Mistle thrush guide: diet, habitat and where to see in the UK

Learn more about the mistle thrush, including diet, habitat and where to see in the UK.

Mistle thrush © Peter Howlett

Why is a mistle thrush called a mistle thrush?

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.


What other name is a mistle thrush known by?

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.

A mistle thrush perched on a wooden fence post
A mistle thrush perched on a wooden fence post. © Gary Chalker/Getty

When can I see a mistle thrush?

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.


Are mistle thrushes territorial?

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 


When do mistle thrushes lay their eggs?

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.


Where do mistle thrushes build their 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.

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

Pair of mistle thrushes feeding their chicks at the nest
Pair of mistle thrushes feeding their chicks at the nest. © Tony Hamblin/Getty

How many mistle thrushes are there in England?

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.


How do you 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.

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