Overview

Brief Summary

Toxostoma rufum

A large (11 ½ inches) songbird, the Brown Thrasher is most easily identified by its rusty-brown back, speckled breast, long rounded tail, and long curved bill. This species may be distinguished from the related Long-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma longirostre) by that species’ paler plumage and from several species of brown New World thrushes by their smaller sizes and shorter tails. Male and female Brown Thrashers are similar to one another in all seasons. The Brown Thrasher breeds across much of the eastern United States and southern Canada. Northerly-breeding populations migrate to the southeastern U.S. and east Texas for the winter. Populations breeding further south are non-migratory. Brown Thrashers breed in a variety of semi-open habitats with large quantities of groundcover, including forest edges, grasslands, and shrubby fields. Birds that migrate south in winter utilize similar habitat types as they do on their breeding grounds further north. Brown Thrashers eat a variety of plant and animal foods, including insects, spiders, berries, and fruits. In appropriate habitat, Brown Thrashers may be seen foraging for food on the ground or in the branches of low bushes and shrubs. A close relative of the mockingbirds, this species is also known for its ability to mimic other birds, and may be identified aurally by its habit of repeating each mimicked bird vocalization twice in a row before moving on (for comparison, the Northern Mockingbird repeats each vocalization three or more times, while the Gray Catbird, another mimic, switches vocalizations for each refrain). Brown Thrashers are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Cavitt, John F. and Carola A. Haas. 2000. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/557
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Toxostoma rufum. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - Brown Thrasher. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Distribution

Brown thrashers are found from southeastern Canada through eastern, central, and southeastern United States. Brown thrashers are the only thrasher species east of the Rocky Mountains and central Texas. During the breeding season brown thrashers primarily inhabit areas of southern Canada south to east central Texas. Migration is over short distances and at night. In winter, these birds migrate from the northern parts of their range into the southern parts of their range.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Howard, R., A. Moore. 1991. A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. San Diego, CA: Academic Press Inc..
  • Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1983. A guide to filed identification birds of North America. New York, New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc..
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: BREEDING: southeastern Alberta across south Canada to New Brunswick, south to eastern Texas, Gulf Coast, and southern Florida, west to eastern Colorado. NON-BREEDING: eastern New Mexico, eastern Oklahoma, western Tennesse, and southern Maryland south to southeastern Texas, Gulf Coast, and southern Florida.

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Geographic Range

Brown thrashers are found from southeastern Canada through eastern, central, and southeastern United States. They are found in the Nearctic region. Brown thrashers are the only Toxostoma species east of the Rocky Mountains and central Texas. During the summer brown thrashers are found from southern Canada south to east central Texas. Brown thrashers migrate short distances between the summer and winter seasons. They migrate at night. Birds in the northern part of their range migrate into the southern parts of their range.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Howard, R., A. Moore. 1991. A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. San Diego, CA: Academic Press Inc..
  • Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1983. A guide to filed identification birds of North America. New York, New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc..
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Physical Description

Morphology

Adults have rufous upperparts and white underparts with a long, black tail. They have long, straight bills and yellow eyes. Males and females are alike in size and coloration. They are from 23.5 cm to 30.5 cm long, with wingspans of 9.4 to 11.1 cm long. The young appear the same except their upperparts are spotted and their eyes are gray. There are two sub-species, brown thrashers (T. rufum rufum) and long-billed thrashers (T.rufum longirostre). Long-billed thrashers are unique in their dull upperparts, gray head, orange eye, and long, straight bill.

Range mass: 89 (high) g.

Average mass: 68.8 g.

Range length: 235 to 305 mm.

Range wingspan: 94 to 111 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

  • Dunning, J. 1993. CRC handbook of avian body masses. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  • Godfrey, W. 1986. The Birds of Canada. The Birds of Canada, Rev. ed. Edition. Ottawa, ON: National Museum of Natural Science.
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Physical Description

Adult brown thrashers have reddish upperparts and whitish underparts, with a long, black tail. They have long, straight bills and yellow eyes. Males and females are alike in size and color. The young appear the same as adults, except their upperparts are spotted and their eyes are gray.

Range mass: 89 (high) g.

Average mass: 68.8 g.

Range length: 235 to 305 mm.

