The mistle thrush may be the first to hatch eggs if you’re lucky enough to have one in your garden, says communications officer Alex Hennessey
The mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) is a large songbird, commonly found in parks, gardens, woodland and scrub. The mistle thrush is also known as the ‘rain bird’ and ‘stormcock’ as it can often be heard singing loudly from the tops of tall trees after heavy rain – typical weather for this time of year.
Visually, the mistle thrush is easily mistaken for the common song thrush (see Jane Adams’ article here), whose song is somewhat ‘squeakier’ and includes repeating phrases. The mistle thrush is pale greyish-brown above, with a white belly covered in round, black spots. It is also larger and greyer than the song thrush.
The common name ‘mistle thrush’ is likely inspired by this bird’s love of mistletoe. It enjoys the sticky berries found on that and other plants and, once it has found a berry-laden tree, an individual mistle thrush will guard it from any would-be thieves such as other mistle thrushes as well as species such as fieldfares who also feed on berries. In turn, the songbird helps mistletoe to thrive by accidentally ‘planting’ its seeds while wiping its bill on the tree bark to remove sticky residue. It also helpfully disperses the seeds in its droppings!
A mistle thrush’s diet isn’t confined to its favourite berries, however, and they will happily devour worms and other insects, as well as seeds and fallen fruit. Adding seeds and fruit to your bird-feeding selection may help attract these birds to your patch.
The mistle thrush is one of the earliest songbirds to breed and may lay a clutch of three to six eggs as soon as February. It’s normal for a mistle thrush to breed twice in a year, and while the male and female share the burden of feeding, the task of building the nest in a fork of a tree, from moss, roots, grass and mud, is the sole responsibility of the female.
To find out more about this fascinating species and what you can do to help the county’s wildlife, visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk.