Mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

GenusTurdus (1)
SizeLength: 27 - 28 cm (2)
Weight93 - 167 g (2)

The mistle thrush is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) is a large, pale thrush with a long tail and a distinctive upright stance (2) (3) (4). The male and female mistle thrush are similar in appearance, with greyish-brown upperparts, a buffy-olive rump, and whitish underparts marked with bold, irregular black spots. The flight feathers are greyish, with pale edges, and the tip of the tail has whitish edges (2) (3) (4) (5). The underwing-coverts are white (2) (4) (5). The mistle thrush has a dark beak with a yellowish base, and its legs are flesh pink (2). Juvenile mistle thrushes somewhat resemble the adult, but have pale spots from the back of the neck to the shoulders, and finer dark spotting on the underparts (2) (5).

Three subspecies of the mistle thrush are recognised: Turdus viscivorus viscivorus, Turdus viscivorus deichleri and Turdus viscivorus bonapartei. The subspecies T. v. deichleri is paler than T. v. viscivorus, while T. v. bonapartei is both paler and larger (2). The mistle thrush is often confused with the song thrush (Turdus philomelos), but can be distinguished by its larger size, lengthier and more upright profile, greyer upperparts, bolder and rounder black spots, white tail corners and white rather than buff wing-linings (4) (5).

The song of the mistle thrush, typically given by the male from the top of a tree, is a series of short, loud, fluting but slightly monotonous phrases, separated by distinct pauses: ‘truitruvu… churichuru… chuvutru… churuvutru…’ (2) (3) (4) (5). Its calls also include a loud, rasping ‘tserrr’ and a hard ‘tuc’ (2) (4) (5).

The mistle thrush occurs across Europe, east to Siberia, and south to North Africa and southern Asia (2) (6). The subspecies T. v. viscivorus is found from Europe to western Siberia and northern Iran, and winters in North Africa and Southwest Asia. T. v. deichleri occurs in Northwest Africa and on Corsica and Sardinia, while T. v. bonapartei occurs from Turkmenistan and south-central Siberia to western Nepal and the Altai region, and winters in central and southern Asia (2).

In the east and northeast of its range, the mistle thrush population appears to be fully migratory, but in the west of its range only part of the population migrates (2).

This species is generally found where there is a mosaic of wooded and open country, such as in woodland glades, orchards, riverside forest, open mature forest, open grassland with scrub, mountain steppe with shrubs, and other open landscapes with scattered trees (2). It is also seen in farmland, parks and gardens (2) (3) (5) (6).

In parts of its range, the winter habitat of the mistle thrush is strongly determined by the distribution and availability of mistletoe (Viscum album) (2) (4).

Foraging on the ground or in the trees, the mistle thrush feeds on a variety of invertebrates, seeds and fruits. Its invertebrate prey includes adult and larval beetles, butterflies and moths, crickets, grasshoppers, earwigs, bugs, spiders, millipedes, snails, slugs and earthworms. It also occasionally takes small vertebrates, including nestling birds (2). In addition, the mistle thrush eats a wide variety of plant food, including the fruits and seeds of dogwood, hawthorn, ivy, holly, juniper, apple, olive, bramble, elder, rowan, yew and mistletoe, as well as some grass shoots, moss and fungi (2). Fruits and seeds are particularly important food sources during the winter, when the mistle thrush may defend fruiting trees against other thrush species to ensure a long-term food supply (2).

The mistle thrush breeds from late March to July (2). The nest is a large cup of dry grass, roots, moss and plant stems, bound together with mud and lined with fine grasses, and typically placed in the fork of a tree (2) (5). The breeding pair is usually highly territorial, but the nesting territory is generally quite small and the adults forage over a much wider area.

This species lays three to five eggs, which are pale blue to bluish-green, with reddish-brown and purplish spots. The eggs hatch after around 12 to 15 days, and the young mistle thrushes fledge at 14 to 16 days old, although they remain dependent on the adults for a further 15 to 20 days. The breeding pair may raise a second brood in the same season, with the male often taking responsibility for the care of the young while the female lays the second clutch. The mistle thrush has lived to an impressive 21 years in the wild (2).

With its widespread range and large population, the mistle thrush is not currently considered globally threatened (6). It expanded its range in Europe during the 19th century, when it colonised many lowland woodland areas, but some population declines have been noted in recent decades, due in part to the felling of mature forests (2).

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures in place for this common thrush. The mistle thrush is listed on Annex II of the EC Birds Directive, which provides a framework for the conservation and management of wild bird populations in Europe (7).

Find out more about the mistle thrush and its conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. RSPB - Mistle thrush (March, 2011)
  4. Barthel, P.H. and Dougalis, P. (2008) New Holland European Bird Guide. New Holland Publishers, London.
  5. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. BirdLife International (March, 2011)
  7. EC Birds Directive (March, 2011)