Sage Thrasher
South Okanagan Nature Sage Thrasher Sage Thrasher
Did you know that we are privileged to have some of Canada’s rarest birds living in the South Okanagan Valley at least part of the year? Amongst these rare birds is the Sage Thrasher which nests here in the summer after migrating from more southerly regions.

The Sage Thrasher is a robin-sized songbird that is known to occur regularly in Canada in only one region – the South Okanagan –Similkameen. It also occasionally nests in the dry sagebrush grasslands of extreme southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and a small region of southern Saskatchewan. The total population of this bird in Canada is estimated at less than 25 pairs. In our area it breeds in the Nighthawk-Chopaka area (south of Cawston), southwest of Kilpoola Lake and around White Lake.

The Sage Thrasher winters mainly in Mexico and further south although some do spend the winter in southernmost Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Although it returns to its nesting grounds in Washington in mid-March and early April, most thrashers don’t show up in British Columbia until late May or even mid-June.

There are a total of eight species of thrashers known in North America – of the other seven, only the Brown Thrasher occurs in Canada and that only east of the Rocky Mountains. Thrashers tend to have medium to very long bills except for the Sage Thrasher which has a bill about the size of a robin’s – nothing noteworthy there!

As the name implies, Sage Thrashers “hang out” in desert steppe areas dominated by sagebrush and therein lies the problem for the continued existence of this bird in Canada. During breeding season (the only time they are in Canada) not just any sagebrush will do. It has to be “old growth” sagebrush – bushes at least 1 m tall and fairly dense. Much of the suitable habitat has been replaced by orchards, housing developments and more recently, vineyards. Some habitat has been degraded by over-grazing. In adjoining Washington State, through which “our” birds must migrate, it is estimated that about 60% of the original sagebrush-steppe has been destroyed or severely altered. In the South Okanagan, the percentage is probably much higher putting these birds under severe pressure from habitat loss.

Sage Thrashers are designated as Endangered by the Federal Species at Risk Act and are also on the BC Provincial Environment Red List. They are protected under both the Federal Migratory Bird Protection Act and the BC Wildlife Act. Unfortunately neither of these Acts directly protects habitat for endangered species so only a small part of the Sage Thrasher’s critical habitat has been preserved in our region.

Last month in writing about ticks I was perhaps too certain in saying that ticks in the Okanagan carry Lyme disease. What I should have said was something along these lines: “It is currently believed that the species of tick that most commonly transmits Lyme disease is rare in the South Okanagan but may occur more frequently in the North Okanagan. Other tick species are present, but they are not believed to transmit Lyme disease to humans although the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation does state that the species of tick found in the South Okanagan (Dermcentor andersonii) has been shown to carry Lyme disease elsewhere.”
Nature Wise