Also known as the storm cock because of its habit of singing loudly from the tops of the tallest trees in midwinter, and the mistletoe thrush because of its liking for the succulent berries of the mistletoe plant – which grows well on the poplar and lime trees in this area – the mistle thrush is the largest of three resident breeding species of thrush in this part of England. The others are the blackbird and the song thrush.
There are approximately 170,000 breeding pairs of mistle thrush in the UK and the number is declining slowly. We are lucky to have at least three pairs in Fairfield, and you are most likely to see them and hear them in the areas of grass and trees on the south side of Fairfield Hall, in the East Orchard, on the cricket field and in the southwest corner of Fairfield Park’s shelter belt.
Bird watchers have a category known as ‘heard but not seen’ and the mistle thrush is often in this group because of its very loud call and its habit of hiding in the top branches of trees.
If you are lucky enough to see one, you will notice that it is about 27 cm long, with grey-brown colouring above, very pale underneath with large, round chestnut spots. There are white patches under its wings which flash when it flies. Flight is strong and direct, with both wings closed at regular intervals. Both sexes are alike.
The female alone builds the nest, from February onwards. It will be sited high up in the fork of a tree with a base of twigs lined with soft grass and moss finished with a smooth layer of mud. There are three to five eggs which can vary in colour from cream to turquoise, but all with purplish brown spots. The eggs are incubated by the female for 12-15 days. The male assists with the feeding until the brood fledges. If the female has a second brood the male feeds the first fledged brood until they become independent.
The mistle thrush’s diet includes slugs, small snails, earthworms and of course berries of all kinds – including mistletoe (of course!), yew and hawthorn. In the autumn these birds often form small family flocks.
If they reach maturity, mistle thrushes can live for up to 10 years, but the death rate is very high in the early years, bringing the average life span down to around five years.