Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
October is the month that many of the birds that over-winter with us arrive from their summer breeding grounds. One such bird that I am always pleased to see flying overhead and hearing the “chattering chuckle” of for the first time for many months, is the fieldfare. The fieldfare is a member of the thrush family, and has a grey head and rump and a warmly tinged ochre coloured breast which is also heavily spotted.
Fieldfare breed in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, building their nests in woodland and scrub, often gathering together to form small colonies. This colonial behaviour helps to protect the nests from predation by corvids, and certainly all hell breaks loose when a bird such as a carrion crow enters the nesting area, with birds chasing, attacking and even bombarding the intruder with excrement! Each year there are one or two records of fieldfare breeding in Orkney and northern Scotland.
In most winters around 750,000 fieldfare spend the winter months with us, but if there is a shortage of berries or particularly severe weather affects the continent, more birds will head west, swelling the numbers in the UK. At this time of year, most of the new arrivals gorge themselves on hawthorn, buckthorn and rowan berries in particular, but will also descend onto plants such as cotoneaster in gardens, stripping all the berries off within a day or two. Fieldfare will join other thrushes such as redwing and song thrush feeding on unimproved meadows, especially if the grass sward is short, as this enables them to locate earthworms, wireworm and leather jackets more easily. Another favourite food is apples, especially if the ground becomes frozen making worms difficult to obtain, numbers of fieldfare can be found feeding on the fallen fruit.
If you visit the east coast of England in October, it will not be long before you see flocks of fieldfare coming in off the sea, sometimes just a dozen or so, but occasionally huge gatherings of many hundreds of birds, that seem to continue overhead in a long, straggling procession, telling you that winter is just around the corner!