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Mistle Thrush { Birds of Europe}

Updated on October 5, 2015

Mistle thrush Turdus viscivorus

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by russavia
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by russavia | Source


The Mistle thrush belongs to the order of birds known as the Passeriformes { perching birds} and the family Turdidae within that order. The genus name Turdus derives from Latin turdus a thrush. They have been allocated the specific name of viscivorus which derives from the Latin viscum, indicating Mistletoe+ volare meaning to devour.

In the UK they are currently placed on the Amber list of conservation concern { declines in population/distribution of between 25-50%} over the last forty years or so. This is due to recent breeding population declines. Like those of the Blackbird and the Song thrush,they have declined significantly since the mid 1970s,sadly the trend seems to be continuing.

The estimated population in the UK is 160,000 territories {summer 2009}. In Ireland it is listed on the Green list of conservation concern {no current concerns},as the European population is considered to be secure. The current European population is estitmated at between 2,4 and 4 million pairs.

The populations vary from country to country here are a few selected examples. Austria the population is between 80,000-120,000 Breeding pairs {BP}, Belgium 20,000-100,000 BP. Croatia 5,000-10,000 BP. France 100,000-500,000 BP. Germany 300,000-5550,000 BP. Russia 1-3 million BP. Spain 333,000-799,000 BP.and Ukraine 25,000-28,000 BP.

They are birds of Forest Woodland,towns and villages and are encountered in Europe and West Asia.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Smeorach-mhor, the Welsh name is Brych y Coed, the Irish name is Smolach Mor and the Croatian name Drozd imelas.

To learn more about 'What are Thrushes' see my hub Redwing {Birds of Europe}

Here we review the Mistle thrush and as always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

Mistle thrush and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source




The length of the Male is about eleven and a half inches. The bill is dark brown,the upper mandible yellowish at the base,from which a cream coloured streak goes over the eye. The Iris is dark brown.

The head on the side is yellowish white. On the crown,neck,and nape, greyish olive brown. The chin,throat and breast is a pale yellowish white,each feather tipped with black, the throat faintly so. The spots on the upper part are triangular. On the middle of the sides oblong black,on a greyish olive brown, lighter on the lower part.

Underneath the wings are are grey,but the upper parts are deep greyish brown,with lighter edges,the greater and lesser under-wing coverts are greyish white very plainly seen when in flight. The tail is rather long and slightly rounded,greyish brown,faintly edged with yellowish brown.

The legs and toes a pale reddish brown the claws are brownish black. The plumage towards the end of summer becomes worn and faded, the moult is completed by the end of October. The female is as large as the male but paler in colouring. They are very similar to the Song thrush, see video below.

Courtesy of the BTO,Standard youtube license.


Baikonur -Town,Kazakhstan
Baikonur -Town,Kazakhstan | Source

General and Historical information

The Mistle thrush,probably gets its name from a penchant for mistletoe berries,although it will defend any fruiting bush it happens to find against all comers. other names for the is the Strom cock or Storm thrush because it tends to carry on singing regardless of the rain and wind. This handsome songster is met with in all parts of England.In the south of Scotland it may be encountered,but towards the higher parts of that country it is not as established. It is common in Ireland and most European countries.

It is the largest of the British species and is bold and tends to be quarrelsome and pugnacious among other birds and by no means friendly towards its own kindred and tribe. In cold weather the birds assemble in flocks of various dimensions,some containing not more than a dozen or so and others as many as seventy plus, are not uncommon.

In days gone by they were regarded as a source of food and when the snow was protracted enough to interfere with ordinary agricultural pursuits,such flocks were eagerly sought after by rustic gunners.When congregated in flocks the birds fly in a loose irregular body,and when they alight,disperse at once over the ground,and commence running and hopping about in search of food with great nimbleness and activity.

