Rare Bird Alert in Louisiana

Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

• Louisiana Ecrivisse

Birders seek rare birds as avidly as anglers and hunters chase trophies. Curve-billed Thrashers have only been positively reported in Louisiana three times in the past half century. Imagine the surprise and delight when state birders learned that a Curve-billed Thrasher had been located in a quiet residential neighborhood in south-central Baton Rouge, Louisiana in early March 2018. Not only was the bird dependable in showing up in the same two yards but the residents of the area didn't mind if folks cruised by in vehicles or got out with binoculars and cameras to see and record the bird!

Turns out the bird had been in the area for several months before any birders found out about it. The bird stuck out like a "sore thumb" when birders saw it. Robin-sized with a long tail, the bird was grayish with light spotting on its breast, narrow wing bars, but most importantly, it had a long, down-curved bill. And, the eyes were bright yellow.

The neighborhood residents walk quite a lot. Apparently one or more residents noticed the bird as being different from the expected robins, mockingbirds, jays, thrashers and sparrows. However, it took a long time before someone bothered to try to find someone who could tell him/her what the bird was!

Most everyone knows someone who is at least a casual birder. So, if you see a bird that just looks odd, contact a birder and make his/her day. Now comes the touchy part. Once a rare bird is identified, do you want to be bothered by people you don't know who want to see the bird? Even if you do, what about your neighbors? If arrangements can be made for visiting birders, you'll find that birders rarely cause any problems and respect privacy.

So, where are Curve-billed Thrashers normally found? They are residents of dry arid country along the US-Mexico border region extending well into Mexico and a hundred miles or so in appropriate habitat in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They are often associated with cactus and other arid plants.

No strangers to urban areas, curve-bills readily set up house keeping in subdivisions where yards are planted in native vegetation. They adapt well to humans.

The Baton Rouge Curve-billed Thrasher made itself right at home in yards dominated by azaleas, camelias and common bushes used to landscape homes in the area. This should be no surprise based on the thrashers' association with humans in their normal habitat.

Curve-billed Thrashers are ground oriented birds. They eat most any invertebrates they encounter in leaf litter around bushes beetles, ants, grasshoppers, centipedes, sowbugs, snails, and so forth. They also eat fruits and berries.

When foraging on the ground, Curve-billed Thrashers use their strong bills to dig in the soil, to flip leaf litter out of the way, and turn over small rocks and other debris. They will dig into hard dirt by bracing their tails against the ground and pounding straight down with heavy blows of their bills.

Curve-billed Thrashers tend to wander during the fall and winter. That Is the time of year that the few birds have been documented in our area. None have yet been reported from piney woods!