Range wingspan: 94 to 111 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

  • Dunning, J. 1993. CRC handbook of avian body masses. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  • Godfrey, W. 1986. The Birds of Canada. The Birds of Canada, Rev. ed. Edition. Ottawa, ON: National Museum of Natural Science.
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Size

Length: 29 cm

Weight: 69 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Brown thrashers are found in warm, dry habitats, such as warm forest edges and dense thickets. They are also found in suburban and agricultural areas.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Comments: Thickets and bushy areas in deciduous forest clearings and forest edge, shrubby areas and gardens; in migration and winter also in scrub (AOU 1983). BREEDING: Nests on ground under small bush or as high as about 4 m in tree, shrub, vine.

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Brown thrashers are found in warm, dry habitats, such as warm forest edges and dense thickets. They are also found in suburban and agricultural areas.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Breeding populations north of southeastern U.S. move south for winter. Arrives in New England in late April (Terres 1980).

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Trophic Strategy

Brown thrashers eat insects, primarily beetles and other arthropods, fruits, and nuts. They forage for food on the ground in leaf litter below trees and shrubs. These birds sweep the soil and leaf litter with rapid side-to-side movements that scatter leaves. After sweeping a few times, they will probe the soil and litter with their beaks.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Comments: Eats insects and other invertebrates and small fruits, also some small amphibians and reptiles; forages on or near ground (Terres 1980).

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Food Habits

Brown thrashers eat insects, mainly Coleoptera and other Arthropoda, fruits, and nuts. They forage for food on the ground in leaf litter below trees and shrubs. These birds sweep the soil and leaf litter with rapid side-to-side movements of their beak. After sweeping a few times, they probe the soil and litter with their beaks.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

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Associations

Ecosystem roles include competition with other birds for nesting sites and resources. Also these birds are prey for many snakes and other birds.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • ticka (Ixodes dentatus)
  • hematophagous larvae (Protocalliphora metallica, P. shannoni)

  • Equinox (Oxford) Ltd. 1985. Mockingbirds. Pp. 360-361 in C Perrins, A Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts On File Publications.
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Gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) have been documented visiting brown thrasher nests to break the eggs. Two hypotheses are proposed to explain this heterospecific egg destruction behavior: resource competition and egg predation. These birds both live in shrubs and have similar timing in breeding. They compete for the resources of this habitat. Once the catbird has broken the egg, usually it will consume the contents. This egg consumption is consistent with the proposed egg predation hypothesis. The eggs of brown thrashers are also preyed on by many species of snakes. Adults and nestlings are preyed on by falcons.

To respond to predation, brown thrashers have a few natural defenses. Adults are aggressive and often chase predators from the nest. Adults will use their bill to hit predators, these are large birds and they can cause significant damage to small and medium-sized predators. Other defenses include flapping theirwings and vocalizations.

Known Predators:

  • gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis)
  • eastern yellowbelly racers (Coluber constrictor)
  • common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis)
  • Great Plains rat snakes (Pantherophis emoryi)
  • common king snakes (Lampropeltis getula),
  • milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum)
  • prarie king snakes (Lampropeltis calligaster)
  • black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)
  • bull snakes (Pituophis)
  • domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
  • peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus)

  • Rivers, J., B. Sandercock. 2004. Predation by gray catbird on brown thrasher eggs. The Southwestern Naturalist, 49/1: 101-103.
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Ecosystem Roles

Ecosystem roles include competition with other birds for nesting sites and resources. Also these birds are prey for many snakes and other birds.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • ticka (Ixodes_dentatus)
  • hematophagous larvae (Protocalliphora_metallica,_P._shannoni)

  • Equinox (Oxford) Ltd. 1985. Mockingbirds. Pp. 360-361 in C Perrins, A Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts On File Publications.
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Predation

Gray catbirds (Dumetella_carolinensis) have been documented visiting brown thrasher nests to break the eggs. Two hypotheses are proposed to explain this heterospecific egg destruction behavior: resource competition and egg predation. These birds both live in shrubs and have similar timing in breeding. They compete for the resources of this habitat. Once the catbird has broken the egg, usually it will consume the contents. This egg consumption is consistent with the proposed egg predation hypothesis. The eggs of brown thrashers are also preyed on by many species of snakes. Adults and nestlings are preyed on by falcons.

