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Redwing {Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 2, 2015

Redwing; Turdus iliacus.

Originally posted on Flickr uploaded to Commons by Snowmanradio. Image taken in Iceland
Originally posted on Flickr uploaded to Commons by Snowmanradio. Image taken in Iceland | Source


The Redwing belongs to the order of birds known as the Passeriformes { perching birds} and the family Turdidae within that order.The genus name of Turdus is the Latin word for Thrush. The specific name of iliacus indicates the flanks from ile {flank}

Here in the UK the Redwing is on the Red list of conservation concern chiefly because of breeding population declines between 1967-2009. In Ireland they are Green listed {No concerns}

The population in Britain is estimated at 650,000 birds in winter and are classed as being a migrant breeder/passage winter visitor { Source BTO }. In Europe they are not a species of concern and the European population size is estimated at between 4 and 6 million pairs. Populations vary from country to country and there follows a few selected examples.

The Estonian population is estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 Breeding Pairs {BP} Finland 1,500,000-2,500,000 VP. Iceland 1000,000 and 200,000 Bp. Latvia 60,000-100,000 BP. Russia 12,000,000-15,000,000 BP. Sweden 750,000-1,500,000 BP. Ukraine 9,500-12,500 BP { Source Birdlife}

They breed in north Eurasia and winter south to southern Europe. They are a bird of northern forests and Tudra scrub.The Gaelic name for the bird is Smerach-an-t-sneachda, the Welsh Coch-Dan-aden and the Irish Deargan sneachta.

The Blackbird is a familiar member of the genus in the UK and Europe.

Uploaded to Commons by Anniolek
Uploaded to Commons by Anniolek | Source

American Robin represents the genus in North America

Taken in Toronto Canada.
Taken in Toronto Canada. | Source

What are Redwings {Thrush} ?

The true Thrushes are medium sized mostly insectivorous or omnivorous birds of the genus Turdus. The genus has a cosmopolitan distribution with species in America,Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia with introductions to New Zealand.

In America the genus is represented by species such the American Robin Turdus migratorius. The Common Blackbird,Turdus merula is a very familiar species of the genus in the UK and Europe. Redwings often accompany Fiedfares**. The spotted thrushes look the same throughout the year and both sexes are alike,which the Blackbird for example along with the Rock thrushes have the sexes sporting different plumages {and seasonal plumages}.

Most of them are superb singers and feature prominently in the spring dawn chorus in much of northern Europe and many are migratory. The Chats are also members of the thrush family as is the European Robin,Bluethroat, Nightingale Redstart**, Wheatear**, Whinchat** and Stonechat**,Rock thrush and Ring Ousel**.

Here we review the species Turdus iliacus with mention of other subspecies Turdus iliacus -coburni, which breeds in Iceland and the Faroe Islands and winters western Scotland and Ireland to Northern Spain. This sub-species is darker overall and marginally larger .As always we commence with a description of the species under review.

** These birds have already been reviewed in this series.

Redwing and habitat

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


Familiar Wild Birds. Swaysland 1883. Courtesy of the BHL.
Familiar Wild Birds. Swaysland 1883. Courtesy of the BHL.

Description of the Redwing.

When in breeding plumage the Redwing is a most striking thrush. The upper surface is olive brown with a clear creamy white eye stripe extending back towards the nape. The wing coverts have pale tips. The under surface is buff gradually fading to almost pure white on the belly. The breast and throat broadly streaked with dark brown. The flanks and under wing coverts are chestnut red from which it takes its common name,they are spotted with deep brown. The sexes are similar.

In general appearance the Redwing is like a small Song thrush but the white eye stripe and red flanks give it a very distinctive character. The bill is brown above and to the end of the lower mandible,the inner half is orange yellow ,as are the edges of the upper part. A band of yellowish white runs from the base of the bill half way down the neck and a continuous line of closely set dark spots.

The iris is brown ,over it and extending to the back of the head,is a broad band of yellowish white. A black streak passes through the eye. The head and crown are a dark olive brown on the sides a dark dusky brown,streaked with brownish white.The neck in front and on the sides, white tinged with rufous yellow,each feather with an elongated brownish black spot at the end and on the centre. The nape is olive brown. The chin and throat white with brown spots pale on the sides, which are partly red. The back olive brown,paler on the lower part.

