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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