The largest of the thrushes we have in the UK, the presence of a Mistle Thrush often becomes apparent when it blasts out its loud and somewhat tuneless song of fluted whistles from a high perch. It is a fairly striking bird, with a speckled breast, pale back and distinct half-circle marking which starts behind the eye. Aggressive and dominant, the species is renowned for protecting a source of berries – e.g. on a holly tree – from other birds in the winter months.

What sound does a Mistle Thrush make?

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Mistle Thrush nesting and breeding habits

The Mistle Thrush is one of our earliest breeding songbirds, with eggs sometimes laid as early as February. The nest is built in the fork of a tree or bush, and consists of grass, plant stems, roots and moss, and held together with mud. It is built by the female alone who also takes full responsibility for brooding the clutch of 4-5 eggs. Two broods per year are usual, with both parents feeding the young.

Mistle Thrush history and population trends

The UK population has suffered a serious decline since the mid-1970s, with the species now listed as red status. Two possible, and linked, reasons are cited for the decline: Decreased juvenile survival rates and modern farming methods meaning less food.

Behaviour traits of Mistle Thrushes

The Mistle Thrush is often seen on the ground, where it keeps its body fairly upright and hops to move forward. Outside of the breeding season it will often form small flocks which may total up to 20 birds or even more. However and in contrast to this, individual birds can be fiercely protective of a single source of berries – e.g. a lone holly tree – and fend off both other Mistle Thrushes and other species such as Fieldfares after the same food.

Mistle Thrush diet and food

In the breeding season and summer months, the main food is invertebrates and in particular earthworms, slugs and snails. Occasionally, nestlings of other songbirds are taken and fed to the Mistle Thrush’s young. In the autumn and winter months, berries become a significant food type, with holly, yew, ivy, rowan and mistletoe all being eaten – the latter being where the species is believed to have derived its name from. Fallen fruit will also be eaten, and apples left on the ground in cold weather are often a good way to attract the species to gardens.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell the difference between thrush and Mistle thrush?

There is no species of bird just called a thrush, with the name referring to a family of birds which, in the UK, includes the common breeding species of Song thrush, Blackbird and Mistle thrush. If comparing a Mistle thrush to a Song thrush, the Mistle thrush is larger, has a more upright stance when on the ground, and has a more speckled breast compared to the Song thrush’s more streaked breast markings.

Is a Mistle thrush bigger than a Song thrush?

Yes, the Mistle thrush is noticeably bigger than a Song thrush.

Why is it called a Mistle thrush?

The Mistle thrush name comes from the mistletoe plant, as the bird eats the berries. The Latin scientific name of the Mistle thrush, Turdus viscivora, literally translates to ‘the thrush that devours mistletoe’.

Do Mistle thrushes eat mistletoe?

Mistle thrushes eat mistletoe berries and hence where the bird’s name comes from.

Do Mistle thrushes sing?

Mistle thrushes do sing, and very loudly! The song isn’t the most tuneful compared to its thrush cousins of Blackbird and Song thrush, though there are similarities with each. Have a listen to the song by clicking on the play symbol on this page.