Redwing

If you listen carefully on a chilly autumn night, you might hear the "tseee" call of migrating Redwings passing overhead. They use this flight call to keep together. The Redwing, like the Fieldfare, is a winter visitor and is the UK's smallest true thrush, arriving in October and leaving in April. They roam across the countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows and are often seen with Fieldfares. You will only get them in gardens in the coldest weather, when snow covers the fields.

The Redwing is smaller than a blackbird. It has dark upper parts, a yellow buff breast with lines of dark spots that look more streaked, a bold head pattern with a strong cream stripe over the eye, and rust red flanks (hence the name). The rust red underwing is clearly visible in flight.

Redwings roost in thick hedges, especially if there are lots of berries. They eat fallen fruit, worms, snails, slugs, and berries - especially hawthorn.

They nest in a tree or low bush. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of grass, twigs, and moss. She incubates the 4-6 eggs for 12 days. Once hatched, the young are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 15 days. The parents continue to feed the youngsters for a further 2 weeks. Dad often takes over the feeding of the first brood while mum gets on with a second.

About 1 million Redwing visit us in winter, arriving from two different places - Redwing from Scandinavia and slightly larger Redwing from Iceland. The Icelandic birds are mainly found in Scotland and the Scandinavian ones in England. Redwing are very nomadic and will winter in different areas in different years. Similar to the Fieldfare, about 10 pairs a year stay and breed in Northern Scotland.

Their Latin name is 'turdus iliacus' from 'turdus' for 'thrush' and 'ile' meaning 'flank'.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares are nomadic winter visitors that come over to here from Scandinavia, like a Viking raiding party, to pillage our berries. They arrive in late October and stay for the whole winter before leaving again in April. A tiny number stay behind and breed in Scotland.

They are a large thrush of the woodlands and countryside with a chestnut back, dark tail, grey rump, and a grey head with dark streaks on the crown. Bold spots cover their yellowish breast and they have a yellow bill with a dark tip. They have a visible white underwing when flying, which they do with bursts of wing beats followed by a glide. They stand upright when on the ground, usually in groups and often with Redwings, moving about with purposeful hops. Their call is a "chack chack", which is given in flight, so if you hear it they have already dashed off to another tree.

Fieldfares eat insects, berries, and fallen fruit. They love a good windfall apple. Cider is the drink of marauders.

Fieldfares start nesting once they have returned to Scandinavia in May. They nest in trees, making a cup-shaped nest from twigs lined with mud and soft grass. The 6 eggs hatch after 10 days and the youngsters can fly 12 days later though depend on mum and dad for a further month. Fieldfares usually have two broods. They have a neat trick of shooting their poo to deter predators who approach the nest. Just as well they don't nest here then.

The breeding population in Britain is tiny, with only 2-3 pairs - yes that few! However, up to 1 million come here in the winter. The oldest recorded Fieldfare lived to be 18 years old.

Their Latin name is 'turdus pilaris' where both 'turdus' and 'pilaris' are Latin words for 'thrush'. The English name dates back to at least the eleventh century and is from an Old English word 'feldefare' which is 'traveller through the fields'. Much more romantic than double thrush.

Mistle Thrush

If Song Thrushes are operatic tenors and Blackbirds are folk singers, then the Mistle Thrush sings the blues. The Mistle Thrush got its name from being such a greedy pig for mistletoe berries. The Mistle Thrush is also called a 'storm cock' for singing his melancholy song in the rain. A great stage name for a blues singer.

The Mistle Thrush is larger and greyer than the Song Thrush, standing more upright and bold with a pot belly. It has grey brown upper parts, a small head, a 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, less arrow shaped, and going all the way down to the legs, with clumps of spots forming blotches on the upper breast sides. These spots do not form lines on the flank, but may form a necklace pattern around the throat. There is a pale, vertical cheek spot. In flight, the under wing and tail edges are a distinctive white. The Mistle Thrush has a fast, almost leisurely flight.

The male has a loud, far-carrying song which he delivers from the highest treetop. 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 alarm call is different to a Song Thrush's and sounds like a clockwork soldier unwinding rapidly.

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 its 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 against potential predators, including humans and cats.

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

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

Robin

The iconic sweet looking little fellow that appears on Christmas cards. Robins are far from sweet and nice. They are bold, ferocious warriors of the hedgerow, fiercely defending their territories, attacking other males and any competitors that stray too close. They can even get the hump for no reason and attack other small birds without provocation. There are instances of robins even attacking their own reflections. These guys are hard. The Vikings held them to be a storm-cloud bird sacred to Thor, the god of thunder. They curtsey, flick their wings and tail to give you a chance to back off before laying into you. Folklore has it that a Robin should never be harmed, which is not surprising if you know what's good for you.

The Robin is a plump bird (though don't dare call him fat) with a short neck, brown body, red breast and face, and white belly. Their eyes are large and prominent for giving you the hard stare. They have a fluty, wistful song which is slower and sadder in autumn and winter as there is nobody around to beat up. It consists of many short variable verses. They can be heard singing at night near streetlamps - when they have had a few down the pub. The best distinguishing feature is that their song often sounds as if they are singing two notes at once. They have a short break from singing in July while moulting, as who wants to draw attention to themselves when not looking as hard as nails. Their alarm call is a high pitched 'Tseee'.

