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 Ring Ouzel - Fact File
Ring Ouzel
Turdus torquatus
Summer visitor to upland areas.
Moorland and rocky or sparsely wooded hill and mountain-sides. On passage found on coastal fields and grassy downs.

Differs from Blackbird in bold white bib and silvery edges to flight feathers. Female browner and bib dirtier than male

24cm (9.5")

Ring Ouzel

Most years, pioneer ouzels have arrived well before the end of March. Unlike the blackbird, the ring ouzel is usually wary and wild, shunning the neighbourhood of human habitation.

Typical view is a stranger dashing low down the dunes in escape flight, skimming the marrams and dodging out of sight whenever possible. On the ground attitudes and movements are those of the blackbird. The tail is cocked when alighting and the bird droops wings when displaying.

Ring ouzels passing through Norfolk and Suffolk in April are all doubtless heading for Scandinavia. Here the birds favour open areas on fells above pine forests.

Ringing information reveals these northern migrants migrate further to the west in spring than in autumn. This situation reflects the fact that spring passage here is usually on a larger scale. Earliest local observations in previous years have been during mid March, but arrivals may be expected until the end of May.

Cold northerly and easterly winds during spring often cause coastal hold-ups. At such times the travellers are reluctant to continue the long journey across a stormy North Sea. On these occasions observers have recorded impressive assemblies of 27 ring ouzels at Winterton, 20 at Blakeney Point and Waxham, 17 at Snettisham and Caister and 15 at Holme, Holkham and Stiffkey. The same individuals may well linger for weeks. Highly unusual was an inland concentration of eight ouzels at Corpusty.

The Pennine and Peak moorlands are favoured areas for observing breeding ring ouzels. Harsh 'chack, chack' alarm calls and the fluty wild song are features of lonely and remote places. The male is unmistakable; scaly, sooty-black plumage offset by a white crescentic bib. The female, scaly-brown in colouring, displays a much less conspicuous off-white gorget.

Usually early migrants, the first ouzel's song echoes round the hills and the first birds fall prey to merlins and peregrines. Nesting ring ouzels shun cultivation. Most favoured territories for well-concealed nests are in gorges cut into the surroundings of streams and especially if there is shelter for stunted tree growth. The trees are used as song-posts.

Wildlife photographer Harold Hems records an unusually sited nest under a waterfall in a position usually associated with dippers. At times they are much more colonial when nesting than is often supposed. One year a moorland area two-and-a-half miles by half-a-mile supported 10 pairs which made a habit of continually over-flying and feeding in the areas of each other's nests. In Scotland, ring ouzels often breed in close proximity to a golden eagle's nest-site. As a result, ouzels obtain protection as the eagles drive nest predators from the vicinity of their own breeding site.

Autumn ring ouzel movements are leisurely with small flocks of migrants (often mixed with song thrushes, mistle thrushes and redwing) passing through East Anglia during September and October. November stragglers have been known in Norfolk as late as the last day of the month. There are also reliable observations of birds remaining all winter, even on the moors. A female lingered in Hickling gardens for a month last year following discovery on February 10.

It is interesting to read that after a two-day stopover by hundreds of ring ouzels in late September on the Isle of May, a single male rose high into the air giving a chuckling call before spiralling ever higher. The remainder of the flock followed suit and flew off, evidently continuing their migration.

Ring ouzels spend the winter in southern Spain and north-west Africa, mainly in the Atlas Mountains.

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.