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The mistle thrush

David Chapman

Writer and photographer, David Chapman, introduces a festive visitor to your garden.

Mistle thrush
Mistle thrush photographed by David Chapman

The name of the mistle thrush is directly related to its favourite choice of food, the mistletoe; even its scientific name turdus viscivorus means 'thrush that devours mistletoe' ('viscum' for mistletoe, 'voro' meaning to devour). 

Unfortunately for the thrush it has a competitor for this unusual crop since we have built up many superstitions about it not least regarding fertility, safety, prosperity and a sophisticated equivalent for the 'kiss me quick' hat. Mistletoe is now becoming less common and, in the future, we will no doubt be left to wonder how the mistle thrush acquired its name. 

In some parts of the country, where mistletoe has always been uncommon, the mistle thrush is known by a different name, the 'holm thrush'. The word 'holm' is derived from the Old English word 'holen' meaning holly and indicates another of the mistle thrush's favourite foods, the holly berry. 

The mistle thrush begins nesting much earlier than most of our resident species and it may be heard singing, to establish its territory, in the middle of winter - a peculiarity which has led to the bird being known as 'the stormcock'. 

It has been shown that individuals who defend a natural supply of food during the winter are more likely to have a successful breeding season than those that don't. Put simply, a cock bird singing above a fully laden holly tree is more likely to attract a partner than one who isn't. 


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