Nature Notes January 2016
Let’s think about thrushes (Family Turdidae) for five minutes. Most of us are familiar with song thrushes. They sing loudly, repeat most phrases 2 or 3 times, they have spotty breasts and lay their bright blue with black spotty eggs in neat mud-lined nests. They became scarce some years ago, but they recovered, and it is usually possible to hear a song thrush singing in the spring almost anywhere in Sussex now.
Less well known is the mistle (or missel) thrush. Slightly larger than its afore mentioned cousin, rarer and also known as the storm cockerel as it often sings just before a thunder storm. This species likes to eat mistletoe berries which it disperses from tree to tree. It has a loud rattle of an alarm call and will fight off any potential predator or competitor.
The blackbird is also a thrush - Latin name Turdus merula or black thrush. In winter they sometimes form small groups which forage on fallen apples. In the spring on a calm bright dawn many blackbirds can be heard singing together in a dawn chorus that is truly phenomenal.
During winter, Britain is visited by thousands of Scandinavian migrating thrushes consisting of all the above and also redwings. These are small spotty thrushes that look as if they have had a nasty accident. This is because they have blood red patches of feathers beneath each wing extending down to their thighs. They call with a high pitched seep and form large flocks which move from place to place. Winter visitors also include large grey headed thrushes called fieldfares. These also have a chattering call that they make as they fly over, and forage in large flocks in fields usually well away from human habitation.
Other members of the thrush family that can be seen in Britain include robins, wheatears, stonechats, whinchats, nightingales, redstarts, black redstarts and rarer visitors such as ring ousels which are like blackbirds with a white collar. These pass through Britain in spring and autumn, but a few breed in upland moors in wales northern England and Scotland. Another rare visiting thrush is the bluethroat which is a bit like a robin but with either a blue and white or blue.
The migratory thrushes mostly make their long flights during the night. They navigate by a combination of the stars and an internal compass.