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.
Ring Ouzel during spring migration
Close up of a Ring Ouzel on the ground
Perched Ring Ouzel singing from a branch
23cm to 24cm
38cm to 42cm
95g to 130g
From a distance, it may not always be clear whether the black thrush-sized bird you’ve spotted is a blackbird or a ring ouzel. The two species share many features, including dark plumage and yellowish bills. Up close, however, identification becomes more clearcut.
Males have rich black bodies, and a distinct white crescent on their upper breast, as well as pale markings on their wings. Ring ouzels are also slightly smaller than blackbirds and have longer tails.
Female ring ouzels are also dark, with a dusky brown plumage, again similar to that of a female blackbird. Their breast is marked with a creamy crescent-shaped bib, smaller than that of the male.
Females have slightly more prominent silvery scale-like markings on their lower belly and wings. Their bill is brownish yellow, and they have grey-brown legs.
Male Ring Ouzel
Female Ring Ouzel
Juvenile ring ouzels are similar in colouring to females, with a dusky brown plumage rather than the glossy black of an adult male. Juveniles are marked with pale reddish-brown streaks, and look fairly similar in appearance to starlings, but have white throat markings and either no visible chest bib, or only the very faintest traces of one.
Ring ouzels are medium thrushes, smaller in size than blackbirds and with shorter tails. Males and females are roughly the same size, with marginal differences in weight, length and wingspan between the sexes.
Ring Ouzel perched on a rock
Male ring ouzels can be heard belting out a series of loud, flute-like notes from perches on top of heather sprigs or rocky ledges. It also has a distinctive warning call, when alerted to nearby predators, it emits a loud 'ttchack-ttchack' call.
Ring ouzels follow an omnivorous diet, consisting of invertebrates, particularly earthworms, leatherjackets, insects and spiders. These food sources are especially important during spring migration and while raising young.
Later in the summer and autumn, moorland fruits, including bilberry, rowan, hawthorn, elderberry and crowberry, are eaten in large quantities.
Small reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals may also occasionally be caught on the ground and eaten.
During autumn migration, juniper berries form the most important element of a ring ouzel’s diet, and the availability of the fruit is a major influence over their migration routes and final destinations.
In the period immediately after hatching, young ring ouzels are fed invertebrates by their parents, particularly larvae, caterpillars, earthworms, black beetles and small insects.
Ring Ouzel feeding on a worm, by picking it out of the ground
Craggy uplands and expanses of heath and moorland provide ideal nesting grounds for ring ouzels. Subalpine meadows and grasslands, at altitudes of up to around 1200 m, provide foraging opportunities.
Juniper trees feature heavily in the chosen wintering ground landscapes of ring ouzels across northern Africa and into Turkey.
Mountainous landscapes, with boulders, crags, and ledges interspersed with areas of open juniper forest, offer the shelter and foraging opportunities required to support ring ouzels through the winter months.
Ring ouzels have a large range, extending across an estimated 9.17 million sq km (3.54 million sq mi), from Ireland and Britain in the west, to Russia’s Kola Peninsula in the west. Ring ouzels breed as far north as northern Scandinavia.
The species’ wintering grounds form the southern limits of their range, and are found across North Africa, and into western Turkey.
Ring Ouzels have a large range across from Ireland and the UK, to Russia’s Kola Peninsula
Remote landscapes, in particular bleak moorlands and mountain slopes, offer suitable environments in which ring ouzels can both breed and find food.
Upland landscapes and hillside grasslands, from north-west Ireland throughout Scandinavia to northwest Russia, as well as mountainous terrain across central southern Europe from the Pyrenees and the Alps, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey east to Turkmenistan.
Outside the UK, ring ouzels are considered a species of least concern, with estimates of a global population of between 600,000 and 1.2 million in 2012.
Up to around 7,500 pairs of breeding ring ouzels visit the UK each spring to raise their young, so they are certainly not the most common bird you may encounter in Britain, but at certain times of year, and in particular habitats, it is not entirely unlikely that sightings might be recorded.
