A more secretive cousin of our common blackbird, the song thrush is one of Britain’s most expert and best-loved songbirds. Their melodious song, which has inspired the words of numerous poets, is delivered from a prominent perch in a tree or bush and can be recognised by phrases repeated in sets of two, three or four. A single individual may know more than 100 different song phrases - the largest repertoire of all European thrushes. These are learned from their parents as well as from noises in their surroundings, including mimicking the songs of other birds and occasionally man-made sounds such as ringing telephones. Sadly, the song thrush population in Greater Manchester, as in all of the UK, has shown rapid decline in the past forty years. Your sightings are highly valuable in helping us to monitor local numbers of this cherished but severely threatened species.
Song Thrush Audio Clip: distinct songs often with repeating phrases
Recorded by Matt Holker, Hurst Clough BioBlitz 2013.White space has been removed using Audacity
What do they look like?
The song thrush is slightly smaller than a blackbird. Both males and females are similar in appearance, being plain brown across the back and speckled with dark spots over a yellow and cream base (becoming whiter on the belly) on the underparts. The beak is mid-sized and is yellow and black. The legs and feet are pink.
Where will I see them?
Song thrushes feed on the ground, where they eat worms, insects, fruit, and snails - unique among British species, they crack the shell open by repeatedly smashing it against a stone. They are more timid than their relatives the blackbirds and tend to stay closer to the cover of bushes and shrubs, so they can be more difficult to spot. However, once you know where to look, you don’t need to go far to find them. Song thrushes are regularly seen in gardens and parks, in urban and suburban areas, provided there is plenty of cover in trees and bushes, as well as being found on farmland and in woodlands.
Song thrushes are monogamous and territorial. In spring, the male can be found singing from a conspicuous perch within his territory in order to attract a mate. Between March and June, female song thrushes will be busy preparing their nests for their first clutch of eggs. The female will choose a sheltered place in a bush or tree and build her nest with grass, moss, twigs and soil to form a cup shape, adding a smooth lining of mud mixed with saliva.
She will then lay between 3 and 9 speckled blue eggs which she will incubate alone while the male continues to defend the territory. After around two weeks, the chicks will hatch and both the male and female will be occupied with keeping them well fed. The young will be ready to fledge approximately two weeks later. A female may raise up to 4 broods before the breeding season ends in August.
When will I see them?
Song thrushes can be seen in the UK all year round. Around half of Britain’s adult population migrates south to warmer climates in the autumn, some reaching as far as France, Spain and Portugal. In turn, we receive winter migrants from colder regions including Scandinavia, Germany and Russia.
How can I encourage song thrushes to visit my garden?
- Provide nesting places and cover for feeding birds by leaving hedges uncut
- Avoid using pesticides - these will reduce the numbers of invertebrates available for song thrushes to eat
- Provide food such as raisins and currants, particularly in the winter. To attract song thrushes this should be placed on the ground rather than on an elevated bird table
Why is my sighting important?
This charismatic bird is currently a Red List species in the UK. Once more common than the blackbird, over the past 40 years the population has declined by over 60%, and many young song thrushes now no longer live past their first year. As agriculture has advanced and our hedgerows and woodlands have declined, these birds have suffered from reduced habitat, decline in food availability and fewer nesting sites. Recent information from the RSPB suggests that song thrush numbers are down across the whole of Greater Manchester. Please help us to monitor our endangered song thrush population by reporting your sightings to the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre.
You can add your Song Thursh sightings here: RODiS Song Thrush Survey
Hannah Khwaja, University of Manchester Zoology Society (April 2013)