The legs and toes,pale reddish brown, the claws dusky orange coloured underneath. They are long and slender and a good deal curved. The female very closely resembles the male in general appearance. the bill has the yellow colour more dull than that of the male, the markings on the neck are not so dark,and the red on the sides of the breast is not so bright.

Courtesy of redjerd; Standard Youtube license; https://www. VVnRJ-eUBv

General and historical information

Redwings are classic night time migrants.They are often heard on dark,clear, autumn and early winter nights,especially in the east {of the UK} making their familiar 'tseep' call. The migration of this species according to Morris ' A History of Birds', "-- flying in flocks often at a considerable magnitude. they are rather shy,and will permit anything like a near approach,unless it be when the snow has laid some time on the ground,and compelling hunger over comes their fear of ordinary dangers. Their flight is quick and a little undulating, performed by a series of flapping wings, with short intervals,during which they descend a little"

The Redwing is the smallest thrush to visit and to breed in the UK. However, it is much more numerous in the winter months often consorting with Fieldfares. Soon after its arrival in this country,Redwings may be encountered feeding in suburban gardens feeding at twilight among the berries of Hawthorn. Sometimes as many as thirty or more birds may alight on a hedgerow to devour the copious amount of berries available to them. It does not take long for these birds to deplete the hedgerow of their produce,much to the consternation of our native birds.

Seebohm {1800's}, made the following notes " the favourite haunts of the Redwing is a sheltered valley down which a little brooklet runs,with trees scattered here and there,and tall hedgerows of thorn and hazel. They are very partial to small parks,thickly furnished with and sheltered by clumps of Whitethorn trees,with here and there clusters of Holly or a dense shrubbery,wither they repair at night time to roost".

The food of the Redwing consists preferably of insects,worms and snails but when the frost and snow deprive it of these it feeds on various berries more especially those of the Service Tree and Hawthorn. It is however, more distinctly insectivorous in its tastes than other thrushes nevertheless in confinement it thrives upon the same soft food {see Captivity below}.

They may be observed in open weather on the ground in the fields,where standing for a while motionless,with the head turned towards any wind, the wings slightly drooped,and the tail straight or a little raised, each individual perceiving what it is in search of.,a worm, a caterpillar,beetle or other insect, it hops briskly to the spot and takes its meal.

Morris makes the following notes, " In some very severe seasons numbers perish from the effects of cold and hunger. The years 1799,1814 and 1872 were especially fatal to them." He also notes that the song of the Redwing-" is a veritable 'Swedish nightingale',known indeed, in the Northern countries by that name,and is described as being exceedingly beautiful"

Linnaeus had already affirmed in his notes " That the song is high and varied" on his tour of Lapland," rivalling those notes of the Nightingale herself. It is loud,sweet,clear and musical,with yet a wildness which gives it an inexpressible charm in the ear of the lover of such strains as Jenny Lind has so enchantingly cultivated,and which give such expression to her Norse songs. It has however, an ordinary note as well,and about the end of March and the beginning of April, large numbers of these birds may be seen together at the top of a tree,and uttering together a not unpleasing kind of murmuring concert, more or less loud, singly heard however, their ordinary note is a rather harsh clear scream"

Feeding on Cotoneaster berries in winter

Taken -Northumberland UK.
Taken -Northumberland UK. | Source

Redwing and captivity

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds {with a few licensed exceptions},the hobby of bird keeping was generally accepted. Bird-catchers made a good living from procuring the birds by any means {usually by the aid of nets}, and selling them to bird keepers or to the markets to sell as food. As it is a part of our natural history the next few paragraphs allude to those times,with notes from past eminent writers on the subject.

Butler,'British Birds with their Nest and Eggs' 1896,relates the following notes. " One winter a Bird -catcher brought me a bag containing six Redwings and a Fieldfare,which he had just caught. I would not,however, be persuaded to take the whole of them,but selecting two of the Redwings {which fortunately proved to be a pair} and the Fieldfare I sent the man away."

" The Redwings I turned loose in to an unheated aviary with other British birds. At first the new comers were somewhat wild, but they soon settled down in their new home. They never showed the slightest uneasiness at the season of migration,as I had been informed they would do, but early in the year assumed rich colouring, that naturalists who saw them in my aviary,expressed astonishment at the beauty of their plumage."

