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
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.
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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.

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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Sage Thrasher

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Sage Thrasher

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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