A regular visitor to many gardens, the song thrush is one of our most common birds. The songsters now seem to be particularly active and a few are hopping around on the grass outside the window at the time of writing.
Smaller than the mistle thrush, which has bolder markings on its breast, the song thrush — appropriately known in Irish as ‘an smolach ceoil’ — is a melodious bird. Perhaps song thrushes are getting their vocal chords in tune for the upcoming dawn chorus and they can be heard clearly these days.
Sounding like a flute, the notes are as clear as a bell and can travel up to 400m, some experts believe. An individual bird can have scores of different phrases which it repeats several times.
In the garden, meanwhile, a song thrush has suddenly stopped its dance and is cocking its head to one side.
The impression given is that it is listening for something. We quickly see, however, it is only looking for worms and then delicately, if mercilessly, picks one from the earth.
Earthworms and snails are a big part of its diet. An intelligent bird, it is known to break a shell open to get at a snail, using a stone like a blacksmith would an anvil to crack the shell. So if you see a stone with broken shells all around it, you will know a thrush has been having lunch there.
Song thrushes breed between March and August. The nest is made of moss and grass, lined with mud, in trees, bushes, and dense hedgerows.
The mistle thrush is more often found in open fields, standing upright, its head cocked almost cheekily, always looking alert and searching for food. It prefers open areas with tall trees and can nest in larger gardens or parks. The nest can sometimes be built quite openly in the forks of trees.
The blackbird is another member of the thrush family and can be easily distinguished for obvious reasons. However, two other thrush species visit Ireland for the winter, the redwing and fieldfare. We can get large numbers of these migrants during severe winters in northern climes and such an influx can cause confusion, according to Birdwatch Ireland.
The redwing, with a distinctive red colour under its wing, is about the same size as the mistle thrush. It comes here from Iceland and Scandinavia and, like its Irish cousins, feeds on worms and berries. The fieldfare is slightly smaller than the mistle thrush. It comes from Scandinavia and central Europe and has a standout grey head and rump.
Unlike the seasonal visitors, our native and more richly speckled thrushes are with us year-round and are among our top 20 garden birds, says Birdwatch.