With their, striking plumage of grey head and rump, bolding speckled breast, black tail, contrasting dark chestnut-red back and wings, this large attractive member of the thrush family is a welcomed winter visitor. The first fieldfare usually arrive in Britain at the beginning of October, indicating to us that winter is fast approaching. Initially arrive on the east coast from Scandinavia, they quickly begin moving inland.
Winter numbers do at times fluctuate, depending on the severity of the winter and the food supply in their homeland. Even so, there is always at least 720,000 birds visiting Britain between the start of October and the beginning of April. Many additional bird are passage migrants, who continue on and winter in Continental Europe. When, in April, they and the UK residents return to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
Fieldfares are a very social bird, and can be seen in flocks varying form one or two dozen to several hundred strong. Standing bold and upright, these flocks can be seen travelling through the countryside, often hopping along hedgerows, moving through arable fields, winter grass fields, even playing fields and gardens usually accompanied by flocks of redwing, which also migrate to our shores in similar numbers.
Fieldfares are omnivorous and have a wide diet that includes, in the carnivore department, spiders, slugs, insects, earthworms, snails, beetles and grasshoppers. In the herbivore department, berries from amongst the Hawthorn holly, holly and juniper bushes, the yew and Rowan trees. They are also partial to molluscs on the seashore and windfall apples and swedes!
The English common name fieldfare dates back to at least the 11th century – possibly from the Anglo-Saxon word feldefare. Alternatively, it may derive from the old English fealu fearh, literally meaning grey piglet!
The British Isles is the extreme edge of the fieldfares breeding range and only a handful of pairs breed here, and is therefore classified by the RSPB as a red list species as of January 2013.