The Redwing is largely a winter visitor to the UK only, though a very small number of pairs now nest in the northern third of Scotland. In the winter months Redwings are often seen in large flocks which also include the larger Fieldfare. A member of the thrush family, the Redwing is a highly attractive bird with a speckled breast much like that of the Song Thrush, a distinct cream stripe above the eye and a less distinct one below. However, it is the chestnut-red flush on the underwing that helps make identifying this bird an easy job. In gardens, the species is normally only seen in harsh winter conditions when fields are frozen or covered in snow, and when they do come to gardens they’ll be after berries and including on ornamental shrubs such as pyracantha.
Redwing diet and food
The diet is varied and includes snails, earthworms, slugs and insects, then progressively more berries and fallen fruit in the winter months. Hawthorn, holly and rowan berries are the native species which are eaten, but in gardens, parks and shopping centre car parks etc. then berries from ornamental shrubs including pyracantha and cotoneaster will readily be eaten. The only food to put out in gardens which is likely to attract Redwings in frozen conditions, is apples (cut them in half and place on the lawn flesh-side up).
Redwing nesting and breeding habits
The nest site can be in a tree, bush, rotten tree stump, or even direct on the ground on a bank. The nest is made of twigs, grass, lichen and moss, and sometimes with an inner lining of mud, with the final lining being normally made up of fine grass. The overall final structure makes a substantial cup, with only the female bird having taken part in the construction. There are one or two broods per year of 5-6 eggs, and again only the female carries out the task of incubation. Thankfully, the male bird does get involved in feeding the young, and shares this role with the female.
Behaviour traits of Redwing
Redwings are sociable birds and will generally form large flocks for migration and their time in the UK in the winter months. Often forming mixed flocks with Fieldfares, in harsh winter weather when the ground is frozen they can turn up in force in gardens with berries and fallen fruit on offer, and can quickly strip a shrub such as pyracantha of its berries.
Redwing history and population trends
The first record of breeding Redwings in the UK was 1925, and this in Sutherland in the north of Scotland. Since then numbers have grown but also fluctuated, and it’s believed that there are still no more than 100 breeding pairs. Therefore the trend has been one of very moderate increase over the last 90 years or so, and to give this more context the number of wintering Redwings which arrive on our shores from northern mainland Europe each autumn, is estimated at around 690,000. However, the trend has been for a slight decline in numbers over recent decades.