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 Song Thrush - Fact File
Song Thrush
Turdus philomelos
Widespread but declining resident, and some birds from the continent arrive as winter visitors
Widespread but declining resident, and some birds from the continent arrive as winter visitors.

Smaller and warmer toned than Mistle Thrush. Loud clear song characterised by repetition of short phrases.Sexes similar.

23cm (9")

Song Thrush

Unlike many correspondents, we continue to attract song thrushes to the garden. And early each morning under mild conditions we enjoy a dawn chorus of four, each in full song. We often come across "snail anvils", where a thrush has smashed the shell of its victim, surrounded by fragments of recent feasts.

Song thrushes are less "go ahead" than ever-abundant blackbirds and tend to feed closer to cover. They progress by short runs or a series of hops with pauses and an always alert posture. Often the head is held on one side as if listening.

Song Thrush
Song Thrush: photo © Gertjan Hooijer

Their favourite food here is a mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese and dried fruit. But as soon as an aggressive blackbird sweeps into position the ever-timid thrush disappears.

The familiar musical song is often prolonged and delivered from a conspicuous tree-top perch at this season. It is far-carrying, with the loudest parts audible at over half a mile. Finest performances are often restricted to the evening before the birds enter thick cover to roost. Later in the year, when nesting is in full swing, the most sustained song is given by male thrushes still unpaired or which have lost mates.

According to the massive Birds of the Western Palearctic the song thrush possesses the largest repertoire of any European thrush. Reference is made to a specially penetrating "battle-song" given from the ground as well as from a perch during periods of intense rivalry with other males.

Song thrushes have a varied status in East Anglia. Some of our breeding birds are considered quite sedentary, particularly those dwelling in gardens. Others winter in north-west France, northern Spain and Portugal to the Balearics. Yet others from northern Britain winter in Ireland, such movement continues even into February.

Half the adult population and two-thirds of first-year song thrushes are considered to be migratory. Numbers of nocturnal travelling song thrushes cross the North Sea to our shores each autumn. These travellers come from Scandinavia, Germany and Russia. A glance at a thrush distribution map reveals that summer range extends as far north as the birch scrub zone on the Kola peninsular.

Depending on the severity of the winter, variable numbers later journey to Iberia and beyond. In fact those from farthest north (especially first-year birds) winter farthest south to the Canary Isles and to North Africa. During periods of very cold weather in Europe large scale midwinter arrivals of song thrushes occur regularly in North Africa.

Just over half the young song thrushes reared in Britain succumb during their first year. Surprisingly, perhaps, one ringed individual survived for over 13 years.

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.