Sage Thrasher

Sage thrashers (Oreoscoptes montanus) are related to mockingbirds. Like their  “cousins”,  sage thrashers have long, varied songs of repeated phrases and they also mimic the calls of other birds. Thus an early name for the sage thrasher was “mountain mockingbird”. The species name, montanus, derives from the Latin word meaning “of mountains”.  By coincidence, the sand lily species name in my last post, montanum, (Sand Lily on 05-05-2017) came from the same Latin root.

During the summer breeding season sage thrashers inhabit the sagebrush steppe of the West, preferring a habitat of dense sagebrush (and other thick shrubs) interspersed with bunch grasses and bare ground. They winter mainly in the desert scrub of the Southwest and Mexico.

Sage thrashers are the smallest thrasher. A monotypic species, both sexes of sage thrashers look alike. Grey brown above, they are white below with heavy dark streaking on the breast. Sage thrashers have a thin distinct white bars on the wings and a long tail with white corners. The iris is pale yellow and there is a black malar (cheek) stripe. The bill is relatively straight compared to the strongly decurved bill of most thrashers.

Shy and very secretive, sage thrashers do sing from the tops of shrubs or fence-lines. Sage thrashers fly low and prefer to walk or run on the ground where they hunt for their preferred food, insects and seeds. Seasonal fruits (particularly juniper and Russian olives) and berries round out their diet, particularly in winter.

Sage thrashers nest in dense, tall shrubs (often sagebrush), low to the ground or even on the ground. The nest is located in the most dense part of the shrub, likely to provide cover from aerial predators and perhaps for shade from the sun and heat. Both sexes build the bulky twig nest, incubate the eggs and care for the young. The nest is often situated eastward to catch the morning sun after a cold desert night and to protect the eggs and young in afternoon shade during the heat of the day. Sage thrasher pairs last for years.

These sage thrashers were photographed along Modoc County Road 360 (California) near the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.



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