Fieldfares are large long-tailed colourful thrushes and a common and widespread winter visitor to Scotland. Adults have a blue-grey head with a white eye stripe and yellow beak, brown-grey wings and a heavily speckled rusty yellow breast. The birds can be recognised by their noisy, furious chattering – “schack-schack-schack”.
They are very social birds, often congregating in large flocks of 200 plus and frequently associated with redwings. Fieldfares generally frequent open country with hedgerows, scrub and woodland laden with berries, moving into gardens only during harsh winter weather. In woodland they do not skulk in the undergrowth, as song thrushes do, instead they perch in the open on bushes and high branches.
Food for fieldfares consists of worms, insects, beetles and caterpillars. The winter diet comprises mainly berries (rowan berries are a favourite) and grain. In orchards they will feed on fallen apples.
- Length: 25cm
- Wingspan 39-42cm
- Weight: 80-120g
- Average lifespan: 2-3 years
Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015); Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Fieldfares are extremely rare breeders in Scotland, and only a handful of pairs breed in the far north (Orkney and Shetland) and North-East Scotland. It is for this reason, that the fieldfare is classified as a Red List species, since January 2013. In addition, fieldfare used to be prized as a game bird. Many thousands were shot every year during their migrations. Although this practice has died out in most places, numbers continue to decline across the UK.
The first migrants in Autumn typically arrive in the Northern Isles in mid-August and are followed by much larger numbers in October, the majority continuing to fly in a south-westerly direction towards the west coast over Argyll, Clyde, Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway. Small flocks occasionally winter in the Highlands and Islands, but milder winters to the south make feeding easier. Concentrations occur in the Central Lowlands, east coast and the lowlands of South-West Scotland. The Spring passage (mid-March to late April) is more noticeable in southern Scotland, for example Borders and Lothians, when pre-migration flocks gather on rough pastures to fatten-up prior to departure.
When to see
First migrants to the Northern Isles can appear as early as mid-August, but the main influx to Scotland occurs in October and November. Fieldfares gradually disappear over the course of the first four months of the year, with the last birds returning at the end of April.
- The name ‘Fieldfare’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘feld-fere’ meaning traveller through the fields, probably named so for their constantly moving, foraging habits. It is thought that the term has mutated from the Old English ‘Fealu Fōr’ which in modern terms means ‘fallow journey/farer’.
- Fieldfares display interesting behaviour to protect their breeding territories (in Northern Europe and Scandinavia). This defence can include a well-targeted defecation hitting the intruding bird. Such behaviour can be witnessed in the winter in Scotland, when guarding a scarce source of food.