Sage Thrashers Grooming And Displaying

Sage Thrashers have been described as “rather plain and unremarkable” but I love’em.

I enjoy watching and photographing them in the field because:

  • they have a melodious, flute-like song that can last as long as 22 minutes uninterrupted
  • their breeding behaviors are fascinating, including their undulating courtship flight display that often ends in the remarkable Bilateral Wing Display
  • they’re spooky and elusive which makes them a worthy challenge for the bird photographer

Each of the following photos was taken on the same morning this past April on Antelope Island.



sage-thrasher-2471b-ron-dudley1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

When a bird is preening it’s always a challenge to catch it in an interesting pose and get eye contact at the same time. Their movements are quick so the photographer has to be too. This thrasher was grooming on top of rabbitbrush and I caught it all fluffed up with its tail spread which revealed the white tips of the outer retrices that we don’t normally see.



sage-thrasher-2042b-ron-dudley1/6400, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is the Bilateral Wing Display that I try so hard to photograph but usually fail in my attempts. I see them doing it fairly often but they’re shy about it whenever I’m close and usually they have their back to me. This one momentarily forgot its uncooperative habits and performed for me up close and at a nice angle on top of sagebrush.

During the display they raise one or both wings and flutter them for several seconds while continuing to sing. These displays are thought to play a role in both courtship and aggressive behavior toward other adult thrashers.

I didn’t post many Sage Thrasher images this past summer so I thought I’d try to make up for it this morning.


PS – On an unrelated note some readers have shown interest in (and sympathy for) my recent bout with unfortunate events and bad luck so I thought I’d share the most recent occurrence. It may or may not signal a trend in a more positive direction.

Yesterday morning Mia noticed that the registration on my pickup had expired which meant I’d been driving illegally for two months! Normally the state sends me notification in plenty of time to get my registration renewed in a timely manner but this time I never received it so it just didn’t enter my mind. I immediately went down and took care of it and the gentleman who handled the paperwork told me that if registration has been expired for 3 months they can and often do impound your vehicle. That got my attention!

I guess an optimist would say this was a stroke of good luck because my pickup wasn’t impounded. But being a pessimist by nature I have to wonder which way the trend will go.   


28 comments to Sage Thrashers Grooming And Displaying

  • Jean Haley

    We have these birds here too. I enjoy watching them when we walk in the hills. One of the few strips of desert left around where I live. Nice shots Ron!

    • Jean, As I suspect you know, one of the primary issues for this species is habitat destruction – sagebrush steppes are disappearing quickly.

      • Jean Haley

        Yes, it is sad, and I find it frustrating. The Horned Larks are also losing the shrub they had lived in for years. 🙁

  • Charlotte Norton

    wonderful shots Ron!


  • Love that song.
    And admire the subtle beauty of the Sage Thrasher (whose name is MUCH less melodious than its song).
    I describe myself as an optimistic pessimist. I hope for the best and expect the worst.

  • Marty K

    Hoping that your truck issue is a sign that your luck is turning the corner. *cue rimshot* (I’ll show myself out now.)

    Thank you for sharing the song link. There’s something about certain bird songs that makes me automatically take a breath and relax.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photos, It gave rays of sunlight in my imagination on this overcast day.

  • Trudy Brooks

    Love the pictures, the sage thrashers are very pretty. I wonder about the license practices in Utah. If you have a vehicle that you had sitting in your yard or garage and maybe only use every other year, and did not license it each year “they” would come get it? Some times people in Wy only use the vehicle once in a while and then they pay the back years taxes at that time. Utah must want to keep vehicles from being in storage, or parked some where. Yikes. I know this is off the subject, but kind of wondered?

  • Bill Lindner

    Ron, things have to be looking up for you – as long as Mia wants to keep you on the straight an narrow😊 Thanks for sharing your experiences in and out of the fields.


  • Kris Eberhard

    I love that you take the time to include audio links—-this time, the link helped me identify a song that I had wondered about ” Is this a mutant Meadowlark ?”–now I’m quite sure that it was
    probably a Sage Thrasher after listening to the clip …..I loved the first image in which the rouse displayed the light markings–given the surrounding rabbitbrush and muted background color
    in my opinion it was an ELEGANT study……..

  • Susan Stone

    It’s nice to see cooperative Sage Thrashers. In the wing display I’m impressed by how short the wings seem, even though they are stretched out fully. I guess I’ve been looking at too many raptor photos… 🙂 I hope that the registration episode does signal a turn for the better.

  • Mitch

    Hey, Ron–I lost track of you when you overhauled your website. Always good to look at your imagery and photo-journalistic articles.

    A few years back, while drinking coffee next to one of the our flower gardens, I heard the most interesting song coming from a bird hidden in a hedge. At first I thought it was a Mockingbird, but the song was decidedly different from a Mocker. After several minutes the rascal hopped out in plain view and it turned out to be my closest encounter with a Brown Thrasher (I was in the Ozarks of NW Arkansas at the time). Of course I had neglected to bring a cam with me on that morning.:)

    Do the Thrashers “mimic” other birds/animals or is this simply their own song of joy? Good to be back in the groove with you and your blog!

    • Welcome back, Mitch.

      Yes, Sage Thrashers occasionally mimic other species (including meadowlarks and Horned Larks) but mimicry plays a relatively minor role in their vocal repertoire.

  • Patty Chadwick

    A n interesting captire…like the silvery grsy bird on the silvery grsy rabbitbrush….

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful photos of the Sage Thrasher, Ron. 🙂 “Little birds” are always a challenge – some more than others! Good luck/bad luck on the truck! Hopefully that’s the end of you run of bad luck. Having your truck impounded would have REALLY been bad news for you in so many ways!