The Mistle thrush --Turdus viscivorus

The mistle thrush belongs to the Order passeriformes {perching birds} and the Family Turdidae and placed in the Genus Turus the Latin name for the thrush. The common name derives from the fact that the bird is fond of mistletoe berries which also gives rise to the specific name of viscivorus which loosely translated means "mistletoe eater".

The mistle thrush is a bird of open woodland and cultivated land and occurs all over Europe and much of Asia. 

Photograph courtesy of Nieteil Phillips {Creative commons attribution}

Description of the mistle thrush.

The mistle thrush is larger and paler than its relative the song thrush. It has much bolder black spotting on the breast and belly. The upper parts are of a brownish grey colour. The flanks are a pale buff with bold black spots scattered all over the under parts. The wing feathers have pale edges, which gives the appearance of a pale patch on the wings when seen from a distance..

In flight, the mistle thrush usually flies at tree top height with several wing beats separated by short glides in the manner of another of its relatives the fieldfare. The under side of the wings are white. 

Juveniles are pale and heavily spotted on the upper parts.

In relation to its body size the wings are of medium length, the tail medium long, the neck short, the bill medium short and horn coloured and the yellowish-brown legs are short. It hops on the ground.

In the field it can be told from the song thrush by its larger size and its colder greyish appearance. The upper plumage of the song thrush is a warm olive brown colour. The mistle thrush has whitish tips to the tail feathers and in flight can be told also by its white under wings. They can be told from redwing also by the lack of reddish flanks and white eye stripe and from the fieldfare by uniform grey-brown upper parts and distinctive flight note. 

Length of the mistle thrush is 27cm. The wing span 45cm.

Weight of the mistle thrush is 130g for both sexes. 

Lifestyle and breeding of the mistle thrush.

The male sings its territorial song which carries far and is delivered from a tall tree, roof top or other elevated perch. The song in parts echoes that of the blackbirds song but lacks the sweet flutiness of that bird, but rather more wild in nature, a strong melancholy haunting song. The alarm call is a harsh sound reminiscent of running ones finger nail along the teeth of a comb.

The mistle thrush is one of the earliest breeding birds with eggs often being found in February in parts of the country, a second brood is raised later in the year. Once a pair has established a territory the female will choose a location high in a tree, and place the nest, which she constructs, in a fork of the branches often near the bole of the tree.

The material she uses in her building endeavours is grass, weeds, twigs,moss, leaves, and wool cemented by mud. When the exterior is completed it is lined , like that of the song thrush with mud, but unlike the song thrush which leaves the mud exposed, the mistle thrush covers it with a lining of fine grasses. 

The nest is valiantly defended against marauding crows. magpies, squirrels and man. This I can testify from personal a experience during the days of my childhood. I was apt to climb trees in the days of my youth. On one occasion i evidently chose the wrong tree to climb, or to be more precise the right tree at the wrong time! During my ascent of this arboreal challenge I was "dive bombed" by a screeching mistle thrush that came very close to my head, this unpleasant attack continued unabated until it was evident to this irate bird that I was making my decent  as quickly as was humanly possible.

Another confirmation comes from Gilbert White in his book The Natural History of Selbourne,  describing his observations of the mistle thrush in his " Letters to Daines Barrington"  he states;--the mistle thrush is, while breeding, fierce and pugnacious, driving such birds as approach its nest, with great fury, to a distance. The Welsh call it pen y llwyn, the head or master of the coppice. he suffers no magpie, jay or blackbird, to enter the garden where he haunts. and is, for the time, a good guard to the new sown legumens . In general he is very successful in the defence of his family"

The eggs are  almost always four in number and have a background colour of pale green, grey or cream colour, spotted with red and mauve; these spots vary greatly in size, and when small, the red ones are much deeper in colour. Sometimes the spots are dark and almost black, but the egg is very easily recognised, although it varies in shape as well as colour.

The incubation which is undertaken by the female takes between 12-15 days. The chicks are downy blind and helpless they are fully dependent on their parents for food and warmth.  They fledge at about 16-20 days.

Mistle thrush with Juveniles

Photograph courtesy of Magnus Mankes {creative commons attribution}

Diet of the mistle thrush

The diet of this omnivorous bird includes insects, worms and berries. beside the mistletoe berries this bird is often seen among the rowan. I have seen this bird, valiantly, but alas in vain, defending a berry ladened tree from a mixed flock of redwings and fieldfares. 

A flock of these Scandanavian, winter visitors can devour berries in large quantities in a surprising short period of time.

A rowan full of berries will be valiantly defended by the mistle thrush

Photo by Dal

photo by Dal

Conservation issues-UK

In common with the blackbird and the song thrush, mistle thrush populations have declined significantly since the mid 1970s. The decrease is thought to be around 47% and this fits the criteria to be included on the Amber list of conservation concern here in the UK.

The latest figures from 1995-2009 the decrease was estimated to be 21%.  {BTO}

Scottish bird trends in contrast seem to show a strong increase in mistle thrush populations.

The situation is being closely monitored by the BTO and other relevant conservation organisations.  

There is another in depth article via my twitter page on the Mistle thrush with historical notes and observations from past ornithologists and other eminent writers. The article includes videos. Click on the Links banner on the right hand side of this page. Scroll down to Dal on Twitter box. Click this is a direct link to the twitter page where this and many other articles can be read. 

Photo by Dal

photograph courtesy of T Bollinger

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April 2016.  Red listed species

The BBoCC4 has placed this species on the Red list of Conservation concern.

UK conservation status 2021.

UK-still on the Red List.

Europe-Species of least concern.