One of six thrush species in the United Kingdom, the Redwing is a common winter visitor from Northern Europe.
Redwings can be confused with some other common UK songbirds, although they certainly live up to their name and have other characteristic features that set them apart. Continue reading for more Redwing identification tips.
The Redwing is a small thrush with a uniform dark brown back and paler underparts. Prominent features include a spotted breast and a warm rufous orange patch on each flank. The face is also boldly marked with a white eyebrow stripe (supercilium) and moustachial stripe.
Male and female Redwings look alike, both with black eyes, a yellow bill with a black tip, and pinkish legs. Juveniles appear similar to adults but have pale streaks on the upperparts and lack the characteristic rusty flanks.
Redwings are most easily confused with the Fieldfare, another winter visitor from Scandinavia, and the Song Thrush, a common resident. The Fieldfare is significantly larger, with a grey head, brown wings, and a warm brown band across the chest. The Song Thrush lacks the distinct supercilium and reddish flanks.
Redwing perched on a branch
Redwings are the smallest UK thrush species, larger than the robin but smaller than the Starling.
The Redwing has a body length of 20 to 24 centimetres.
These birds weigh 46 to 80 grams.
Most adults have a wingspan of 33 to 35 centimetres.
Redwing standing on a branch
The Redwing’s high-pitched call is often heard on autumn nights and is a harbinger of the approaching winter.
Redwings produce a variety of vocalisations. Their most commonly heard sound is a high-pitched buzzing ‘tseeep’ contact call uttered in flight by day or night. This call is first heard in September and October as migrating birds return to the United Kingdom. Males have a pleasant warbling song, although this is rarely heard in the non-breeding season.
Redwings eat insects, snails and other invertebrates that they find by searching through the leaf litter. Fruits and berries like hawthorn and ivy are other important components of their diet.
These birds rarely visit bird feeders, although they could be tempted with apples and mealworms in snowy conditions when they are more likely to venture into gardens.
Redwing chicks are mostly fed earthworms, although their parents also supply small insects like flies, caterpillars, and beetles. The chicks rely on their parents for the two weeks it takes them to fledge and then a further two weeks as they learn to forage for themselves.
Redwing tackling a stubborn earthworm
Redwings are most common in open country, although they may retreat to gardens and parks in cold weather. Berry-producing shrubs and dense grassland are important habitat requirements.
Look out for Redwings in the following habitats:
The Redwing has an extensive range in the Northern Hemisphere. They breed from Scandinavia to Eastern Russia and are widespread in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa in the non-breeding season.
Redwings live in terrestrial habitats, although they must make long water crossings on migration. These birds forage on the ground and in shrubs and trees and sleep well above the ground. Interestingly, these birds nest very low to the floor, or even on terra firma in many cases.
Close-up of a Redwing foraging in its natural habitat
Redwings can be very common in the winter when nearly 700,000 individuals arrive from Europe and Asia. They are gregarious birds, so you will likely see many of them together, often in the company of other flocking birds like Fieldfare and Starlings.
Redwings are widespread in the UK, although they are shy and difficult to approach. They rarely forage in towns and cities, so head out into the countryside for your best chance. Look out for flocks of birds in the colder months, especially around open fields near dense vegetation with hawthorn and other fruiting plants.
Redwing perching on a dead umbellifer
Redwings are fairly short-lived birds. Those that live to adulthood are likely to survive for about two years, although the oldest known specimen lived for well over eleven years.
Redwings are vulnerable to birds of prey like the Peregrine and the Sparrowhawk that will pick them off as they come in to roost. Mammalian carnivores like foxes and cats also take their toll. Crows are an important nest predator on their breeding grounds.
Redwings are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Redwings are not endangered, although they are an Amber-listed species in the United Kingdom and have suffered a significant range reduction since the 1970s. Globally, the species is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN red list due to a decreasing population trend.
Redwing in woodland
Redwings are non-breeding visitors to the UK, although a tiny population remains year-round to breed in the far north. Keep reading to learn more about Redwing breeding and nesting habits.
Most Redwings nest between Scandinavia and Eastern Russia, with approximately two dozen breeding pairs in Northern Scotland. They build their nests in a variety of microhabitats, including the ground, in low vegetation, on tree stumps, or low down in tree branches.
Redwings first breed at a year old. They nest between mid-spring and mid-summer (early April to late July) and produce two broods each year.
Redwings lay four to six pale blue-green eggs with red-brown markings. Each egg measures approximately 26 millimetres long and 19 millimetres wide.
Redwings are probably monogamous during the breeding season, although they find a new partner each year.
Female Redwing sitting on her nest
Nest of a Redwing with five eggs
Redwings are not aggressive in the United Kingdom. These nomadic birds are gregarious and non-territorial during the winter when they move about in search of berries and other food sources.
Redwings sleep at night for most of the year but also migrate at night in the Autumn and Spring. They sleep in vegetation like hedgerows, thickets and trees and often roost communally in large flocks (several thousand in some cases).
Redwing taking off from a tree
Birdwatchers are only likely to spot the Redwing in the colder months of the year, although a small breeding population makes them a year round-resident in the north. Continue reading to learn more about Redwing Migration.
Redwings are a migratory species that overwinter in the United Kingdom, arriving in the autumn and departing in the spring. Most return to Scandinavia, but others breed in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Some UK Redwings migrate much further afield with band recoveries from Georgia and Iran.
Redwings are native non-breeding migrants to the UK. Some have begun to breed in parts of Northern Scotland, making them full-time residents in the United Kingdom.
20cm to 24cm
33cm to 35cm
46g to 80g
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.
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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