Species Profile

Sage Thrasher

Scientific Name: Oreoscoptes montanus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: December 2021
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii); D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This songbird is restricted to small areas of southern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, where it is closely associated with remnant sagebrush grasslands. Its distribution and abundance in Canada appear to have been stable over the past decade, but the population remains very small, with an estimated total of 7 to 36 mature individuals. Immigration from small and declining subpopulations in Washington and Montana is likely insufficient to increase the Canadian population. Loss of sagebrush-dominated habitat to residential development, agricultural development, and fire is believed to have resulted in population declines. Climate change presents a growing concern.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in April 1992. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2000, November 2010, and December 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher Photo 1



The Sage Thrasher is the only member of the genus Oreoscoptes, and is likely more closely related to the mockingbirds in the genus Mimus than to other thrashers. It is smaller than an American Robin, with a relatively short bill and tail compared to other thrashers. Both sexes show drab greyish-brown above with grey-brown stripes below; the face appears streaked with a whitish supercilium and black streaks on the sides of the throat. The song is a long, musical series of warbling notes. No subspecies are recognized. The Sage Thrasher is one of a small suite of bird species dependent on sagebrush habitats for their existence. (Updated 2017/06/14)


Distribution and Population

The Sage Thrasher breeds from extreme southern British Columbia, southeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, central Idaho and south-central Montana south through the Great Basin and western Great Plains to northeastern Arizona, west-central and northern New Mexico, northern Texas, and western Oklahoma. The Sage Thrasher winters from central California, southern Nevada, northern Arizona, central New Mexico and central Texas south to central Mexico. (Updated 2017/06/14)



Sage Thrashers breed in shrub-steppe environments dominated by sagebrush. While the size of the shrubs is not important for foraging, large sagebrush (ca. 1 m high) is preferred for nesting. Some habitat has been lost in Canada over the past few decades, but the major loss has been in the United States where more than half of the sagebrush ecosystem has been converted to agriculture. (Updated 2017/06/14)



Sage Thrashers return to Canada in spring and early summer, building bulky nests of sticks in large sagebrush. They lay four or five eggs in the nest, and raise two broods in one season, at least in the central part of the breeding range. In spring and summer they feed largely on insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles, switching to a mixed diet of berries and insects in late summer and early fall. (Updated 2017/06/14)



All threats relate to habitat quality and quantity. There are imminent threats to all habitat on private lands and Indian Reserves in the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys; sagebrush habitats on these lands are likely to be converted to intensive agriculture (mostly vineyards), housing, and golf courses. Overgrazing has been a problem in the past, because it reduces the size of sagebrush and promotes the establishment of annual grasses, particularly Cheatgrass, which reduces habitat suitability for Sage Thrashers. About a third of the historic habitat has been developed. (Updated 2017/06/14)



Federal Protection

The Sage Thrasher is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Sage Thrasher Recovery Team

  • Megan Harrison - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
    Phone: 604-350-1989  Fax: 604-946-7022  Send Email


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The Sage Thrasher recovery team aims to ensure sufficient habitat to support three breeding populations in British Columbia and one population each in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Habitat may receive protection through conservation partnerships, local stewardship initiatives or designation of new protected areas. In many cases habitat will require some restoration, which may include adjusting grazing regimes and intensities, removing encroaching trees or exotic plants, or replanting Sagebrush. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Sage Thrasher habitat requirements are well understood and research is now focused on managing habitat to meet those requirements, while also providing ranching and other economic opportunities. One major project is evaluating the changes in vegetation on several pastures that have had different livestock grazing regimes since 2000. This project will help to clarify the effects of alternative livestock grazing regimes on Sage Thrasher habitat - in particular Sagebrush, a key habitat attribute. In a complementary study, plant communities will be surveyed in 2005 at several sites that have had livestock excluded from them since the 1950s. Until recently, recovery planning had not taken place for Sage Thrashers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, because it was not clear that viable breeding populations existed in these provinces. In 2003 and 2004, potential Sage Thrasher breeding habitat was surveyed and breeding birds were located in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. Recovery planning is now underway for these populations. Summary of Recovery Activities In 1999, 1,881 ha of ecologically valuable habitat in B.C.’s southern interior was protected through a joint effort of land trusts. Sage Thrashers are one of several species at risk found on this property, called Long’s Ranch. In 2001, three historical Sage Thrasher breeding areas received habitat protection with the establishment of the South Okanagan and White Lake Grasslands Protected Areas (9,630 ha). The majority of suitable Sage Thrasher habitat occurs on private and Indian Reserve Lands; therefore, the recovery team emphasizes the importance of coordinating recovery initiatives with Fist Nations and private landowners. This process has begun with an outreach program, including a phone number for people to report sightings of this rare bird.


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) in Canada (2011-09-09)

    A small thrasher (slightly smaller than an American Robin) with, when compared to other thrashers, a relatively short bill and tail. Drab greyish-brown above with grey-brown stripes below; face appears streaked with a whitish supercilium and black streaks on the sides of the throat. Sexes are similar. Song is a long, musical series of warbling notes.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Sage Thrasher (2011-12-08)

    In Canada, this species occurs in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its Canadian population is extremely small, ranging from 7 to 36 individuals depending on the year. Populations in adjacent parts of the U.S., which are a likely source of birds for Canada, are declining. In addition, the sagebrush habitat necessary for breeding is decreasing, particularly in British Columbia, where the species is a regular breeder.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) in Canada (2014-12-10)

    The Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) is a medium-sized songbird that can be distinguished from other thrashers by its smaller size, short tail and short bill. Adult Sage Thrashers have brownish-grey upper parts with indistinct streaking on their crowns, off-white under parts streaked with dark brown spots, and brownish wings with narrow whitish wing-bars and black bills. The Sage Thrasher song is a long, harmonious, flute-like series of warbling notes. Sage Thrashers are short-distance migrants, and are only present in Canada between spring and late summer.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Permits and Related Agreements

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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