SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos)
Of all British songbirds, the song thrush is probably the most loved. Its loud clear song, delivered most often from the very top of a tree, may be heard in the early part of the year, even in the most wintry of weather, and as spring approaches the period of singing gets longer and longer until one sometimes gets the impression that there’s no end to it.
It is one of the most easily identifiable of songs consisting of a large number – as many as a hundred – of musical phrases, each one repeated several times. As the poet Robert Browning put it:
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over
Lest you think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
In fact, this bird is the poet’s favourite: Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas and Ted Hughes are among those who have described it, in their various ways.
In appearance, the song thrush may be confused with its cousin the mistle thrush (which is larger and greyer, with larger spots) or even with a young or a female blackbird, which may be heavily mottled. A popular name for the song thrush is throstle, and in Scotland in may be called the mavis. It usually nests in hedges or thickets. The well-built nest, of grass, roots or moss, lined with earth, rotten wood or dung moistened with saliva, may contain from three to six blue eggs, spotted with black. The thrush’s diet consists of worms, slugs and snails, sometimes insects or berries.
Once common throughout the countryside, it is now a cause for serious concern; overall its numbers have declined by two-thirds or more. The bird’s stronghold is the private garden, but even here the song is under threat. Perhaps the main reason is the widespread use of slug pellets and other pesticides; the thrush may consume the resultant corpses if they are not quickly gathered up and disposed of.
Photos: John Sheppard. Text: George Metcalfe.