Other traditional names: Missel Thrush; Storm Cock Welsh: Brych y coed
The mistle thrush was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 under its current scientific name. The bird’s fondness for mistletoeberries is indicated by both its English and scientific names: Turdus is the Latin for “thrush”, and viscivorus, “mistletoe eater”, comes from viscum “mistletoe” and vorare, “to devour”.
The largest thrush native to Europe, the Mistle thrush is a large greyish thrush, with larger breast spots than the Song thrush, from which it is also distinguishable in flight by the flash of whitish underwing. The long tail has white tips on the outer feathers. There are no plumage differences between the sexes; juveniles are similar to adults, but have paler upperparts with creamy centres to many of the feathers and smaller spots on the yellowish underparts. By their first winter they are very similar to adults, although the underparts are usually more buff-toned.
The mistle thrush is quite terrestrial, hopping with its head held up and body erect; when excited, it will flick its wings and tail. The flight consists of undulating bounds interspersed with glides.
One of the finest songs of our resident birds, the male mistle thrush has a loud melodious ringing song with fluted whistles that are repeated three to six times, and used to advertise his territory, attract a mate and maintain the pair bond. He doesn’t have much of a song, just a reiteration of a few notes, but those are rich and deep in tone, and delivered with great energy and enthusiasm. Compared to its relatives, the song thrush and the blackbird, the repertoire is less varied, lacking the mellow fluting of the blackbird and the elegantly repeated phrases of the song thrush. The delivery is slower too, however the song is much louder, often audible up to 2 km (2,000 yds) away and can be sustained for up to an hour in a single performance.
The song is given from a treetop or other elevated position and welcomed as it comes early in the year before the other birds are in full song. The song may be heard in any month, although mainly between February and May/June, as being an early nester it is one of the first of the songbirds to fall quiet.
The mistle thrush has another traditional name too, the storm cock, attributed to the bird for the way in which it will sing from a tree top in all weathers, even in the teeth of a fierce winter gale-force wind. Unlike most other birds, who seek shelter from stormy weather, the Mistle Thrush actually seems to be stimulated by approaching storms and will sing or call lustily before and through bad weather.
The main call, given by both sexes, is a dry chattering krrrr, louder when it is alarmed or excited. It is often likened to the sound of a football rattle. There is also a squeaky tuk contact call.
Generally found in cultivated country, farmland, gardens, parks,orchards and where there are scattered trees.
The mistle thrush feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, seeds and berries. Its preferred fruits including those of the mistletoe, holly and yew. Mistletoe is favoured where it is available. An interesting behavioural trait displayed by Mistle Thrushes in winter is resource guarding, when one or sometimes two birds will vigorously defend a food source such as mistletoe clumps, holly, yew or nowadays even a cotoneaster. This is defended against all-comers, thevigilant bird trying to ensure that food resources are maintained for itself throughout the winter. It has been shown that resource guarding birds have bigger and earlier clutches than birds that do not do it.
Mistle thrushes are found as individuals or pairs for much of the year, although families forage together in late summer, and groups may merge to form flocks of several tens of birds and it is not uncommon for up to 50 thrushes to feed together at that time of year. They roost at night in trees or bushes, again typically as individuals or pairs, but with families roosting together in autumn.
Breeding typically commences in mid-March in the south and west of Europe and late February in Britain.
The nest is built by the female, although the male may help. The thrush’s nest is a large bulky cup of sticks, dry grass, roots and moss, coated on the inside with a layer of mud and lined with fine grass and leaves and frequently ‘decorated’ with white scraps of paper or rag. It is usually built 10-40 feet up in a tree, often in an exposed position, but not uncommonly lower down and occasionally in a hedge or bush or on a ledge of a cliff or a building.
Typically the breeding season of the mistle thrush is March to early June, but the nest may contain eggs as early as February, long before there are any leaves to offer any protection. Nests built early in the breeding season are sometimes destroyed by bad weather. 3-5 eggs are laid and are incubated by the hen only, hatching within 13-14 days and nestlings then leave after about 15 days. There is often a second brood.
During this time the mistle thrush may display aggression; it may even attack a person or another bird should they venture too near its nest and has been known to swoop down to threaten a cat.
The common chaffinch often nests close to a mistle thrush, the vigilance of the finch and the aggressive behaviour of the thrush benefiting both species.