They are at all times wary birds,but when feeding in flocks it is generally observed that one or two of their number are usually on 'look out' duties. should any danger approach to close for their liking,a warning note is uttered and the whole flock resort to the safety of flight. The ordinary note of this species is a harsh unpleasant scream,frequently repeated,and this is generally uttered when the bird is alarmed or engaged in some dispute. It has been likened to running your fingers over the teeth of a comb The song itself is sweet but rather monotonous and loud and well sustained for three to four minutes at a time,it has a wild sound about it.

Perched on the top most swaying branches of a tree,the Mistle thrush sings in the most dauntless and defiant manner. One archaic writer happily expresses it " other birds retire with bated breath to shelter in the grove or the humble hedge, he braves the tempest out,and sings his song with Atolus himself"

The bird ceases to sing at the commencement of hatching of his family and rarely repeats his song thereafter until the following spring,unless he should lose his mate or his nest, in such cases his vocal efforts are renewed.

The food of this bird ,especially through the autumn and early winter comprises of berries of the Rowan,the Service tree, Yew,Juniper,Holly, Ivy, hips and haws along with various grasses. At other times they feed on caterpillars, beetles, and other insects ,worms,slugs and snails. In days gone by the bird was regarded as a sort of 'foster parent' to the Mistletoe, which they imagined would not vegetate unless the berries had passed through its body.

Except when feeding the Mistle thrush spends most of its time in trees and shrubs. Yet it always seeks its food out in the open not skulking along under hedgerows and shrubs in the manner of its smaller cousin the Song thrush. It may be met with in almost any locality where trees are found,in woods,coppices,plantations,parks,shrubberies,parks,large gardens and orchards. It is in such places the bird makes its home for nesting purposes.

In Bewick's time the bird seems to have been very rare in the north of England,however, this is not the case today. Gardeners once accused the Mistle thrush of being very destructive to various kinds of fruit. However, I recall the wise words of an old gardener who tolerated a nest in an old apple tree in his graden. he said " When you have a Mistle thrush nest in your garden they do not allow Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Jay**, Magpie, or even squirrels to intrude upon their domain"

I have seen a pair of these birds flying furiously at a squirrel driving it from branch to branch to a considerable distance from their nest.

Courtesy of wildaboutimages.Standard You Tube license.

Keeping wild birds was once a popular past time


Mistle thrush singing

originally posted to Flickr, uploaded to Commons by Fae.
originally posted to Flickr, uploaded to Commons by Fae. | Source

Mistle Thrush and Captivity.

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity { with a few licensed exceptions} keeping birds in aviaries and in cages was a popular pastime. Bird-catchers made a good living by procuring the birds by any means {usually with mist nets} and selling them for the purposes already mentioned and to markets were they were sold as food. as it is a part of our avian history these activities are alluded to in the following paragraphs.

Butler, 'British Birds with their Nest and Eggs'1898, relates to the time he came across the nest of one of these birds. " In may 1886,during a bird nesting expedition in Kent , I came across a nest of a Mistle thrush containing two young birds,in an old apple tree orchard. With the assistance of the owner,upon whose shoulders I climbed, I succeeded in pulling myself up into the lower branches,when it was easy to climb to that which bore the nest. The question now was, how to get the young birds into my basket without injury. However,, as I leaned over the nest, the youngsters quickly settled the difficulty by leaping out and fluttering to the earth,screaming loudly the while. What with the old birds and the young together,the noise was something to be remembered."

" I reared both these birds without the slightest trouble,upon snails { dropped into boiling water,taken from their shells and cut into small pieces}, small worms,and a paste made oat flour,known as 'fig dust',and fine pea meal. As they grew older,however, they refused both worms and large snails though they would readily swallow small living snails in their shells. They also ate both hawthorn berries and wheat greedily,subsequently ejecting the seeds of the former and the tough skin of the latter,from the crop with considerable force, so that I have frequently found the ejected pellets several feet from their cage."

" These two birds proved to be unmistakably a pair, the male having a distinctly narrower head,slimmer build, more aloof carriage and more masterful disposition,indeed, after a time, he so tormented his companion, pulling out her feathers and scolding whenever,she approached him, that when a friend took a fancy to her I gladly gave her away. As the male bird gained strength, I gave him,as staple food, a mixture of oat flour,pea meal and Spratt's food {crushed dog biscuit} moistened with sufficient water to form a crumb paste. On this he lived,with the addition of an occasional insect or earthworm,and throve, amazingly for four years,never having a days illness,and always being ready for a frolic."

