Fieldfares and Redwings: the “winter thrushes”

RedwingFieldfares and Redwings are often referred to as “winter thrushes”, leaving their breeding areas in Northern Europe to spend the coldest months of the year with us. 


In mild winters they are easily overlooked but as the winter takes grip, flocks of several hundreds or even thousands can be seen foraging on moist meadows and orchards or areas with lots of fruit-bearing shrubs, and it is during this time that they may suddenly appear in gardens, their hunger making them seemingly unafraid of our presence. They can be helped by putting out halved apples, high energy ground blend or sunflower hearts.  Apples are a favoured food source, but in cold weather the birds will benefit from the extra calories in the ground blend or hearts.


Both birds are similar in size and shape to a Blackbird, with Fieldfares being slightly larger and Redwings smaller.  Fieldfares have grey on the head and back and comparatively long, black tails.  They are named for their habit of wandering the fields in search of worms and fruit. Think of “fieldfarer” as being similar to wayfarer.


Redwing look quite like Song Thrush, but have a creamy eye-stripe and the rusty red feathers on the flanks just below the wings that give the bird its name.  With the naked eye the birds do appear to have red wings. 


The easiest way to separate the two species is on call, with the Fieldfares constantly uttering an irritable, metallic “chak-chak-chak”, and Redwings a thin, slightly surprised “ssseeee”. Redwings migrate by night and can be heard calling to each other as they travel overhead, even if you happen to be in a town or city, the sound of the wilderness in the midst of the most human of landscapes.

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