox red), underneath white or whitish with heavy dark streaks
(Description:)            Bill Type: fairly long, very slightly decurved
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
This bird is long and slim in shape, similar in size (approx. 11 inches) and shape to a W. Scrub Jay which it was near when I first saw it. The tail is long. The bill is dark, long, sturdy, and slightly decurved. In flat, even (overcast) light, the base 1/2 to 2/3 of lower mandible is lighter. Legs seem sturdy but I don't get a sense of the color. Eyes are very pale yellow iris surrounding black pupil. Head, back wings and tail are a bright rust or red-brown color. Two white wing bars, the upper one appears shorter. Under parts are whitish with heavy dark streaking. In bright light the breast and flanks look white, in overcast even lighting the flanks especially have a light buff tinge. Throat is white or cream in center with thin dark line each side. Under tail appears all white. Breast streaks taper into spots lower on breast or belly. Face is lighter, not rust, with sort of speckles, appearing grayish. This did not seem to agree with descripti!
ons but I noticed in several photographic guides there were birds with the same sort of grayish face.
In all lights there is strong contrast between upper and under parts. Bright rust over entire upper part is not a usual coloring on the expected birds in this area.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: I have listened on internet to calls (Cornell, Audubon), have not heard any calls that I could identify as those sounds. Have not seen this bird ever appear to be vocalizing.
Behavior: This bird mainly skulks in the brush and on ground under bushes. Occasionally it pops up onto a bush or vine in view. When it moves from the feeder end of house to the west end with the compost box, or vice versa, it does a combination of moving through the brush or ground under bushes, with short flights in areas with little cover. It has been seen flying into the big arborvitae several times. Most pop ups are less than a minute, often 30 seconds or less. On ground sightings are often 1 to 5 minutes, several times 10 minutes. Even so, the bird is not in clear view all the time but in and out of view as it moves behind and under brush. Only once (the photo op) have I seen it sit in a tree for more than a minute, and then it would not have been very visible outdoors. Feeding behavior: twice it was eating hanging Virginia Creeper berries. Two times it was seen going down a limb of the dead apricot tree to take peanuts placed in the crotch of the tree - of  necessity out in plain view. Most feeding is done on the ground or in the compost box. It does not scratch with its feet in the leaves but uses its bill to fling leaves away rather quickly and wildly. The whole body seems to bob each time it flings the leaves. When the ground is uncovered it digs and probes with much less violent motions. Today it was foraging this way when it suddenly rushed forward 2 feet, flung leaves, and hopped back with something in its bill. It often feeds in the compost box, which is just vegetable and fruit peelings on the dirt not a true compost bin. It ate an old tomato over several days. It would hack and tear off a bit, and eat it, then hop over a few inches and probe in the soft dirt. Usually when feeding it has moved around, such as in and out of the box, on the ground, in the brush, behind the bamboo. When it runs, the motion seems to be very fast hops rather than legs moving separately.
Habitat: small, overgrown back yard with several trees including dead apricot, spindly shrubs such as Golden Currant and Forsythia, vines such as Virginia Creeper, Trumpet, and grape. Lawn area overgown with vine. Box approx. 4 ft. long, 2 ft. wide, 8 inches high used for vegetable scraps and with small shrubby tree growing in it. 2 large arborvitae just over back fence, 10 ft. by 5 ft. Squaw bush. Small central patio with shed next to house, bird feeders and water pans. The bird has been seen several times in the apricot and Gambel Oak but mostly stays in the brushy areas, on the ground,occasionally popping up on top of shrubs or vines.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
thrushes, particularly Hermit and Wood Thrush -much smaller, shorter tail, bill not as long or substantial, breast more spotted than streaked
Waterthrushes, have eye line, much smaller
Sage Thrasher -smaller, finer streaks/spots, grayer upper parts
Bendire's Thrasher -fine spots, front buffy or brownish
Long-billed Thrasher -the most similar bird, eliminated by its more gray-brown back and longer, more noticeably decurved bill
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Only experience with Brown Thrasher -52 years ago in N. Carolina from April to Aug., singing bird. Of little help in this ID.
Hermit Thrush and N. Waterthrush, Grand County; Wood Thrush and L. Waterthrush in N.Y. -all notably smaller
Sage and Bendire's Thrashers -have seen in Grand or San Juan Counties
Long-billed Thrasher -never seen. Relied on field guide illustrations, photos and descriptions.
References consulted: National Geographic Field Guide to the birds of North America, 5th ed., 6th ed.; Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America c. 2010; Sibley Guide to Birds 1st ed., 2nd ed.; Peterson field guide to birds of North America c. 2008; Birds of W. North America by Paul Sterry & Brian E. Small, c. 2009; Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman c. 2000; Smithsonian field guide to the birds of North America c 2008; Lives of North American birds by Kenn Kaufman c. 1996; Nat. Geographic Complete birds of North America c.2006; Utah Birds website - lists for: Grand Co. 2011 (Brown Thrasher not listed as seen), San Juan Co. 2 lists, 1 shows it as seen there, 1 as OW (Jan/Feb.); Utah list -shown as OT (spring/fall migrant); also consulted the Utah Birds website list of rare and uncommon birds for which documentation is requested
Description from: Notes taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Gail Lea
Observer's address: 469 Sundial, Moab, Utah 84532-2733
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: These people have seen this bird and posted on ebird:
  Glenn Kincaid, 25 Nov., list S20669509 (description)
  Stephen Heinrich, 25 Nov., S20673826 (descript.)
  Daniel Sachse, 26 Nov., S20709610 (descript.)
  Billy Fenimore, 26 Nov., S20709533 (descript.)
  Nate Brown, 6 Dec., S20805751 (photo)
  Kenny Frisch, 6 Dec., S20805276 (photos)
Date prepared: 8 December 2014
Additional material: Photos and a Drawing
Additional_Comments: My photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix (pocket camera) at 8:23 AM on an overcast day through a dirty window at a distance of about 8 to 10 feet. I have minimalist drawings which I will scan and email or photocopy and mail. The description of the bird is done from notes which were taken during multiple sightings.