MISTLE THRUSH (Turdus viscivorus)

FAMILY: TURDIDAE (Thrushes and chats)

The mistle thrush is known for its large, aggressive nature and the fact it is the UK’s largest ‘traditional’ songbird. Territorial in nature, mistle thrushes often defend trees and bushes full of berries in the winter months to ensure they have a constant food supply in the colder season. Found across the UK, apart from the most northern parts of Scotland, mistle thrushes are most prevalent in gardens, scrubland, parks, and woodland areas.

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Alert Status:

Red -36% decline

Estimated number of breeding territories: 165,000

Listen to Mistle thrush song:


Though the mistle thrush can often be confused with other members of the thrush family, it is much larger than any other thrush in the UK.  Adults have grey-brown colouration on their back and neck, with white underwings, a long tail, and a spotted underside. The spots are more rounded than those seen on the song thrush (which are more arrow-shaped), and more evenly distributed across the chest, and mistle thrushes frequently have a small darker patch on their chests. Juveniles have a much paler head, with spots occurring across their backs as well as their underside.

Average Length: 27cm

Average Lifespan: 3-5 Years

Average Wingspan: 42-48 cm

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Mistle thrush diet

The mistle thrush is often seen hopping about on the ground, foraging for insects and worms in the soil. They also eat seeds, fruit, and berries, having been names after their love for mistletoe berries.

How to feed: Ground feeders

What to feed: Raisins, peanuts, sunflower hearts, apples, and berries.

Mistle thrush breeding and nesting information

The female builds a very large cup-shaped nest which is very messy, which is often fairly exposed high up in tree branches. The cup is built from twigs, roots, leaves and grasses stuck messily together with bits of mud. Breeding normally occurs in early spring, with the first clutches laid in early April. Mistle thrushes lay 2-3 broods, each with 3-5 eggs which hatch after being incubated for around 2 weeks by the female.

Threats to mistle thrush

It is believed that mistle thrushes decline is due to reduced survival in juveniles, fledglings, and chicks, as is the case with many other thrush species here in the UK. There has also been a marked decline in their populations in farmland areas, likely due to the removal of hedgerows and agricultural intensification, reducing the amount of invertebrate prey.

How you can help

Fill your bird feeders with raisins, peanuts and sunflower hearts on the ground for mistle thrushes to access

Leave fallen leaves where they are to encourage insects to your garden

Plant thick hedges in gardens that provide habitat and suitable food

Fascinating Fact

The mistle thrush is traditionally named the ‘rain bird’ or ‘stormcock’ and is associated with a turn in the weather. Unlike many other birds, the mistle thrush appears to enjoy the cooler, rainy weather and often sings before storms are due and even continues to sing during the rain.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Turdus viscivorus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.  

Chad, R.W., Taylor, M. (2016) Birds: Myth, Lore and Legend. Bloomsbury publishing group, London.

Chamberlain, D.E., Fuller, R.J., Bunce, R.G.H., Duckworth, J.C. & Shrubb, M. (2000b) Changes in the abundance of farmland birds in relation to the timing of agricultural intensification in England and Wales. Journal of Applied Ecology 37: 771–788.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114 

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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