St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

October 2013: Spotlight on… Winter Thrushes


Winter Thrushes

During October, the UK will see the start of a mass invasion from overseas, as hundreds of thousands of birds move in from Scandinavia and other parts of Continental Europe to escape from the harsher winters. These include common garden birds, such as Robin and Chaffinch, but our focus this month is on members of the thrush family. For the 2nd year running, the Wildwatch Group is taking part in the Winter Thrush Survey organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (“BTO”). So once a month, we will be walking a set route around the reserve, counting thrushes, and submitting our findings to the national survey database.

All thrushes love feeding off berries – and it’s been a good “berry season” at St Nicks this year, so we will be hopefully be attracting a lot of Winter thrushes!

So which thrushes will we be trying to find and count, and how do you recognise them?

Blackbird Turdus merula (bottom right photo)
This is the easy one! The adult male is well known to many people – all black, with a bright yellow beak. The female is brown with a streaked breast and a paler throat. Huge numbers of Blackbirds migrate to the UK to spend the Winter here. Later in the season, we’ll be looking out for juvenile males from Scandinavia. These juveniles are later than ours in changing their beak colour from darkish to yellow.. like the photo bottom-right above. Our first Winter Thrush Survey at the end of September produced a count of 20 – 30 Blackbirds on the reserve.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (bottom left photo)
We regularly record this beautiful songster on the reserve throughout the year. However, although many Song Thrushes migrate to the UK in the Winter, they mainly come to Southern England. So most of these birds that we will be recording in the coming months are likely to be resident, rather than migratory birds. They probably won’t start singing their repetitive song until early next year, but they are still present at St Nicks. Slightly smaller than Blackbirds, they are brown and have a bold spotted breast and under parts.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
This thrush, (the second largest thrush in the world!) is fairly scarce visitor to St Nicks. Like the Song Thrush, they are mainly sedentary (they don’t move around much) in our area, although there is some migration from Continental Europe of birds either passing through the UK, or spending the Winter here. Again, like Song Thrush, this movement of Mistle Thrushes is mainly in Southern England. Mistle Thrushes are much bigger than Song Thrushes, and have a much greyer appearance with a “wide open eye” appearance.

Redwing Turdus iliacus (top right photo)
This is a genuine Winter visitor, only visiting the UK in the Winter from Scandinavia. We get small numbers of this handsome thrush at St Nicks each Winter. They are slightly smaller than a Song Thrush, but the clearest ID marks are a broad cream-coloured “eyebrow” and (not always clearly visible), a red-chestnut colour just under the wing. They are quite vocal in flight, but fairly silent when they have landed.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris (top left photo)
Another purely Winter visitor, mainly from Scandinavia. We first recorded this species at St Nicks in 2012, flying over the reserve, but they had probably been overlooked in previous years. Like Redwings, Fieldfares are very vociferous in flight, with a distinct “chack chack” call, much easier to pick up than a Redwing’s call. As the photo above shows, this species has a very distinctive plumage, with a dark smudge around the eye (which gives it a rather cross look!), a blue-grey head, a yellowish throat and a heavily speckled breast and flanks. Hopefully, this Winter, we might get a view of this species feeding off our copious berry supply!

“The Migration Atlas” British Trust for Ornithology 2002 (This should carry a health warning.. it weighs over 8 lbs!)
“Concise Birds of the Western Palearctic” Oxford University Press 1997 (another massive book, but the author of this Spotlight post has a condensed version on an iPhone!)

Note: the Fieldfare and Redwing photos were not taken at St Nicks.

15 October 2013 | Categories: Spotlight on... | Tags: berries, blackbird, fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, redwing, Song Thrush, winter thrushes