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.
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.
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.
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 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.