In the UK, the best time to look for ring ouzels is between April and October. Sightings are most common in upland areas, e.g. in Scotland and northern England, where their breeding grounds can be found on open moorland and rocky crags.
Dartmoor, north-west Wales, northern England and the north of Scotland offer the best chances of seeing a temporary resident ring ouzel, while along the east and southern coasts, migration passage sightings are recorded each spring and autumn.
Ring Ouzel (male) perched on a post
Typical lifespan of ring ouzels is around 2 years, with first-time breeding usual at one year. The oldest reported ring ouzel, as recorded through a ringing scheme, was 9 years and 13 days.
Ring ouzels’ choice of relatively exposed nest sites, either at or close to ground level, puts them at an increased risk of predation by mammals and birds that hunt on mountainous terrain.
Common predators include:
Ring ouzels are included in the protections offered to many wild bird species that are either native to or breed in Britain. The Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981, makes it an offence to deliberately kill, injure or capture a ring ouzel, or to interfere with its nest site, eggs or young.
Up to 7,300 pairs of ring ouzels breed in the UK each year. However, the population is in decline, and in Britain, the species has been added to the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern due to a significant decline in breeding numbers over the last 40 years.
This decline is thought to be linked to the loss of their natural breeding habitat in the UK and was estimated at a drop of almost 60 percent between 1990 and 1999.
Ring Ouzel perched in a tree full of berries
Ring ouzel pairs choose nest sites in clumps of mature heather on moorlands and rocky slopes. Occasionally nests will be built beneath brack or on rock ledges or mountainsides.
In Britain, nests are usually found less than 1 m (3 ft 3 in) above ground level, with most found in vegetation up to 45 cm off the floor.
Nests are rough, cup-shaped structures, made from grass, which is not neatly woven into shape, giving a rather bulky, untidy and unfinished appearance. Moss and mud are used to line the nest and hold its shape.
A typical ring ouzel clutch contains 3 to 6 greenish-blue eggs, which are flecked with brown speckles. Eggs measure 30 mm by 22 mm (1.18 in × 0.87 in) and weigh around 7.5 g (0.26 oz).
Either one or two broods are raised each season, with the earliest eggs usually laid in early May.
Not a huge amount of data is available on the mating habits and pair formation bonds of ring ouzels. However, research suggests that they are a monogamous species, although it’s uncertain whether this pairing lasts for longer than a single breeding season.
Ring Ouzel first winter, Eccles-on-Sea, Norfolk, UK
Ring ouzels have a reputation as being aggressive nest defenders, and are particularly intolerant of any intruders within range of their nest and young. Territorial behaviour includes a loud warning call when threatened, and divebombing any potential predators.
Outside of the breeding season, ring ouzels may lose their intense aggressive edge, and be observed in loose migration flocks with other thrushes.
When darkness falls, ring ouzels will typically roost in dense vegetation overnight.
However, they are nocturnal migrants, and during their spring and autumn migration flights, listen out for their calls through the darkness – a raucous 'tchrrk-tchik-tchik-tchik' sound can cut through the night sky as migration ring ouzels pass overhead.
Ring Ouzels are considered an aggressive nest defender
Ring ouzels are summer migrants to the UK, arriving in March to breed and departing for wintering grounds in southern Europe, North Africa and Turkey by late September. Migration routes follow the availability of juniper berries.
Wintering grounds of ring ouzels are located across southern Europe, North Africa and Turkey, with the Altas Mountains of Morocco hosting the species in large numbers during the non-breeding season.
Ring Ouzel (female), on the ground foraging
Ring ouzels are not especially fond of human company and seek fairly isolated out-of-the-way nesting sites to raise their young. Feeding takes place on short grassland slopes and moorlands rich in heather and other thorny vegetation.
Ring ouzels prefer sites that offer plenty of shelter and undergrowth as cover when raising their young and tend to favour areas that are undisturbed, with nesting sites used in previous years abandoned if they experience disturbance or too much exposure to human presence.
This is a shy, medium to large thrush, similar in size and stance to the common Song Thrush found throughout Europe.
A widespread breeding resident and the UK’s largest thrush, this extremely vocal bird has a song which can be heard at a distance of up to two kilometres.
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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