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IV

THE BROWN THRASHER


BROWN THRASHER
1, 2, 3. Males     4. Female

THE brown thrasher — called also the brown thrush — is a bird considerably longer than a robin, with a noticeably long tail and a long, curved bill. His upper parts are reddish brown or cinnamon color, and his lower parts white or whitish, boldly streaked with black. You will find him in hedgerows, in scrub-lands, and about the edges of woods, where he keeps mostly on or near the ground. His general manner is that of a creature who wishes nothing else so much as to escape notice. “Only let me alone,” he seems to say. If he sees you coming, as he pretty certainly will, he dodges into the nearest thicket or barberry-bush, and waits for you to pass.

Farmers know him as the “planting-bird.” In New England he makes his appearance with commendable punctuality between the twentieth of April and the first of May; and while the farmer is planting his garden, the thrasher encourages him with song. One man, who was planting beans, imagined that the bird said,

“Drop it, drop it! Cover it up, cover it up!” Perhaps he did. It was good advice, anyhow.

In his own way the thrasher is one of the great singers of the world. He is own cousin to the famous mockingbird, and at the South, where he and the mocker may be heard singing side by side, — and so much alike that it is hard to tell one from the other, — he is known as the “brown mocking-bird.” He would deserve the title but for one thing — he does not mock. In that respect he falls far short of his gray cousin, who not only has all the thrasher’s gift of original song, but a most amazing faculty of imitation, as every one knows who has heard even a caged mocking bird running over the medley of notes he has picked up here and there and carefully rehearsed and remembered. The thrasher’s song is a medley, but not a medley of imitations.

I have said that the thrasher keeps near the ground. Such is his habit; but there is one exception. When he sings he takes the very top of a tree, although usually it is not a tall one. There he stands by the half-hour together, head up and tail down, pouring out a flood of music; sounds of all sorts, high notes and low notes, smooth notes and rough notes, all jumbled together in the craziest fashion, as if the musician were really beside himself.

It is a performance worth buying a ticket for and going miles to hear; but it is to be heard without price on the outskirts of almost any village in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and south of Maine. You must go out at the right time, however, for the bird sings but a few weeks in the year, although he remains in New England almost six months, or till the middle of October. He is one of the birds that every one should know, since it is perfectly easy to identify him; and once known, he is never to be forgotten, or to be confounded with anything else.

The thrasher’s nest is a rude, careless-looking structure, made of twigs, roots, and dry leaves, and is to be looked for on the ground, or in a bush not far above it. Often it has so much the appearance of a last year’s affair that one is tempted to pass it as unworthy of notice. I have been fooled in that way more than once.

The bird sits close, as the saying is, and as she stares at you with her yellow eyes, full at once of courage and fear, you will need a hard heart to disturb her. Sometimes she will really show fight, and she has been known to drive a small boy off the field. Her whistle after she has been frightened from her eggs or nestlings is one of the most pathetic sounds in nature. I should feel sorry for the boy who could hear it without pity.

Besides this mournful whistle, the thrasher has a note almost exactly like a smacking kiss, — very realistic, — and sometimes, especially at dusk, an uncanny, ghostly whisper, that seems meant expressly to suggest the presence of some thing unearthly and awful. So far as I am aware, there is no other bird-note like it. I have no doubt that many a superstitious person has taken to his heels on hearing it from the bushes along a lonesome roadside after nightfall.

Except in the spring, indeed, there is little about the thrasher’s appearance or behavior to suggest pleasant thoughts. To me, at any rate, he seems a creature of chronic low spirits. The world has used him badly, and he cannot get over it. He is almost the only bird I ever see without a little inspiration of cheerfulness. Per haps I misjudge him.

Let my young readers make his acquaintance on their own account, if they have not already done so, and find him a livelier creature than I have described him, if they can.


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