Distinguishing our thrushes

In late February 2012, we have a very mild spell of weather and some birds have started to sing. Most notable among them is the Song Thrush. Some people have difficulty in telling one thrush from another, so this article is to help them recognise and enjoy this group of song birds.

In late February 2012, we have a very mild spell of weather and some birds have started to sing. Most notable among them is the Song Thrush. Some people have difficulty in telling one thrush from another, so this article is to help them recognise and enjoy this group of song birds.

The Song Thrush is a little smaller than a Blackbird, has a warm brown colour on the back and has some orange on the underwing. There are fine, arrow-shaped markings on the breast. Their song contains a huge variety of phrases, each one repeated several times. This repetition of phrases is very distinctive.

The Mistle Thrush is larger than the Song Thrush, has a grey-brown colour on the back and has a white underwing. The markings on the breast are much bolder. Altogether, the Mistle Thrush is a greyer bird than the Song Thrush. The song of the Mistle Thrush contains repeated sentences rather than repeated phrases and sounds more wistful to our ears.

The nesting habits of our two resident thrushes are quite different. The Mistle Thrush is an early nester and will build its untidy nest in an exposed site, in the fork of a tree for example. It will defend it against all comers, driving off intruders with a harsh, rattling call. The Song Thrush builds in a well-hidden site in a hedge and the nest is lined with mud. The Song Thrush will quietly slip away when a human or a predator approaches.

To confuse matters further, we have two thrushes that come to Ireland for the winter. The Redwing is the same size as the Song Thrush and has a dark brown back and a rust coloured underwing. It has a creamy stripe above the eye. Its call, often heard at night is a high ‘pssssst’.

The Fieldfare is larger than the Redwing and is the same size as our resident Mistle Thrush. It has a rich brown colour on the back with a grey head. The tail is black and the rump is grey. The breast has spots in the shape of arrowheads. One of its most distinctive features is its ‘chak-chak-chak’ call.

Everyone is familiar with our resident Blackbird, which is a thrush that happens to be black. A very similar bird that turns up occasionally in Tipperary is the Ring Ouzel. It is a bird of the mountains and has been seen in the Galtees and Knockmealdowns. It is larger than the Blackbird. It is also black but has a white patch on the breast and silver on the wings.