Where do our wintering thrushes come from?

In winter, UK thrush populations are boosted by visitors from colder climes. So where exactly do they all come from?

The adult ouzel perching on a mountain ash.

Fieldfare © Vassiliy Vishnevskiy / iStock

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The arrival of redwings and fieldfares (above) is an obvious feature of late autumn in Britain, but many visitors go unnoticed because they join others of their kind that are already here.

British blackbird populations are boosted by thousands of Continental individuals – at least 10 per cent of those wintering here are from abroad, usually Norway, Sweden, Germany or Denmark.

Appreciable numbers of song thrushes from the Low Countries winter alongside our birds, though, interestingly, some of our native song thrushes winter in Spain, Portugal and France.

Fieldfares migrate on a broad front that sees individuals from the western end of the breeding range winter further west – so those wintering in Scotland and Ireland are likely to be from Norway, while those in East Anglia probably hail from Sweden.

Redwings wintering over much of England come from a similar area, joined by representatives from Finland and Russia, while those wintering in Ireland and Scotland are much more likely to originate in Iceland’s relatively small breeding population. However, wintering habits may change with time, a warming climate reducing the pressure on these birds to migrate. 

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