The cold weather and the fieldfare

David Chapman

Cold weather can cause huge problems for birds and many usually wary species have been recorded in gardens across the country during cold snaps.

Of particular note are the thrushes which, having bred in Scandinavia and further east, regularly spend their winter in Britain to take advantage of the usually mild weather. Having polished off the last of the holly berries they would naturally turn their attention to ground feeding, taking grubs and worms from short grassy areas, but frozen ground is prevents that. Ivy berries, which sustain them through the late winter, can be slow to ripen so these birds struggle to survive.

We have five species of thrush which are commonly seen in Britain during the winter, these are: song thrush, mistle thrush, blackbird, redwing and fieldfare. Two of them are seen only in the winter, I wrote about the redwing in December and, sure enough their numbers have increased dramatically, but even more noticeable to me has been the influx of fieldfares.

Fieldfares are large thrushes, nearly as big as the mistle thrush. They have a grey head and rump contrasting with brown wings. They have spotted breasts but these are quite different to the other familiar thrushes since, along the flanks, the spots are shaped like arrow-heads and the upper breast has an ochre-tinged background colour.

We always get fieldfares but they tend to be shy and avoid close contact with people but can be driven into gardens during extremely cold weather. I was visiting family in York last week and due to six inches of snow the fieldfares had little choice but to visit gardens to find food. To my surprise, when I returned to Cornwall, we had fieldfares in our garden too.

Apples are a great source of food for fieldfares, so too are pears, so go to your greengrocer and try to buy their rotten fruit for a song. All thrushes would rather feed on the ground than on a bird table so scatter the fruit on your lawn and sit back and watch.

Fieldfares are sociable birds, in a way! They nest in colonies where they protect each other but to watch them squabble over food in the cold of our current winter you would think they were sworn enemies. Fieldfares will try to chase off all other birds from ‘their apple’ so try to spread the food out as much as possible to allow the greatest number of birds to feed.

As I write this article I am watching a fieldfare out of my study window just feet from the house but thankfully the thaw has started in Cornwall and soon this bird will be able to find its fare in the fields where it will no doubt be happier.

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