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Quick facts

Common name: song thrush

Scientific name: Turdus philomelos

Family: Turdidae (thrushes)

Habitat: woodland, farmland, scrub, parks, gardens

Diet: snails, worms, caterpillars, fruit

Predators: sparrowhawks, domestic cats

Origin: native

What do song thrushes look like?

The song thrush has a warm-brown head, wings and back, and a cream breast covered in dark brown spots the shape of upside down hearts. It is around 23cm in length, slightly smaller than a blackbird.

Not to be confused with: the mistle thrush. This close relative is larger and more grey, with heavier, darker chest spots that are also more prominent towards the belly. The song thrush is also often confused with the redwing; however, it lacks the redwing’s white eye stripe and red-orange underwings. 

Did you know...

Song thrushes are one of the few birds to eat snails.

What do song thrushes eat?

The song thrush eats worms, snails, caterpillars and fruit. Snails are a particular favourite. Song thrushes are renowned for the practice of smashing the snail shells against rocks with a flick of the head, allowing them to get to the soft parts inside.

How do song thrushes breed?

Song thrushes begin singing in early spring, sometimes as early as January. Many literary figures have written about the bird’s song, including Browning, Wordsworth, and Hardy. Listen for short phrases repeated two or three times in quick succession, particularly in early mornings, and being belted from the very tops of trees. 

The breeding season for this species takes place from March to April. Song thrushes build their cup-shaped nests low down in trees, shrubs or ivy, although sheds and outbuildings are sometimes used. The nests are made of dry plant stems with a smooth mud interior held together by saliva.

A clutch of around four to six glossy blue eggs is laid, hatching around two weeks later. The parents will feed the chicks for the next fortnight, after which they can leave the nest but will still rely on the parents to feed them until they reach maturity.

Song thrush sitting on nest

Credit: FLPA / Alamy Stock Photo

Where do song thrushes live?

Song thrushes live in woodland, farmland, scrub, parks and gardens across the UK. They favour anywhere with a good supply of trees and bushes to nest in.

Song thrush smashing snails on an anvil

Credit: Dave Watts / Alamy Stock Photo

Signs and spotting tips

As song thrushes are resident breeders and present all year round, there’s a good chance you might spot them when in the woods or even in your garden. Listen out for this bird’s striking song, which repeats short phrases two or three times in a row, and look out for smashed snail shells – a sure sign a song thrush has been nearby.

Song thrush song

Audio: Bram Piot / xeno-canto.org

Did you know...

Song thrushes were once known as ‘throstles’.

Threats and conservation

While the song thrush was once one of our most common birds, it is now unfortunately a red-listed species of conservation concern. The species has declined significantly since 1970, particularly in farmland areas. This is most likely due to habitat loss. Hedgerows, woodland and pasture are all valuable habitats for these birds; however, these are increasingly being lost due to changes in agricultural practices and woodland management.