Brush up on thrushes

01 Jan 2012 | No. 2012-04

With the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch just around the corner, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is helping householders to brush up on their ID skills. Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush are two garden species that are readily confused, so the BTO has launched a free guide to help.

Song Thrush

Gardens are a valuable habitat for Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, both species of conservation concern, so counting their numbers correctly is important. Further to the BTO’s year-round Garden BirdWatch survey, the RSPB will hold their annual Big Garden Birdwatch on the last weekend of January 2012. With thousands of people taking part, now is a great time for householders to refresh their thrush ID skills.

To help, the BTO has produced a free guide to Song and Mistle Thrushes. The BTO is renowned for its expertise in species identification, being the leading bird research organisation in the UK and coordinator of the nation’s most respected bird surveys. The BTO has also recently launched a series of species web-based identification videos, including one on Song and Mistle Thrush.

This January should be a particularly good time to look out for these birds. The unseasonably mild winter has seen Song Thrushes already in good voice across much of the country, preparing to

Mistle Thrush

breed, while Mistle Thrushes are always one of the earliest singers of the year. The BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey shows that both species peak in their use of gardens around this time of year, so participants in the RSPB scheme should certainly keep their eyes peeled.

Both Song and Mistle Thrush move into gardens during late winter as berry stocks in the wider countryside are depleted. The last two winters show how their numbers in gardens can increase dramatically if cold weather bites, and how morsels provided by householders, such as fresh and windfall fruit, can be particularly important.

Tim Harrison, of the BTO Garden Ecology Team, commented: “Research shows that urbanised habitats have become very important for Song and Mistle Thrushes. With broader concerns about the health of their populations, charting their numbers in gardens correctly is important.”

He added: “BTO data show that Song Thrushes had a bumper breeding season in 2011, but with so many inexperienced birds now on the scene it is important that we help them as best we can. This is done by providing food and water, and also by recording them accurately. This is where the free BTO guide will help.”

For the free BTO guide to Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, email gbw [at], telephone 01842 750050, or write to Thrushes Guide, GBW, British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes to Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see
  2. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand volunteers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk, Bangor and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.
  3. Preview the free BTO Song Thrush vs. Mistle Thrush guide


    here (PDF, 382.27 KB)

Contact Details

Tim Harrison
(Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
Email: tim.harrison [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please email images [at] quoting reference 2012-04

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview. Office: 01842 750050


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