The Robin normally hunts from a perch looking for movement or by hopping on the ground. They mostly eat insects and worms with some fruit and seeds in winter to help keep their strength up. The male and female have separate territories in winter, calling a spring truce for love. Their red breast is used in courtship (the redder the better for the girls) and to deter rivals (only a warrior wears red clothes).

A Robin's nest is made by the female and consists of grasses and leaves. It is built among tree roots, crevices, and any other useable gap such as a good Robin nest box (the ones without holes as holes are for sissies). They lay about six eggs in April, which hatch after 13 days. The young fly after 13 days and are cared for by both parents for 24 days before leaving. There are usually two broods. The young birds have no red breast and are spotted with golden brown. They delay getting their redbreasts so they are not beaten up by mum or dad.

Robins are abundant and widespread, with over 6.5 million breeding pairs. Most Robins stay local, though there is a little migration south-westwards in the autumn. Robins suffer in severe winter weather, so remember to put Robin food in the feeder and give them a warm nest box to use. The Robin was formerly classified as a member of the thrush family (a turdus), which was not at all cool, but are now considered to be in the flycatcher family which sounds much more fierce. The Latin name is 'erithacus rubecula' which means 'robin' as hard men don't have complicated names - Knuckles does just fine.

Blackbird

The male Blackbird is matt black with a bright yellow bill and yellow eye ring. In fact, the yellower his bill the more the girls like him. The female Blackbird is a much duller... brown! She also has a yellow beak. The male youngsters are brown, like mum, initially, so they don't get beaten up by dad confusing them for rival males.

Blackbirds make up for being boring black by having a beautiful 'flutey' song that contains many relaxed verses, like a man casually leaning against a wall and whistling away. They are the folk singers of birds. Listen carefully and you notice that the verses begin with flutey notes but end less tunefully with a squeak or chuckle. A Blackbird can have a repertoire of over 90 or more different verses. Some verses are regional, so a Yorkshire Blackbird will have a different set of folk songs to a Rutland one. They learn more verses the older they get so you can tell how old and crusty they are from the number of folk songs they can sing. Blackbirds sing louder in cities than in the countryside so they can be heard above the traffic noise - or they are just loudmouth folkies from London. Individuals have their own favourite spot to busk, so it can be easy to get to know individuals. They like a good sing, being one of the first to start up in the dawn chorus and, like the Robin, sing throughout most of the year. In stark contrast, they have a very loud and explosive alarm call which, once you know it, you can't mistake.

Blackbirds feed under or close to cover (a big bush or hedge), turning over leaves in search of their food. They like insects, snails, worms, berries (they do purple poo in the winter from eating elder berries), and fruit such as fallen apples and pears.

The female mainly builds the nest, the male being too busy showing off his upright tail stance or else out busking. The nest is made of grass, straw, and small twigs stuck together with mud. It is lined with finer grasses. Eggs can be laid as early as February. There are up to 5 eggs which hatch after 14 days. The chicks are then fed for a further 14 days. There can be as many as three broods.

Blackbirds are found just about everywhere with over 5 million birds in the British Isles and even more arriving in winter (which is typical of folk singers). Northern Blackbirds migrate south to join the southerners for a good winter folk festival. They have the Latin name ’turdus merula’ (don't laugh), ’turdus’ means 'thrush' (not poo) and ’merula’ means 'blackbird'.

Song Thrush

The Song Thrush is the operatic tenor of the bird world. Found in gardens, parks, woods, and hedgerows - any stage where they can sing to a good audience. The Song Thrush is stocky with a relatively short tail. It is pale brown above with creamy buff under parts covered in black v-shaped spots (that look like upside down love hearts for all his adoring fans). They show an orangey underwing when flying, with their rapid and direct no nonsense flight, to get to their next concert venue as quickly as possible.

The Song Thrush has a far carrying, musical song that is rich with flutey notes. It sings in short phrases that are often repeated in threes or fives just in case you didn't get it the first time. They can have an extensive operatic repertoire of over 100 songs from Puccini to Wagner. They sing mainly during the day and also at dusk after most other birds have finished, as a good opera can go on a bit. The Song Thrush sings mostly from March to July and briefly in the autumn - for charity concerts. The Song Thrush flicks its wings when excited.

The Song Thrush feeds under trees and bushes and is seldom far from cover. Their favourite food is snails (escargot) which you would expect from such a musical prima donna. The snails are opened by banging them on a rock. They will eat other insects and especially a good juicy worm. They change the menu to more fruit in the autumn and winter when there are fewer insects around.

The female Song Thrush builds the nest in a tree or bush close to the trunk (the male is too busy signing autographs). It is made of twigs, grass, and moss and is lined with mud. She lays up to 5 eggs which hatch after 15 days. Both parents feed the young who leave the nest after 13 days. The youngsters are quickly independent and soon busy signing up for their own record label. The Song Thrush will sometimes have a second brood.

There are 1 million birds in Britain which are both migrant and resident. Many from Scotland and Northern Britain overwinter in Ireland. Some from Southern Britain go to France and Spain. The numbers of Song Thrush are, sadly, falling and they are on the 'red list'. It seems many youngsters are not getting through their first winter because of agricultural intensification and changes in hedgerow and woodland management. Their Latin name is ’turdus philomelos’ where ’turdus’ means 'thrush' and ’philomeos’ refers to a character in Greek mythology, Philomela, who had her tongue cut out, but was changed into a singing bird to make up for it.