Fieldfares & redwings

Fieldfares & redwings

Fieldfare by Wendy Carter

Discover more about our blackbirds' wintry cousins...

“The fieldfare chatter in the whistling thorn”

...wrote John Clare (in Emmonsails Heath in Winter), the 19th century poet who beautifully illustrated the English countryside with his words.  To me, the chacking of fieldfare in our hedgerows and the 'tseeping' of redwings overhead is the sound of  autumn turning to winter.  Yesterday I watched a flock of 150 or so fieldfare lift from a small copse that I can see from my window. Two or three landed in a tree a little distance away and the late afternoon light caught their peachy throats perfectly.

For several years on the trot I had a solitary fieldfare guard the apple tree in the garden, I often wondered whether it was the same individual returning year-on-year.  The first choice for any hungry thrush are the worms and grubs that they can find in the fields but as this belly-filling food gets harder to find, apples and berries are the next best thing. 'My' fieldfare fought off other fieldfares, redwings, blackbirds and anything else that came close to the tree. What a lot of work!

Redwing sitting on grass by Wendy Carter

Redwing by Wendy Carter

Whilst the occasional pair of fieldfares and redwings breed in the north of Scotland, these gregarious thrushes arrive in autumn from the colder climes of Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland. If we end up with a really cold winter, they'll just keep heading south - following warmth and the promise of food. 

How do you identify our 'winter thrushes', as they're often referred to? Fieldfares are the bigger of the two with a grey hood (leading to brown on the wings and back) and a white neck and chest, dotted with spots and, in more mature adults, a peachy colouring down either side.  Redwings are perhaps more similar to our resident song thrush as they're a more uniform brown with a spotty breast but they have a bold white eye stripe and red along their flank, under their wing. They're often seen together so if you see a flock in flight, fieldfare have white flashes under their wings (their armpits) and redwings, as you'd expect, have red.

Fieldfare and redwing in flight by Wendy Carter

Fieldfare and redwing in flight by Wendy Carter

To see fieldfares and redwings, keep an eye on local worm-rich fields, berried-hedgerows and woodland canopies as well as keeping an eye to the skies in case a flock flies overhead.  Listen for the 'chacking' of fieldfares guarding their food or the high-pitched 'tseep' of redwings as they take flight. If you've got fruit trees in your garden or neighbourhood, look for birds feeding on the fallen fruit or on the occasional apple still hanging in the tree. 

If you've got a few apples to throw out on a cold winter's day, you might be rewarded with these handsome birds joining their blackbird cousins.  If you don't have your own garden but are able to grow cotoneaster or pyracnatha up an existing wall or fence, in future years you may discover winter thrushes coming for a feast.  If you can chat to neighbours or your local parish council to plant berry-rich trees and shrubs in green spaces, you'll be helping pollinators in the summer and birds in the winter. Why not take a look at our Wild Spaces download for more ideas on how you can help wildlife.

Redwings feasting on pyracantha in a garden by Terry Lampitt

Redwings feasting on pyracantha by Terry Lampitt

Discover even more in our short video introduced by our colleague Lydia...