A BIRDBATH FOR THE CALIFORNIA THRASHER (AND OTHERS)

A California native bird that has captured my interest this year is the California Thrasher, Toxostoma redivivus (‘toxo’ means arch or bow and ‘stoma' means mouth; 'redivivus' means resurrected, referring to rediscovery in the 1800s after initial sightings in the 1700s.) Its habitat is California and Baja California chaparral, which has been declining. The result has been a reduction in the California Thrasher population by 35% in the last 50 years. The California Thrasher is extremely cautious and shy which probably explains why I have just ‘discovered’ them in my garden. The notoriously bold and raucous Scrub-Jays, permanent residents in our garden’s large shrubs, have always demanded my attention. Their antics are obvious and responsive (especially in regard to water), so they have been my focus when I am in the garden. Often, when watering with a hose, a jay will perch close to me, loudly asking for water. I oblige by aiming at a shrub or an object that will collect the water. I have watched a jay drink from the large cupped leaves of Desert Penstemon, Penstemon pseudospectabilis or even from a water meter cover. Of course, Scrub Jays also regularly visit our backyard birdbath. Then, one day this summer, I spotted a California Thrasher pair on our front bank noisily tossing leaves aside with their long, curved beaks to find insects and seeds in the soil below. When I approached to see ‘who’ they were, there was a quick scurrying back into the large and overgrown pittosporum, a perfect thrasher habitat. They are more often heard ‘thrashing’ about than seen. I then read in Birds of San Diego: “a thrasher readily responds to squeaking and pishing, often peeking curiously out of its sheltered sanctuary.” I have tried this a few times with some success!
Because I wanted to see more of the California Thrasher I researched ways to make its habitat more appealing in order to encourage them to spend less time hiding in the shrubs. Thinking about my experience with the Scrub Jays, I realized water would be key. I had a large saucer that would be perfect for this purpose. California Thrashers spend most of their time on the ground, so a saucer at ground level would be best. The ideal site is in the shade, under an open shrub with a clear view from the birdbath so a quick retreat can be made, if necessary. I am happy to report that the birdbath has been a success and is
used by the thrashers and all the other usual garden birds as well!
California Thrashers eat insects, spiders, berries, fruits, acorns, and seeds. According to Las Pilitas Nursery website: “In our garden, one of their favorite plants is the golden current, ribes aureum gracillimum. It is covered with small red berries that turn black when they have ripened. The branches droop down low to the ground and the thrasher will pluck them off. They also love Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia. This is a tall evergreen shrub with holly-like berries.”

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