Mistle Thrush

If Song Thrushes are operatic tenors and Blackbirds are folk singers, then the Mistle Thrush sings the blues. The Mistle Thrush likely got its name from its love of Mistletoe berries.

It is larger and paler than the Song Thrush, standing upright and bold. It has a grey brown upper parts, a small head, long squared tail, and big wings. The breast is pale with large spots which are different from the Song Thrush’s by being more round and less arrow shaped. In flight, the under wing and tail edges are white. The Mistle Thrush has a fast, almost leisurely flight. 

The male has a loud, far-carrying melancholy song which he delivers from the highest treetop even in wet and windy weather, earning him the old name of stormcock, which is a great stage name for a blues singer. He can sing for long periods at a time, especially when feeling a bit down. The song is like a simple Blackbird song with just three to six flutey notes.  The verses are repeated with small variations similar to the rhyming lines of a blues dirge and with each verse only lasting about a second. The Mistle Thrush sings from mid-winter but by May quietens down as it is harder to be depressed when the weather is fine.

The Mistle Thrush feeds in the open away from cover on insects like beetles, worms, slugs, and snails (you would sing the blues after having slugs for lunch). They also eat berries with rowan, mistletoe, yew, and holly being particular favourites. In winter,  once the Mistle Thrush has found a berry-laden tree, it will guard it from any would-be thieves and in turn, helps the tree to thrive by accidentally 'planting' its seeds while wiping its bill or dispersing the seeds in poo.

The Mistle Thrush nests as early as February. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of grass roots and leaves held together with a bit of mud in a tree and lines it with finer grasses. The 3-5 eggs hatch after 12 days and the youngsters can fly 12 days  later. The parents look after the youngsters for a further 14 days while they are being home schooled in slide guitar. They usually have 2 broods. The parents will fearlessly defend their nest and family against potential predators, including humans and cats. 

Mistle Thrushes are normally found as individuals or in pairs for much of the year, although families may forage together in late summer, and groups may merge to travel round in large chattering flocks, striping ripe berries from trees and bushes in gardens, parks, woods, hedges, pasture land - anywhere there are good berries to be found. The flocks often fly in a line.

About 200,000 Mistle Thrush pairs can be found thinly spread throughout Britain. They are mostly locally resident, though the ones further north can be a bit nomadic in winter. The Latin name is ‘turdus viscivorus’, where ‘turdus’ is the Latin for ’thrush’ (not berry poo), and ‘viscivorus’ means ’mistletoe eater’.

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