This large and colourful thrush is a winter visitor to the UK from its breeding grounds in northern Europe, with up to one million birds migrating here each year. Fieldfares are relatively easy to identify with their grey head, dark chestnut back and a speckled breast. Their bill is similar to that of the Blackbird apart from the tip which is black. They are very sociable birds and are generally seen in large flocks, often with Redwings (which are also a thrush), and this highly gregarious behaviour, along with almost constant chuckling calls, makes them virtually unmistakeable. They generally only come into gardens when there’s snow on the ground, and then to feed on berries and any remaining fallen apples – or any new ones put out especially which they’ll readily eat.
Fieldfare nesting and breeding habits
Occasionally, one or two pairs nest in the UK, but essentially the Fieldfare breeds in northern taiga forest and other forest below the taiga line. The nest is generally in a rather open site such as a fork in a tree, on a stump or even directly on the ground. The nest is relatively large and made up of twigs, grasses and other plant material, then lined with a thin layer of mud and then fine grass on top of that. The nest is built by the female alone and she also incubates the eggs, though both parents feed the young birds. There are normally two broods per season with 5-6 eggs for each. Small breeding colonies of the species are often formed in suitable habitat.
Fieldfare history and population trends
The population is relatively stable and there is evidence that there has been a moderate increase in the European part of its vast breeding range (which extends right across to the eastern coast of Russia).
Behaviour traits of Fieldfares
In their breeding range Fieldfares display some very interesting behaviour, with one aspect involving the fierce protection of breeding territories – which can be formed as small colonies of the species. This defence can include a well-targeted defecation hitting the intruding bird such as a magpie. In the winter in the UK, there can be strong defences behaviour when guarding food such an apple, with one Fieldfare chasing off another and even though they will probably have both arrived as part of the same large flock.
Fieldfare diet and food
Food includes worms, slugs, snails and insects, though in the winter and especially when the ground is frozen or covered in snow a switch is immediately made to berries and fruit. Fieldfares do not normally take food put out in gardens, though the one exception is apples which they will readily eat. In fact, if there’s snow on the ground and Fieldfares in the area, then putting out 20 half apples on the ground with the flesh side up will often result in 20 Fieldfares feeding on them – or a mix of Fieldfares and Redwings.