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Redwings and fieldfares: identification tips and why we record them

Think of winter in the UK. A time for warm woolly jumpers, cosy fires and hot drinks. But some migratory birds see the UK climate as a warmer winter destination than their summer homes further north in Iceland and Scandinavia. Species like the redwing and fieldfare start their journey south in September, so it’s a good time to keep your eyes peeled for the first arrivals. Check out our ID tips and tell us what you see. You can help scientists study how climate change is affecting nature.

Why do we record redwing and fieldfare?

The Nature’s Calendar project tracks the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife across the UK – its records date all the way back to 1736! Fieldfares and redwings arriving in the UK are just two of 69 wildlife events recorded for the project.

We monitor fieldfares, Turdus pilaris, and redwings, Turdus iliacus, because they are fairly easy to recognise and can be seen across most areas of the UK when they arrive in autumn.

Redwings (left) and fieldfares (right) are easy to recognise when you know what to look for (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)
Redwings (left) and fieldfares (right) are easy to recognise when you know what to look for (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)

Have you seen your first redwing or fieldfare of the year?

Add it to Nature’s Calendar

To study climate change effectively, we need lots of data spanning a long time period. By recording the date you first see a redwing or fieldfare, we can see if their arrival time is changing and if this coincides with differences in climate.

What do redwings and fieldfares look like?

Both redwings and fieldfares are closely related to the song thrush, Turdus philomelos. The song thrush is the smallest of the three and – apart from Northern Scotland - is resident in the UK all year round.  At first glance, these three birds can be tricky to identify since they all have:

  • similar size and shape
  • brown back and wings
  • a pale belly
  • speckled chest.

But if you have chance to look more closely, key differences make them easier to single out.

Thrushes are smaller and lack the tell-tale rusty coloured patches of the fieldfare and redwing (Photo: North East Wildlife Photography)
Thrushes are smaller and lack the tell-tale rusty coloured patches of the fieldfare and redwing (Photo: North East Wildlife Photography)

Head, body and tail

  • Redwing: the head, back and tops of the wings are brown. The striking creamy white stripes just above the eye and on the cheek are a good clue to this bird’s identity.
  • Fieldfare: a grey head and tail, with brown across the wings and back.
Look out for the clear face stripes of the redwing (left) and the fieldfare's grey head and tail (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)
Look out for the clear face stripes of the redwing (left) and the fieldfare's grey head and tail (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)

Throat and chest

  • Redwing: creamy coloured chest with brown speckles
  • Fieldfare: yellowy-orange colour around the throat and chest with darker speckles
Chest colour is a good clue for these species. The redwing's is creamy (left) but the fieldfare's is a yellowy-orange colour (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)
Chest colour is a good clue for these species. The redwing's is creamy (left) but the fieldfare's is a yellowy-orange colour (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)

Wings

  • Redwing: This is the real giveaway feature for redwings – they have clear rusty-red flanks and underwings.
  • Fieldfare: Flanks are pale and spotted in the same way as the chest. The underwing is white if you see it during flight.
Another giveaway is wing colour, with rusty-red showing beneath the wings of the redwing (left) while this is pale and spotty for the fieldfare (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)
Another giveaway is wing colour, with rusty-red showing beneath the wings of the redwing (left) while this is pale and spotty for the fieldfare (right) (Photos: North East Wildlife Photography)

Unlike many of our resident birds, the males and females of fieldfares and redwings look very similar to each other.

Where and when to see them

You’ll often find both species around orchards, parks and arable fields. Redwings are a little shy so they also like the shelter of a woodland edge. Both birds are regularly seen in flocks alongside one another - and with other thrushes too.

The first fieldfares usually start arriving from mid-September and redwings from late September. They should all have arrived by December.

Look out for flocks of fieldfares from mid-September (Photo: North East Wildlife Photography)
Look out for flocks of fieldfares from mid-September (Photo: North East Wildlife Photography)

Findings so far

We have over a century of records for these birds - our first fieldfare records date back to 1905 and redwing back to 1906. This allows us to draw comparisons over a long period and gives a more accurate indication if there is any change.

In 2015 for example, redwings arrived five days later than in 2007 and fieldfares two days later. This suggests that warmer temperatures and the later onset of winter could be causing birds to stay at their summer grounds for longer.

We generally receive 200-400 records of people seeing each bird for the first time in autumn. The number of fieldfare records tends to be around 10% higher than that for redwings.

You can help

Your records are an invaluable source of information for researchers trying to understand the impact of climate change. By taking just a few minutes to share what you see on our interactive map, you'll be adding to hundreds of years' worth of important data for studies worldwide. We couldn't do this work without you!

Have you seen your first redwing or fieldfare of the year?

Add it to Nature’s Calendar