To respond to predation, brown thrashers have a few natural defenses. Adults are aggressive and often chase predators from the nest. Adults will use their bill to hit predators, these are large birds and they can cause significant damage to small and medium-sized predators. Other defenses include flapping theirwings and vocalizations.

Gray catbirds sometimes visit brown thrasher nests and break and eat the eggs. The eggs of brown thrashers are also preyed on by many species of snakes. Adults and nestlings are preyed on by falcons.

Brown thrashers are aggressive and often chase predators from their nests. Adults will use their bills to hit predators, they also flap their wings at predators and use alarm calls.

Known Predators:

  • gray catbirds (Dumetella_carolinensis)
  • eastern yellowbelly racers (Coluber_constrictor)
  • common garter snakes (Thamnophis_sirtalis)
  • Great Plains rat snakes (Elaphe_emoryi)
  • common king snakes (Lampropeltis_getula),
  • milk snakes (Lampropeltis_triangulum)
  • prarie king snakes (Lampropeltis_calligaster)
  • black rat snake (Elaphe_obsoleta)
  • bull snakes (Pituophis)
  • domestic cats (Felis_silvestris)
  • peregrine falcons (Falco_peregrinus)

  • Rivers, J., B. Sandercock. 2004. Predation by gray catbird on brown thrasher eggs. The Southwestern Naturalist, 49/1: 101-103.
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Known predators

Toxostoma rufum (red-eyed vireo, yellow warbler, gold finch, catbird, brown thrasher, towhee, robin) is prey of:
Accipiter striatus
Accipiter cooperii

Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 406 (1930).
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Known prey organisms

Toxostoma rufum (red-eyed vireo, yellow warbler, gold finch, catbird, brown thrasher, towhee, robin) preys on:
Insecta

Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 406 (1930).
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General Ecology

Nest predation accounted for 54% of nest failures in Kansas (Murphy and Fleischer 1986).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Brown thrashers communicate mainly with vocalizations. They use mimicry extensively as well and are well known for their songs. Males have the largest documented song repertoire of all North American bird. This includes over 1100 types of songs. At young ages, birds most commonly use "alarm noises". Primary modes of perception include visual and tactile. Brown thrashers use mainly vision to find food and their tactile abilities to search for and manipulate food.

Communication Channels: acoustic

Other Communication Modes: mimicry

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

Brown thrashers communicate mainly with calls. They copy the sounds of other birds and are known for their beautiful, complex songs. Males have many kinds of songs, more than any other kind of North American bird, as many as 1100 types of songs. At young ages, brown thrashers use "alarm noises". They also use their vision and sense of touch to find and handle food.

Communication Channels: acoustic

Other Communication Modes: mimicry

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Life Expectancy

Year-to-year survival is age dependent for brown thrashers. Survival rate is approximately 35% for their first and second years, 50% between second and third years, and 75% between third and fourth years. Limitations to lifespan include disease (for example Salmonella tymphimurium), parasitism, and sometimes exposure to cold temperatures. The longest known lifespan in the wild is twelve years and in captivity, ten to twelve years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
12 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10 to 12 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
11.34 to 17.61 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
14.14 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Only about 35% of brown thrashers live through their first and second years, about 50% between second and third years, and 75% between the third and fourth years. Diseases, parasites, and cold exposure can kill these birds. The longest known lifespan in the wild is twelve years and in captivity, ten to twelve years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
12 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10 to 12 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
11.34 to 17.61 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
14.14 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 12.8 years (wild)
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Reproduction

When males arrive at the breeding grounds they establish a territory. In the southern parts of their range breeding starts in February and March, in the northern parts, breeding starts in May and June. Soon after this, pairs are formed and they begin to build a nest. Mates find each other with calls, most commonly using a call similar to a "tick" or "tchuck". Once the bond is formed and the nest is built, the pair will mate.

Mating System: monogamous

Brown thrasher breeding seasons vary with geographic region. Birds in the southern region breed from February to March; while those in the northern region breed from May to June. Brown thrashers lay three to five eggs each breeding season. Incubation takes about two weeks, once the eggs have hatched, nestlings take from 9 to 13 days to fledge. Independence is reached 17 to 19 days later.

