Juvenile Mistle Thrush
Mistle Thrush standing by the edge of a pond
Mistle Thrush feeding on a snail
Mistle Thrush perching on a branch
Stormcock, Missel Thrush
27cm to 29cm
42cm to 48cm
100g to 150g
Although mistle thrushes are superficially similar to their more common relative the song thrush, there are some subtle differences between the two species.
Mistle thrushes are large, stocky thrushes. Their upper parts are greyish-brown and there is a clear white bar on the wings. The underside of the wings is white, which is a key way of identifying the species from the song thrush, which has buffish-orange underwings.
Distinctive black spotting marks a mistle thrush’s white breast and belly. The lower flanks have a pale buff wash, and the undertail is plain white. They have a white throat, with some black speckling, and the face is mainly greyish-brown with a slight white eye ring around the black eye. Legs are yellowish-brown, and the bill is dark grey-brown.
Juveniles are similar to adults, although until they gain their full adult plumage, their head and back are speckled with white spots.
Mistle Thrush perching on the end of a branch
Considerably larger in size than the similar redwing and song thrush, mistle thrushes are the biggest and most powerful UK thrush as well as Europe’s largest songbird. Males and females are the same size and weight for this species.
Mistle Thrush standing on the ground in open woodland
Mistle thrushes have a characteristically loud, fluting song, heard in short bursts as well as long, chattering phrases. A rattling ‘tak-tak-tak’ can be heard when alarmed or warning of nearby threats.
Mistle Thrush in song
The diet of mistle thrushes is varied, consisting of invertebrates, fruit and berries. Worms, slugs, insects and their larvae, molluscs, and spiders are among the most common animal prey, although during the breeding season larger animals, including slowworms, and young of other birds may be caught and fed to their young.
Mistletoe berries are popular, as well as rowan and holly, yew, and hawthorn, and mistle thrushes are aggressive defenders of berry trees in winter, driving other thrushes away from their feeding territories.
Young mistle thrushes are fed on invertebrates, particularly those collected from low foliage and bushes, including beetles, worms and larvae. Occasionally nesting mistle thrushes will kill young dunnocks, blackbirds, and song thrushes to feed to their babies. Both parents feed the young.
Mistle Thrush feeding on a worm
Open woodland, parks, and mature gardens are the preferred habitats of mistle thrushes, including expanses of rolling landscapes with scattered tree cover. Hilly country, with low, craggy slopes, is popular, as well as farmland and scrub, rich in berry bushes and upland orchards and mixed forests.
Mistle thrushes are year-round residents across much of central Europe, from the UK and Portugal in the west, through France, Germany, Italy, and Greece to Turkey, and into Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Parts of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) also have resident populations.
To the north of this range, breeding mistle thrushes can be found across Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, and through eastern Europe into Russia as far as western Mongolia. Once breeding is complete, these populations shift southwards into Europe and Central Asia.
The global population of mistle thrushes is estimated at between 13.75 and 29.8 million, of which around 60 percent (up to 17.9 million individuals) live in Europe. Spain, Turkey, and Russia are among the leading strongholds of the species, with local declines reported in Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, and northern Italy since the 1980s.
Less common and widespread than song thrushes, there are around 165,000 breeding pairs of mistle thrushes in the UK. Numbers have declined significantly since the 1990s, but the species continues to be relatively common, particularly in winter and spring. Later in the year, once the final broods of the season have fledged, small groups may gather.
Mistle thrushes are widespread throughout the UK all year round and are only absent from extremely remote areas in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides. Areas with large trees and short grasslands are the most likely spots for a sighting during the breeding season.
Mistle Thrush foraging in natural habitat
On average, mistle thrushes live for around 3 years, breeding for the first time at the age of one. Occasional records of much older individual birds are identified through ringing schemes, including one that reached 11 years and 4 months.
Cats, corvids, foxes, and birds of prey are among the chief threats to mistle thrushes and their eggs and young. Tawny owls, sparrowhawks, and red kites are among the most successful predators, as mistle thrushes are a particularly aggressive defender of their nests and will fearlessly attack potential intruders, even humans.
The UK’s mistle thrushes are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. This legislation makes it an offence to knowingly kill, injure or take an individual of this species into captivity.
While globally mistle thrushes are categorised as a species of least concern, in the UK they were initially upgraded from Green to Amber status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list in 2002 due to declines in the local population. By 2015, this status was changed again to Red, as the situation worsened and numbers continued to fall.
Deforestation and a decrease in available insect populations are believed to be key factors in this fall.
Mistle Thrush collecting nesting materials
Mistle thrush nests are usually built between 2 m and 10 m (7 ft to 30 ft) above ground, in the upper forked branches of trees, particularly pine, juniper, and holm oak. Nests are largely woven cups, crafted from grasses, stems, and moss, held in shape by mud, and lined with pine needles and soft grasses.
One of the earliest songbirds to nest each year, mistle thrushes may lay their first clutch of the season in February, although more commonly in March or early April. Up to three broods are raised in a typical year. Incubation, which lasts between 12 and 15 days, is the sole responsibility of the female.
Fledging takes place after 14 to 16 days, followed by a period of continuing care outside of the nest. By this stage, the female has usually begun incubating her next clutch of eggs, so the care of juveniles falls to the male.
A typical mistle thrush clutch contains between 2 and 5 pale blue to green eggs, marked with purple or reddish speckling. Eggs measure 30 mm by 22 mm (1.2 in by 0.9 in).
Mistle thrushes are seasonally monogamous, pairing at the start of the breeding season and raising up to three broods together in a year. Once breeding is complete, the pair bond dissolves and a different mate is found the following season.
Nest of a Mistle Thrush with four eggs
Mistle Thrush fledgling
Mistle thrushes have a reputation as being aggressive and intolerant of other birds in close proximity. This is particularly observed in the breeding period and during winter when they defend a feeding territory around berry trees and will chase off intruders rather than share access to food.
Aggression is shown both vocally and physically, with a heightened alert call, posturing, and physical confrontations.
Overnight roosting is in pairs or individually in bushes or trees. Later in the autumn, small family groups may roost together.
Mistle Thrush feeding on rowan berries
In much of their distribution range, mistle thrushes are resident all year round. Populations in the regions furthest north, for example, Scandinavia, eastern Europe, and Russia, arrive on their breeding grounds each spring and migrate south once colder weather arrives as autumn approaches.
Mistle thrushes are found throughout the UK, with the exception of the far northern Highlands of Scotland and its offshore islands in the north-west. During winter, the UK’s resident population of mistle thrushes increases with an influx of migrants from Scandinavian breeding grounds.
Mistle Thrush standing on a rock
The ‘stormcock’ is just one of many nicknames by which the mistle thrush is known. This particular name comes from its tendency to continue singing at the top of its voice even in the wettest, windiest weather.
Other names include 'Jeremy Joy' because it sings early in the year (thought to be a play on the phrase ‘January joy’) and ‘Big Mavis’, an old English dialect word for a thrush.
This is a shy, medium to large thrush, similar in size and stance to the common Song Thrush found throughout Europe.
The only summer-visiting thrush to breed in Britain, Ring Ouzels arrive on their breeding grounds on upland moors and crags, particularly in Scotland and northern England.
One of six thrush species in the United Kingdom, the Redwing is a common winter visitor from Northern Europe.
Predominantly confined to Europe and Russia the fieldfare is a winter visitor to the UK. It is a large, spotted, mixed habitat thrush slightly smaller than the British resident Mistle Thrush but similar in overall appearance. During winter months in particular, fieldfares are commonly seen in large flocks in southern continental Europe and the UK.
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