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Song Thrush

Song Thrush Song Thrush Both Sexes
Warm brown upperparts, creamy yellow throat and breast with speckles.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Turdus philomelos
Length: 23 cm  (9")
Wing Span: 33-36 cm  (13-14")
Weight: 70-90 g  (2½-3¼ oz)
Breeding Pairs: 990 000
Present: All Year
Status: Red
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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Description

The Song Thrush is smaller than either a Mistle Thrush or Blackbird and is less upright when standing.

The sexes are similar with warm brown upper parts, pale buff underparts with dark speckles (which look like arrows pointing towards the head and are often arranged in lines) and a tinge of golden brown on the breast. The belly is almost white with fewer, smaller dark spots than the Mistle Thrush. They have relatively large eyes, as do Robins and other woodland ground feeding birds, and pale pink legs. The bill is brown in colour.

Unlike the Mistle Thrush, the Song Thrush usually flies low, below tree top height, from bush to bush.

Juveniles have pale buff streaks on the back.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Alarm Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

The Song Thrush's song may be repetitive - repeating the same phrase three or four times, as if it liked it the first time and so does it a few more times - but it is clear and flute-like, and is often chosen by people as being their favourite bird song.

They usually sing from a prominent perch.

Robert Browning wrote:

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

Feeding

The Song Thrush's diet includes worms, insects, berries and snails.

The latest research suggests that they eat snails only when the ground has become baked or frozen and they cannot dig out worms, etc. They smash the snail's shell against an anvil (usually a rock). Blackbirds often steal the snail after the Song Thrush has cracked it open.

Song Thrushes often feed under or close to cover, unlike Mistle Thrushes that often feed out in the open.

Nesting

A shady place in a bush or tree is the usual location for the nest, which will be built by the female. The nest is cup shaped and constructed from grass, twigs, and earth. The lining is very smooth and typically comprises mud or dung mixed with saliva.

The smooth, glossy bright blue eggs are spotted with black, and approximately 27 mm by 21 mm. The female incubates the eggs by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
March-June 2-4 3-9 11-15 12-16

Movements

Song Thrushes are both resident and migratory. Some birds, especially in northern populations, migrate southwards in the autumn, with southern populations going as far as France, Spain and Portugal. In the winter, the remaining British population is often joined by slightly darker immigrants from Scandinavia and BENELUX.

Conservation

The Song Thrush population is less than half what it used to be and so it is on the Red List.

Evidence suggests that this is not caused by increased predation by hawks or Magpies but through agricultural intensification and changes in woodland management. Agricultural intensification results in a loss of hedgerows and as a result there is less food and fewer nesting sites for birds to raise sufficient broods to maintain the population. Recent woodland management practice has been to remove the shrub layer from woodlands and improve drainage, this leads to less cover for nest sites and harder ground from which the Song Thrush struggles to extract invertebrates, such as earthworms.

The latest surveys suggest that the decline has at least levelled off and may even be reversing.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

An infrequent visitor to the garden, it is always a joy to see when it does come.

Typically, the shy Song Thrush runs from within the bushes and down the path to collect some kitchen scraps, such as bread and fat, and then runs back to eat them in seclusion. Often, the Song Thrush will sit quite motionless in the undergrowth for a long time - we have watched one like this for over one hour.

The chart shows that the Song Thrushes visit more in the winter and spring months. The increase from winter 2000 was coincident with placing a stone anvil among the shrubs where the snails are prevalent. The apparent decline in the last couple of years (2007 & 2008) is contradictory to the increase in birds I've noted in the local woods, but I believe this is because the weather has been quite wet, the ground has remained soft and the birds have not had to venture into gardens for food.

Further Reading

"The Song Thrush", Shire Natural History (details)


Last revision: 01 Jul 2010
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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