Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)

French: Grive musicienne
GenusTurdus (1)
SizeLength: 23 cm (2)

The song thrush is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed under the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List and the EC Birds Directive. Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (3).

Slightly smaller than the blackbird, the familiar song thrush (Turdus philomelos) has brown upperparts and creamy underparts with obvious dark brown spots. The beautiful song is loud and musical, with repeated phrases. In flight, a soft 'sip' call is produced (4).

The song thrush is widespread throughout Europe reaching east to Siberia. Populations in the north of the range are migratory; the wintering areas extend down into North Africa, whereas in central Europe including the UK, populations tend to be resident throughout the year. In the UK they are found in the largest numbers in south-east England and East Anglia (2).

Found in parks, small woodlands, hedgerows, and gardens. They require trees and bushes with areas of open grassland and moist soil with a plentiful supply of invertebrate food (2).

Song thrushes take a variety of food but earthworms form a very important part of the diet. Towards the end of summer if the ground is too hard to obtain earthworms, they take snails and break the shells by tapping them on stones (2). These 'snail anvils' can often be found in gardens with the remains of a snail around them. This behaviour is unique to the song thrush, but occasionally a blackbird will steal the snail once an unfortunate thrush has carried out the hard work of breaking the shell (2).

The long breeding season lasts from March to August. Two or three broods are produced in this time; each clutch contains three to five pale blue-black spotted eggs that are incubated by the female. Both parents feed the young, which become independent about five weeks after hatching (2).

After the mid-1970s there was a steady decline in song thrush numbers; since then a decline of 73 percent has occurred in farmland and 49 percent in woodland habitats (3). Although the reasons for this decline are not yet understood, it is thought that the widespread changes in agricultural practices have been involved; removal of hedgerows has caused a loss of nesting sites, and the increased use of pesticides and the loss of winter stubbles have reduced the food supply. Predation by crows and foxes and competition with blackbirds may also be important (3).

The severity of the song thrush decline was recognised fairly recently, so very little conservation work has focused on this species to date. The RSPB is promoting environmentally sensitive farming practices as a means to conserve the song thrush and other threatened farmland birds. Research into the ecology of this species and the causes of the decline is ongoing. Gardens are important habitats for this species; certain measures can be taken to make a garden more attractive to wildlife (2). The song thrush is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), and a Species Action Plan has been produced to coordinate its conservation (3).

For more information on the song thrush and other bird species:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. RSPB (November 2001)
  3. UK Biodiversity (November 2001)
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G., Hollom. (1993) Collins Field Guide. Birds of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London.