9 mistle thrush facts you need to know

Discover 9 fascinating facts about the BTO February Garden Bird of the Month.

Mistle thrush
Mistle thrush © Peter Howlett


1 What’s in a name?

The latin name for mistle thrush is Turdus viscivorus, the latter of which means devourer of mistletoe. In continental Europe, Mistletoe berries are an important food source, but in the UK, they prefer holly and hawthorn berries.

2 ‘Stormcock’

A colloquial name for mistle thrush is ‘stormcock’. This comes from their tendency to defend territories from the top of the tallest tree, even if it is windy and raining. Their ‘fluting’ phrase is one of the earliest signs of spring, and they usually start singing by late January.

3 Winter visitors 

While song thrushes are more common in gardens, mistle thrushes use them too, especially during the autumn and winter. Their diet mostly consists of invertebrates and berries, but they will come into gardens for windfall apples.

4 On guard 

Mistle thrushes will fiercely defend their food sources, especially large isolated holly bushes. Individuals that do this effectively have been shown to produce earlier and bigger clutches than those that don’t guard berries in the winter. 

When berries are scarce, mistle thrushes may come into gardens for windfall apples. © Jill Pakenham/BTO 

5 Early breeder

One of the earliest breeders of the year, they will lay eggs as early as the end of February. This doesn’t mean that they stop early though, as each pair rears up to three broods of chicks, and may continue through to the end of June.

6 Mistle thrush nests

Usually in the fork of a branch, or up against the trunk of a tree, mistle thrush nests are made out of loosely woven grasses, moss and roots, held together with mud, leaves and rotten wood. Inside they are lined with fine grasses and occasionally pine needles, which are thought to reduce nest parasites.

7 Fierce defender 

Like food sources, mistle thrushes are also defend their nests vigorously, routinely chasing off corvids. They have also been known to take on sparrowhawks, buzzards, barn owls and one even killed a jackdaw!

8 English decline

Despite a widespread expansion throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, mistle thrushes have been declining since the 1970s. In England over a third of the population was lost between 1995 and 2010, which was thought to be due to the reduced annual survival of juveniles.

9 How to identify a mistle thrush

Mistle thrushes are noticeably larger than song thrushes, with a longer tail. They have pale grey-brown upperparts, and their white underparts are heavily spotted, with the spots on the belly and flanks more rounded in appearance.  They have a rattling call, particularly when alarmed or disturbed.

Discover more tips on how to tell song and mistle thrushes apart. 

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org


Read previous BTO Garden Bird of the Month blogs.

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