Brown Thrashers: A Pleasant Find in Dinosaur Park

By Dave Hanks

A bright, rufous-brown is scratching in the underbrush. Hopefully it will show itself. It’s a long-tailed bird that will only appear if it feels the stage is completely clear. It is in the brush, under the cottonwood trees, that lines the river which runs through Dinosaur Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta.

Most of Alberta is green – from her western mountains, to her grasslands in the east. This southeastern park is dry, however, except for a ribbon of trees along the river that runs through it. The name comes from a time past when the region was sub-tropical and was a habitat for dinosaurs (as evidenced by fossilized remains). The exposed bedrock, sand, and hardened mud flats have forced most of the wildlife to live along the narrow riparian zone. This park is like the “Badlands” and the animals have had to adjust to the lack of moisture, to high winds, and to cold winters. It’s no wonder that the river is such a popular place.

But the thrasher is working his way cautiously into the open. I see his prominent, gleaming yellow eye and curved bill. The extra long tail and heavily spotted chest makes this species one of considerable interest.

This is Georgia’s state bird, and it is closely related to the Mockingbird and Gray Catbird. It is much more reserved than its relatives, but like them, it’s a great singer, although it doesn’t sing as often.

Unusual for such reserved individuals, they will vigorously defend their nest. There are reports of them attacking humans, even drawing blood. This 11 inch bird forages on the ground by sweeping the leaf litter with its curved beak to find insects and other small animal species.

(Toxostoma rufum)