A California native bird that has captured my interest this year is the California Thrasher, Toxostoma redivivum (‘toxo’means arch or bow and ‘stoma’means mouth;
‘redivivum’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 raucus 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 largecupped 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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