" If I put my finger into his cage he would put one foot on it and thus holding it down would flap his wings,and hammer it with his bill. When I wished to move him from one cage to another, he never attempted to get away until I grasped him firmly, then indeed he would kick a bit and utter his harsh gutteral call."

" At length in 1890,when my friend was three years and nine months old,I was persuaded to send him to a show. Unhapplily, he who had never tasted a particle of flesh was fed entirely on a mixture of finely minced raw beef mixed with bread crumbs, the result may be imagined-he had incessant fits during the first week of the show,and was returned to me in a state of apoplexy and died in a fit about an hour after he reached home. Never give raw flesh to any but predacious birds."

Butler,concludes with the following observations--" Although hand reared birds make make amusing pets, unless they are taught by a wild bird,they never learn to sing the wild song. My Mistle thrush only sang two notes, one high one low, its song was far behind that of the Great Tit for melody. There is not in the least trouble in keeping and taming wild thrushes. They sulk at first, but a few lively worms induce them to feed."

Mistle thrush among berries


Nest of the Mistle thrush containing a single egg.

Originally posted on Flickr uploaded to commons by Fae.
Originally posted on Flickr uploaded to commons by Fae. | Source

Mistle thrush eggs tend to vary in colour.


Nest and Eggs

In the spring and some times as early as February, the Mistle thrush discontinues its gregarious habits,and after choosing a mate, becomes less distrustful and frequents woods , gardens and orchards.

The pairing time is from early February as a rule and at this time the birds are exceedingly quarrelsome.Some lay their eggs in this month in the south but in regions further north it is more likely to be April.

The nest is somewhat loosely made of twigs, small sticks,hay,straw,grasses,leaves, wool and moss. Although loosely made it is strong and not unlike that of the blackbird. When lichen is on the branches a few pieces may be utilized to adorn the outer walls. it is compacted by a free use of mud mixed with fibrous roots and grass and lined with finer grasses and moss.

As a general rule it is placed in the fork of a tree, sometimes in a joint of a branch with the trunk. If disturbed when sitting the Mistle thrush is a very noisy and any attempt to interfere with the eggs or young is the signal for a perfect uproar. It is a good time to watch the perfect flight of this bird as it sweeps round in wide circles,or, as the intruder stoops to examine the nest,flashes through the branches close to his head,uttering wild raucous calls and shrieking in anger, it is very defiant and aggressive. I have myself seen a pair of Mistle thrushes mob and attack a carrion crow so persistently as drive it from the little wood in which they were nesting.

The eggs that number four, rarely five, are of a greenish or reddish white and spotted irregularly with reddish brown, they vary very much in size and colour. They are incubated by the female for 15-16 days and they are ready to fledge in a further 14-17 days.

Nest and bird

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded by russavia.
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded by russavia. | Source

Young birds.

The young birds differ from the adults as regards plumage. The chin is white and the head and crown is pale brown.,with a white spot in each feather. The back is also pale brown with a greenish yellow mark in each feather. The wings are brown,with feathers edged with pale buff. they are often encountered in Family groups until they are fully fledged.

Thrush family

Originally posted  on Flickr,  uploaded to commons by Snowmanradio
Originally posted on Flickr, uploaded to commons by Snowmanradio | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, you are so right the thrush family is one of my favourite families. They are all so similar yet all the species have a unique character of their own. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A typical thrush, indeed. However, one must love them if acquainted with the family.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, thank you so much for your votes and kind comments and for your loyal follow. Best wishes to you..

      Prabhjot Saini,

      Hi, Thank you for reading and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Prabhjot Saini profile image


      3 years ago from Delhi, India

      Beautiful birds......

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The Mistle Thrush bird is a very pretty and I like the spots An unusual way of nesting. The photos are beautiful. Voted up, interesting and useful.


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