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ID Guide to British Thrushes (Turdus)

Although this is one of the most species-rich genera in the world, including over 60 species, in Britain we only have three resident species and three migratory species. Thrushes are relatively uniform in size and shape and most, including our British species are placed in a single genus (Turdus). Most species are monogamous, and in some species the pair bond can be maintained through the year.

Resident species
All three resident species occur throughout Britain although their numbers have decreased over recent years.

Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Found throughout Britain. The adult male has glossy black plumage, blackish-brown legs, a yellow eye-ring and an orange-yellow bill. The bill darkens somewhat in winter. The adult female is brown with a dull yellowish-brownish bill, a brownish-white throat and some weak mottling on the breast. The juvenile is similar to the female. Common over most of its range in woodland, the blackbird has a preference for deciduous trees with dense undergrowth. However, gardens provide the best breeding habitat.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
Found throughout Britain it breeds in forests, gardens and parks, and is partially migratory with many birds wintering in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.The sexes are similar, with plain brown backs and neatly black-spotted cream or yellow-buff underparts, becoming paler on the belly. The underwing is warm yellow, the bill is yellowish and the legs and feet are pink.
Numbers are declining seriously, especially on farmland making it a Red List species.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Widespread bird in the UK, found almost everywhere except the highest ground and absent from the northern and western isles of Scotland. It can be seen in woodland, parkland and gardens. In areas of intensive farming, such as eastern England, arable land has in turn largely been abandoned in favour of built-up areas with their greater variety of green habitats.
The mistle thrush is is a large, aggressive and powerful bird with pale grey-brown upper parts, a greyish-white chin and throat, and black spots on its pale yellow and off-white under parts. The sexes are similar in plumage.

Migratory species
Of the three migratory species, two visit us from Europe in winterone but one is a summer visitor and breeds here.

Redwing and Fieldfare are highly gregarious in the non-breeding season, often gathering (sometimes in mixed flocks) in hundreds or thousands, especially in cold weather.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)
A winter migrant and is the UK’s smallest true thrush. Redwings arrive from September, with most in October and November. They leave again in March and April, although occasionally birds stay later. The sexes are similar, with plain brown backs and with dark brown spots on the white underparts. The most striking identification features are the red flanks and underwing, and the creamy white stripe above the eye.A small number remain and breed here.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
A winter migrant, the bulk of birds arrive in the United Kingdom in November.Males have a grey crown, neck and rump, a plain brown back, dark wings and tail and white underwings. The breast and flanks are heavily spotted. The breast has a reddish wash and the rest of the underparts are white. The sexes are similar in appearance but the females are slightly more brown. The United Kingdom, is at the extreme edge of the fieldfare’s breeding range and a handful of pairs breed here.

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
Smaller than a blackbird, male ring ouzels are particularly distinctive with their black plumage with a pale wing panel and striking white breast band.The female is similar but duller, and younger birds often lack the breast crescent. The juvenile has brown plumage.
A summer migrant. Breeding usually begins in mid-April and continues through to mid-July, with nests located on or close to the ground in vegetation, a crevice, or rarely in a tree. Two broods are common but despite this the UK has the birds on the Red List of Conservation Concern, while they are of least concern in Europe.