Jun 24, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2017

The Cranky Thrasher

Hot weather can put anyone in a bad mood—including a curve-billed thrasher.

It was a cool spring in Tucson last year, so we weren't prepared for the triple-digit temperatures that hit us full blast in early June. By early afternoon the mercury topped out at 103, though later in the season it would be 110 before noon. Like nearly everyone else around here, I get cranky and retreat inside to air-conditioned comfort during the summer. That first hot afternoon, I wondered how my backyard birds were faring, and noticed several on the ground trying to cool off.

As I scanned the area with my binoculars, a young curve-billed thrasher caught my attention. He took up residence in my yard during cool April weather, and he's been sharing his outgoing personality with everybody since he arrived. He is delighted to be here! His whits, double whistles, and little raspy exclamations start at dawn and only quiet down at dusk. Curve-billed thrashers are common birds in the Sonoran Desert, and not shy. Once you recognize their calls, you'll hear their voices all over the place: in brushy habitat, parks and suburban yards. By fall my hatch-year bird would find his way into the world of grownup winged things, but early last summer, he was a relative teenager-a bit scrawny and rumpled and looking like he needed to comb his hair. Baby feathers still clung to his head, neck, and nape. Like most teenagers, he seemed to think everyone else should be as interested in him as he is in himself: He always lets us know where he is, and his calls are louder than they really need to be.

But on that hot day, he didn't making any noise at all, and he was in a decidedly bad mood. Ruffled up and irritated-looking, he was rooting in the wet earth under the bird feeders. "Our young neighborhood entertainer is going to lose his temper," I thought. Sure enough, as I watched, he lifted his head and peered around peevishly at the other birds on the ground. Then he reared back, curved bill wide open, chest thrust out, and took fast, short runs at the house finches, quail, and towhees who had been minding their own business in the shade. Sighting in on each target, he deliberately ran them off one by one. Soon the whole area was empty and quiet. His temper tantrum was over. Feeling better now, he shook his shoulders, settled his feathers, and, with evident satisfaction, went back to digging in the dirt contentedly, all by himself.

The constant, good-natured chirping of those little birds must have bugged him. Maybe it was the combination of too many birds, too much noise, and too much heat. His temper finally boiled over, like mine does sometimes before the cooling monsoons of July. It was all just too much for this youngster, and it got to him early—on the very first day of real heat in the Sonoran Desert!

About Carmen C. Christy

Carmen Christy has lived in Tucson, Arizona, for most of her life. She enjoys observing the personalities and relationships among the birds in her backyard, and writes about her feathered friends.

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  • Thanks for the clean up info. I appreciate it.
    by Debbie Scheiman, Wed, 21 Mar 2018
  • Another suggestion is to buy easy to clean feeders. It’s just human nature to avoid a task that’s hard, so fill your birdfeeding station with feeders that dissemble and clean up easily.As your budget allows, replace old fussy feeders with ones that make cleaning a snap.And have a back-up feeder or two so when you clean a birdfeeder, you have another to take its place.
    by Nancy Castillo, Fri, 16 Mar 2018
  • I don't agree with the 20-30 minutes at 375°. This will burn the egg shells. 5-7 minutes is enough to kill any issues. I also place mine in the microwave for 2-3 minutes to achieve the same result.Just my experience and suggestion.I host 100+ pairs of Purple Martin's and many box nesting species.
    by Mark Croucher, Sat, 03 Mar 2018
  • Has anyone heard of a Carolina wren opening doors? Our cat brought us a wren late last night, thought it was a goner but put it in our parakeet's old cage that has the sliding vertical doors. The wren gained strength, started to bop around the cage. We wanted to release it in the morning to make sure we could see it escape to safety. I put the cage in a quiet bathroom and went to bed. I woke up to the sound of fluttering wings. Sure enough the wren somehow got out, crept under the bathroom door and was trying to get out. I caught it with a light blanket and released it outside. It promptly flew away, very strong. I went back to the cage and am just dumbfounded and impressed, no way out unless it somehow pried the doors open. I was just relieved that it was ok. I can't believe it survived being carried around and batted about like a toy by the cat!Thoughts?
    by Beth Andries, Wed, 27 Sep 2017
  • cool
    by Luke Tansey, Sat, 16 Sep 2017