Breeding interval: Brown thrashers breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding season varies geographically. Southern populations breed in February and March, northern populations birds breed in May and June

Range eggs per season: 3 to 5.

Range time to hatching: 11 to 14 days.

Range fledging age: 9 to 13 days.

Range time to independence: 17 to 19 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average eggs per season: 4.

Both parents incubate, brood, and feed nestlings. They incubate by sitting tightly on the nest and slip off when disturbed. During the incubation period, the female does the majority of the incubating. Both parents feed the chicks.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Cavitt, J., C. Haas. 2000. Toxostoma rufum brown thrasher. Pp. 1-28 in The Birds of North America, Vol. 14, 541-560 Edition. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc..
  • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook a field guide to the natural history of north american birds. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster Inc..
  • Fergus, C. 2004. "Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher" (On-line). Pennsylvania Game Commision. Accessed November 12, 2006 at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/pgc/cwp/view.asp?a=458&q=150398.
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Clutch size 3-6 (usually 4). Sometimes 2 broods per year. Incubation 11-14 days, by both sexes. Young tended by both parents, leave nest in 9-13 days. May find new mate for second nesting. See Murphy and Fleischer (1986).

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When male brown thrashers arrive at the breeding grounds in spring they establish a territory. Breeding begins in February and March in the southern parts of their range and from May to June in the north. Once the male and female form a bond, they begin to build a nest. Mates find each other with calls, most commonly using a call similar to a "tick" or "tchuck".

Mating System: monogamous

Brown thrashers start breeding from February to June, depending on the area where they are found. Brown thrashers lay 3 to 5 eggs each breeding season. Incubation takes about two weeks, once the eggs have hatched, nestlings take from 9 to 13 days to fledge. Independence is reached 17 to 19 days later.

Breeding interval: Brown thrashers breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding season varies geographically. Southern populations breed in February and March, northern populations birds breed in May and June

Range eggs per season: 3 to 5.

Range time to hatching: 11 to 14 days.

Range fledging age: 9 to 13 days.

Range time to independence: 17 to 19 days.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Average eggs per season: 4.

Both parents incubate, brood, and feed nestlings. They incubate by sitting tightly on the nest and slip off when disturbed. During the incubation period, the female does the majority of the incubating. Both parents feed the chicks.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Cavitt, J., C. Haas. 2000. Toxostoma rufum brown thrasher. Pp. 1-28 in The Birds of North America, Vol. 14, 541-560 Edition. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc..
  • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook a field guide to the natural history of north american birds. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster Inc..
  • Fergus, C. 2004. "Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher" (On-line). Pennsylvania Game Commision. Accessed November 12, 2006 at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/pgc/cwp/view.asp?a=458&q=150398.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Toxostoma rufum

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 8 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGATGATTATTTTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATCGGCACCCTCTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGAATAGTCGGTACCGCCCTA---AGCCTCCTTATTCGAGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCCCTCCTAGGTGAC---GACCAAGTCTACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCACATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTTATGGTTATGCCAATTATGATCGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATA---ATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATGAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCACCATCCTTCCTACTACTACTAGCATCTTCCACAGTAGAGTCAGGAGTAGGAACAGGCTGAACTGTATACCCACCCCTAGCTGGTAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTA---GCTATCTTCTCCCTACACCTAGCTGGTATCTCTTCCATCCTAGGAGCTATCAACTTCATTACAACAGCAATCAACATAAAACCACCCGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCACTATTTGTTTGATCAGTACTAATCACCGCGGTATTACTCCTCCTATCCCTTCCTGTACTCGCCGCA---GGCATTACCATGCTCCTTACAGACCGCAATCTCAACACCACCTTCTTCGACCCAGCAGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTACTATATCAACACCTTTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCATCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTAATCCTCCCAGGATTCGGAATAATCTCCCACGTAGTAGCCTACTACTCAGGAAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTACATAGGAATAGTATGAGCCATACTATCCATTGGTTTCCTAGGCTTCATCGTCTGAGCCCATCACATGTTCACAGTAGGAATAGACGTAGACACCCGAGCCTACTTTACATCCGCTACCATAATCATTGCCATTCCAACAGGAATCAAAGTATTCAGCTGACTA---GCAACA
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Toxostoma rufum

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 12
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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Source: IUCN

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