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Brown Thrashers Defend Nest

Audubon caught this scene before cameras were imagined. (Painted on East Coast in 1829, 2 males above and 2 females below, with black snake.)


Brown Thrasher, by John James Audubon, watercolor, accession number 1863.17.116.
© Collection of The New-York Historical Society

"Audubon actually witnessed the agitated scene depicted here, which, he says, resulted in damage to the thrashers' nest and the loss of their eggs. The event ended happily for the thrashers, however, when they finally killed the snake. Audubon himself played a part in the drama by picking up the flagging female (shown drooped over the snake's body at the bottom of the composition) and holding her for a few minutes until she began to revive." 1

There are ten varieties of thrasher (Genus Taxostoma) -- most found in southwest Texas or California. The Brown Thrasher seen here extends west through the prairie states (north into Canada), south to eastern Texas, and east to the Atlantic Ocean, the Southeast, and Florida.

He's known for very melodic song improvised with doubling phrases. Thrashers are well acquainted with snakes as they are largely ground feeders using their beaks to toss leaves aside in search of food. This includes insects, lizards, snails, crayfish, tree frogs, and wild berries. Their nests invite trouble -- being on or close to the ground, or in bushes or tangled vines, but sometimes as high as 12 to 15 feet.

"'Few snakes come off with success when they attack the nest,' relates Audubon, 'when the least alarm is given by an individual, a whole party of them instantly rush forth to assist in chasing off the common enemy.... both male and female sit on the eggs. Their mutual attachment, and their courage in defending their nest, are well known to children who live in the country.'" 2 In declining numbers in many areas.


  1. Annette Blaugrund and Theodore E. Stubbins, Jr. Editors. John James Audubon: The Watercolors for the Birds of America (New York: Villard Books. 1993). Page 180.
  2. Ibid. Page 180.


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