Photo: Tim Lenz/Flickr Creative Commons

Sage Thrasher

Oreoscoptes montanus

This well-named bird is seldom found in summer away from stands of sagebrush. Smaller and shorter-billed than most thrashers, it may suggest a washed-out robin. During the breeding season, its melodious song can be heard incessantly at dawn on the sagebrush flats. The Sage Thrasher is sometimes elusive; if pursued closely it may seem to disappear, only to pop up on a bush top a hundred yards away.
Conservation status Has declined in a number of areas with clearing of sagebrush flats. Still common in appropriate habitat.
Family Mockingbirds and Thrashers
Habitat Sagebrush, brushy slopes, mesas; in winter, also deserts. Breeds almost entirely in sagebrush areas, either in wide-open flats or where sagelands meet open pinyon-juniper woods. Rarely breeds in other brushy habitats. More widespread in migration and winter, occurring in grassland with scattered shrubs, desert, pinyon-juniper woods, and other semi-open areas.
This well-named bird is seldom found in summer away from stands of sagebrush. Smaller and shorter-billed than most thrashers, it may suggest a washed-out robin. During the breeding season, its melodious song can be heard incessantly at dawn on the sagebrush flats. The Sage Thrasher is sometimes elusive; if pursued closely it may seem to disappear, only to pop up on a bush top a hundred yards away.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Does much of its foraging on the ground, running about rapidly on open ground in scrubby territory. Perches in shrubs and low trees to feed on berries.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes more or fewer. Deep greenish blue with brown spots concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by both parents, about 13-17 days. Brown-headed Cowbirds sometimes lay eggs in nest, but cowbird eggs are rejected and tossed out by the adult thrashers. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave nest about 11-14 days after hatching. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave nest about 11-14 days after hatching. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects and berries. Especially in summer, feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, true bugs, wasps, and other insects, plus some spiders. Berries and wild fruits are eaten especially in winter, but the birds may concentrate at any season to feed on gooseberries, wild currants, mistletoe berries, juniper berries, and others, sometimes including cultivated fruits.


Nesting

Male sings to defend breeding territory. May also perform flight display, singing while flying in low zigzag over brush, then alighting and holding the wings raised and fluttering for a moment. Nest site is in sagebrush or other low bush such as greasewood, saltbush, or rabbitbrush, sometimes low in juniper or on ground. Nest (thought to be built by both sexes) is a bulky cup of twigs, lined with fine rootlets, grass, and animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Somewhat irregular in its migrations and its wintering range, perhaps concentrating where there are good wild crops of berries. Strays sometimes wander to Atlantic Coast, mainly in fall.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Somewhat irregular in its migrations and its wintering range, perhaps concentrating where there are good wild crops of berries. Strays sometimes wander to Atlantic Coast, mainly in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Continuous sweet warble without the broken-up phrases of the more familiar Brown Thrasher. The common call note is a deep chuck.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Mockingbirds and Thrashers Perching Birds

Sage Thrasher

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds