Toxostoma rufum

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Common regular breeder statewide. Rare casual winter visitor south and southeast.

Documentation:  Specimen: rufum, UNSM ZM6643, 17 Sep 1921 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy: Pyle (1997) recognized two subspecies, longicauda and rufum. According to AOU (1957), eastern rufum breeds west to western Minnesota, western Iowa, and western Missouri, while western longicauda breeds east to eastern Wyoming, southwestern Nebraska, and eastern Colorado.  Thus the Brown Thrashers which breed throughout most of Nebraska are probably intergrades of the two subspecies.

Spring:  Mar 18, 19, 22 <<<>>> summer (east), Apr 9, 14, 14 <<<>>> summer (central), Apr 19, 21, 23 <<<>>> summer (west)

Migrants in the southeast arrive in early to mid-Apr; arrival in the west is somewhat later. There are numerous reports in the period 1 Jan-20 Mar which probably are of wintering birds or very early migrants (see Winter).

  • High counts:  161 in Hall Co 11 May 2002, 144 there 13 May 2006, 126 in southeast Nebraska 6 May 2006, and 60 at Kenesaw, Adams Co 26 Apr 1998.

Summer: Brown Thrasher breeds statewide, with lower numbers westward and lowest numbers in the Panhandle.

The range expanded into grasslands of the Great Plains during the late 1800s as European settlers arrived; fire suppression, woody plantings, and the breakup of prairies into fields bordered by fencerows and shelterbelts created optimal habitat for the species (Cavitt and Haas 2020).  As agricultural land use has continued to intensify, habitat for this species may be decreasing.  BBS trend analysis shows an annual decline of -1.28 (95% C.I.; -1.88, -0.67). Densities are currently highest for the USA in the central Great Plains, including eastern Nebraska (Cavitt and Haas 2020).

  • Breeding phenology:
  • Nest building: 1 May
    Eggs: 16 May-17 Jul
    Nestlings: 2 Jun-7 Jul
    Fledglings: 27 Jun-26 Jul
  • High counts:  25 in Lancaster Co 4 Jun 2013, and 19 in Custer Co 11 Jun 2017.

Fall:  Departure is gradual, with most birds leaving by mid-Oct, especially in the Panhandle, where later reports are unusual: 5 Nov 1978 Garden Co, 14 Nov 2000 Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co, 25 Nov 1963 Dawes Co, 12 Dec 1987 Scotts Bluff Co, 31 Dec 1974-1 Jan 1975 Scotts Bluff Co, and 31 Dec 1976 Sioux Co.

Elsewhere, Dec reports are numerous; most reports are from CBCs. Jan reports are far fewer and are discussed below under Winter.

Banding data indicate that Brown Thrashers which summer in Nebraska commonly winter in Texas, and also that in fall some individuals wander northward, at least to South Dakota.

  • High counts:  20 at Lincoln Saline Wetllands NP, Lancaster Co 21 Sep 2018, 18 in Lancaster Co 31 Aug 2002, 15 in Custer Co 8 Sep 2018, and 12 at Wyuka Cemetery, Lancaster Co 17 Sep 2017.

Winter: There are several Jan reports, but over-wintering is rare. One over-wintered in Aurora, Hamilton Co 1957-58 (Jorgensen 2012), another in Lincoln, Lancaster Co through 9 Mar 2008, one in Scotts Bluff Co 2010-2011, an apparently-injured bird wintered in Madison, Madison Co 2012-2013, singles overwintered in Lincoln, Lancaster Co yards 2013-2014, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018, and one wintered in a yard near Lake Cunningham, Douglas Co 28 Dec 2019-29 Jan 2020.

Most late Jan through early Mar reports are probably over-wintering birds; these reports are generally from the southeast, although there are these from further north and west: 1 Jan 2019 Furnas Co, 2 Jan 1978 Howard Co, 2 Jan 2000 Lake McConaughy, Keith Co, 2 Jan 2011 Lake McConaughy CBC, 5 Jan 2014 Lincoln Co, 6 Jan 2002 Kearney, Buffalo Co, 7 Jan 1957 Dawes Co, 10 Jan 2005 North Platte, Lincoln Co, 26 Jan 1959 Antelope Co, 1 Feb 2005 Morrill Co, 18 Mar 2019 Hall Co, 19 Mar 1958 Dawes Co, and 29 Mar 2020 Sioux Co.


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
NP: Nature Center
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Brown Thrasher at Papillion, Sarpy Co 1 May 2012 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed.  Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Cavitt, J.F. and C.A. Haas. 2020. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission,    Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 30 Aug 2020