The Song Thrush bird (Turdus philomelos) is also known in different dialects as a ‘throstle’ or ‘mavis’. The Song Thrush is a common European member of the genus ‘Turdus‘, within the thrush family ‘Turdidae‘, which is quite a large family. In their genus alone there are 87 recognised species, but in the wider family there are 175 extant species spread across 17 different genera. There are also three subspecies of Song Thrush across their range.
These small birds are found widely across much of Europe and the Baltic countries, though populations native to colder regions tend to migrate south for winter. They have also been introduced to some areas in the southern hemisphere by European settlers in the 1800s.
Song Thrush Bird Characteristics
Song Thrushes are small birds growing to about 22 – 23 cm long and weighing 70 – 90 grams in weight. They have a wingspan around 34 cm, are smaller than Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and smaller and browner than a mistle thrush with smaller spotting.
Males and females are similar, with plain brown backs and neatly spotted underparts. Their breast is brownish yellow in colour.
It is a small and charming bird, exhibiting a warm brown colour above and a white belly scattered with distinctive black, drop-shaped spots. It can be told apart from the Redwing, by the absence of the white eye stripe and red flank patches.
Location and Habitat
The Song Thrush bird is commonly found in well-vegetated woods and gardens over all of Europe south of the Arctic circle, with a few exceptions, particularly Iberia. It is also mostly absent from north-west Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man, but some subspecies do summer there. They have also been introduced to New Zealand and Australia, by settlers in the 1860s onward.
The Song Thrush is common and widespread in New Zealand, however, in Australia only a small population around Melbourne survives.
It is a familiar sight from January to December as a permanent resident in much of its western range. However, Song Thrush that live in colder northern and eastern regions like Scandinavia and Siberia migrate south, as far down as northern Africa during the winter. Their migratory behaviour is influenced by the availability of food and the climatic conditions of their habitats.
Song Thrush Diet
Song Thrushes are omnivorous, eating a wide range of insects, earthworms, snails and berries. Their preference is for earthworms, but when the ground hardens, making it difficult to access the worms, these birds switch to eating snails.
They have a unique way of feeding on snails; they crack open the shell by banging it against a particular stone as an ‘anvil’ to break the shells with a flick of their head, and get to their meal inside. This behaviour is not only unique but also highlights the bird’s adaptability and intelligence in utilizing available resources to access food.
They will also feed their chicks slugs and insect larvae depending on what they are able to scavenge.
Song Thrush Behaviour
Living true to its name, the Song Thrush is renowned for its beautiful and loud song. It is characterized by repeating phrases, with each phrase typically repeated two to four times, creating a harmonious and structured melody. The Song Thrush often sings from a high perch, allowing its song to carry over a large area. Its habit of repeating song phrases distinguish it from singing blackbirds.
They don’t form flocks, although several birds may be loosely associated in suitable habitat. They are more often seen alone or in pairs, especially during the breeding season. However, they may gather in small groups during migration or in winter when food sources like berry bushes attract multiple birds.
Song Thrushes are territorial birds, especially during the breeding season. The males are known to establish and defend territories, using their melodious songs to assert dominance and deter rival males. The singing also serves to attract females to their territories.
Reproduction And Nesting
The breeding season for the Song Thrush is from March to April. The female builds a nest in bushes or hedges using grass, twigs, and mud, then lines it with clay. After successful breeding she will then lay four or five eggs (bright glossy blue with black spots) and incubate these eggs for around 14 days.
Both parents take part in feeding the chicks once they hatch. The young develop quickly are are usually ready to fledge around two weeks after hatching. Song Thrushes may raise 2 or 3 broods in a year.
The oldest Song Thrush recorded, reached over ten years of age! The average however, is closer to three years with only around half of those in some observed populations making it to adulthood. Those that do make it past their first year have a mortality rate of around 60%.
Predators Of Song Thrush
As a small songbird the Song Thrush has many predators, from the air and the land. One particular bird of prey, the sparrow hawk is only too happy to swoop down and grab a Song Thrush given the opportunity. Owls, magpies and some species of Jay are also significant threats from the sky to either adults or eggs in a nest.
Other predators from land include domestic cats, that may stalk these birds in gardens, or squirrels that might also raid a nest given the chance.
Population, Threats and Conservation
Song Thrushes are a popular garden songbird whose numbers are declining seriously in some parts of their range, especially on farmland in the UK. It is currently classified as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review in the UK, indicating that it is a species of high conservation concern.
The exact reasons behind the decline of these populations has yet to be fully understood. It is thought however, that the main reason is down to a change in agricultural methods and practices. One such example is farms removing hedgerows to create larger fields for larger machinery. Removing these hedgerows has a direct impact on suitable habitat, nesting places and cover for these birds.
Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect and preserve this beautiful bird and its habitat, ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy its melodious song. One important method, is farms allocating some of their land for rewilding to help protect British wildlife.
Despite the population decline in western ranges, the level of decline is not yet at a rate of concern on a global level and as such the Song Thrush is considered a species of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN red list.
5 Fun Song Thrush Facts for Kids
- The Song Thrush has a beautiful melody, singing songs with repeating phrases. So loved, that they were even taken by Settlers to Australia and New Zealand for purely sentimental reasons.
- You can find Song Thrushes in many places, from Europe to Siberia!
- When they can’t find worms, they eat snails by cracking their shells on stones.
- They love living in parks, gardens, and woodlands.
- Song Thrushes can have up to three broods of babies each year, with up to five little chicks in each brood!