The clocks have finally been turned back and we’ve got long cold nights to look forward too. Many animals have escaped the cold by settling down into hibernation, but for some birds a British winter isn’t something to be avoided. In fact compared to the harsh winters experienced in Siberia and northern Europe, it is more like a summer holiday.
Every year we receive an influx of winter migrants from colder parts of our planet, two of the most regular visitors being redwing and fieldfare. These birds fly down from Iceland, Russia and southern Scandinavia, congregating in mixed flocks of anything from a dozen or two, to several hundred strong. They are gregarious and remain highly mobile, travelling through Britain feeding on fruits, berries and invertebrates.
Fieldfare has a heavily spotted breast, white underwings and a blue-grey head. They also have a dark brown back and an ochre chest band. Fieldfare can sometimes be confused with mistle thrush; however their complex head markings and flocking nature should distinguish them from the unsocial solitary mistle thrush. Redwing are the UK’s smallest true thrush and have two very distinctive features: a creamy strip above the eye known as a supercilium, and orangey red patches under the wings.
Redwings are a classic night-time migrant, so listen out on dark, clear nights and you might be lucky enough to hear the thin ‘seep seep’ of a redwing overhead. Both birds usually start to arrive in the UK in late September and stay until the end of March. They time their migration to coincide with the availability of berries and particularly enjoy rowan and hawthorn. Look out for them in the late afternoon foraging around the edges of woodland before moving deeper into cover to roost.
Flocks of redwing and fieldfare can be seen anywhere across Britain and Ireland, but are not regular garden visitors. You are more likely to spot them in hedgerows, orchards and fields especially around farmland. However they can be forced into gardens by a harsh winter or a lack of berries. Why not encourage them in by leaving some windfall fruit on the ground or by planting a native hedgerow along your fence. The birds will certainly appreciate the helping hand before they start the long flight north again in spring.