" Very early the male began to record his song,but usually in the morning only. In the evening the call note-a soft plaintive whistle,which reminded me of that of the American Bluebird,was all that I heard at the time. later however, he began to sing out loud. As an aviary bird,I found the Redwing ornamental,and most inoffensive, but by no means lively. It would sit in one place on the earth without moving for half an hour,still as a breathing statue-a frog in behaviour and appearance. But throw a spider or a smooth skinned caterpillar into the aviary,and, like that Batrachian,it was instantly alert. In spite of its beauty I should imagine that the Redwing,if kept in a cage would be intolerable."

" After two tears I wearied of my pair,and sold them on for a small sum to a friend,who immediately entered them into a show and carried off first prize with them. Poor Redwings! I fear that the life after they left my home was not an enviable one"

Meyer, 1844, stated " That the flesh of these birds are delicious. The Redwing may be preserved alive if kept in a large aviary and soon become tame and sociable and clean. But it is to be presumed that they do not exert,when caged,the powerful singing that they are said so eminently display in a wild state,since Bechstein,who speaks of keeping them for several years in confinement does not appear at all conscious of their vocal powers,which have, on the other hand,been so much admired by persons who have heard these birds to advantage among their native woods during the summer season"

Courtesy of luciano mingarelle; Standard Youtube license.;

Breeding nest and eggs

In wooded districts the Redwing usually builds its nest in bushes or low trees, but in more desolate regions by a low fence,a hollow between stones,or a sloping banking serve as a nesting site. The nest itself is a neat structure formed of plaited twigs,grass and moss,plastered inside by mud or clay and then lined with fine grasses and root fibre.

The bird is a very uncommon breeder in the UK has previously mentioned however,Morris ' History of British Birds' reveals " One instance of the bird remaining here to build a nest has been obligingly communicated to me by Captain Turton of the Third Dragoon Guards,--In 1836, a nest was found on the margin of a brook,which afterwards becomes the leven on his fathers property at Kildale, in Cleveland. The late John Bell Esq,MP for Thirsk,shot the female bird which had previously been wounded, the nest contained four eggs"

" The late Mr.Macgillivray,whom I much regret to have to be disagreeable with his accuracy of his observations. As an ornithologist he stood unrivalled-relates that he has known individuals remain in the Island of Harris so late as the 25th of May and at Rodhill, there Mr.Bullock has recorded that he found a nest in the year of 1828.Other such instances have occurred at Godalming, in Surrey,and near Barnel,in Middlesex."

The number of eggs varies from four to five. In colour they are pale green,either finely and closely streaked with reddish-brown,somewhat like a small Blackbirds egg,or zoned with brown blotches,however, like other Thrushes eggs are sometimes found of a uniform green colour. The eggs are incubated for eleven to sixteen days and the young are ready to fledge in a further ten to sixteen days.

When the nest is approached,but especially when it contains young chicks the Redwing becomes very excited,flying angrily around the intruder and snapping its bill in the manner of its kind. { The Mistle thrush is particularly aggressive in defence of its nest}.

This species generally produces two broods per season.

Bird with prey

Uploaded to Commons by MPF. The image was taken at Jarolengia, Iceland.
Uploaded to Commons by MPF. The image was taken at Jarolengia, Iceland. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      The two birds are very similar Deb,as you so rightly point out. Both are beautiful creatures. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The Redwing is indeed, a veritable beauty. When I saw it, I immediately thought American Robin/thrush. Great topic!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Eddy,Thank you Eddy and I hope you have a great New Year. Thank you too, for your comments,as always they are appreciated. Lots of love returned from Lancashire. Best wishes to you.

      Imogen French,

      Hi, they are beautiful birds and if this cold snap remains for any length of time they are sure to come to gardens in search of food. Thank you for taking the time to comment. It is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      Hello Devika , glad to have introduced you to another species I know how fond you are of birds. Thank you for your votes,much appreciated . Have a happy and prosperous New Year. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful birds indeed! I always enjoy listening to birds around my home. The Red wing is unique and very interesting. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 

      5 years ago from Southwest England

      What lovely birds they are, and a very interesting hub. We only see them here in the south of England when it gets Really cold, but I haven't seen any yet this winter.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      5 years ago from Wales

      Another great hub by you my dear friend ;full of interesting facts on nature's precious gems and as always beautiful photos. Wishing you a wonderful New year and may it bring you a whole load of good times.

      Lots of love from across the border.



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