Winter Visitors and Familiar Feathers

Blackbird © Neil Aldridge

Winter visitors are arriving in their thousands, and November is the perfect time to brush up on your thrush ID skills.

Thrushes are a familiar sight in our parks and gardens, and these characterful birds bring joy to dedicated birdwatchers and laypeople alike.

November is a wonderful time of year to look out for all the different types of thrush, because species that we wouldn’t normally see are arriving in their thousands.

Here are thrushes that you might spot, and some handy tips on identifying them…

Blackbird © Neil Aldridge

Blackbird © Neil Aldridge

Blackbirds

The melodious blackbird is a common sight across the UK and one of our most familiar thrushes. Their jet black plumage and striking orange bill makes the males of the species instantly recognisable, and you may have noticed that they seem to multiply in the winter months. As the days draw in and the temperature drops, blackbirds from Scandinavia and the Baltics join our resident birds to enjoy the milder climes of Britain – food can be hard to come by in their chilly homelands.

Redwing © Amy Lewis

Redwing © Amy Lewis

Redwings

A tiny population of redwings breed in the UK, but most come from Iceland and Scandinavia in the winter to feast on berry-laden bushes in hedgerows, orchards, parks and gardens. Redwings migrate here at night - on clear evenings listen out for their 'tsee' call overhead. They can often be spotted in flocks with fieldfares, moving from bush to bush looking for food. If you’re hoping to see redwings, apples and berry-producing bushes like hawthorn may attract them into your garden. 

Fieldfare © Richard Steel/2020VISION

Fieldfare © Richard Steel/2020VISION

Fieldfare

Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes that arrive in the UK in mid-October to take advantage of the rich autumn bounty. They can be identified by their blue-grey head, pale-grey rump, red-brown wings, black tail and the yellow-ochre wash across their chest. If you’re lucky you may see flocks of more than 200 birds roaming through the countryside.

Song Thrush © Darin Smith

Song Thrush © Darin Smith

Song Thrush

The song thrush has a brown back with a white belly covered in black, drop-shaped spots. This bird is a familiar garden visitor that has a beautiful and loud song. Earthworms make up a large part of their diet, but when the ground becomes too hard to get at them, song thrushes will eat snails instead. To access the meat inside, they take the shell and crack it open by banging it against a stone 'anvil'.

Mistle Thrush © Amy Lewis

Mistle Thrush © Amy Lewis

Mistle Thrush

The mistle thrush likely got its name from its love of mistletoe - it will defend a berry-laden tree with extreme ferocity! In turn, it helps mistletoe to thrive by accidentally 'planting' its seeds while wiping its bill on the tree bark to remove the sticky residue, as well as dispersing the seeds in its droppings. It is larger and paler than the song thrush, standing upright and bold. The mistle thrush is also known as the 'rain bird' as it can be heard singing loudly from the tops of high trees after spring rains.