Thrushes and chats

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The thrush family includes one of our most familiar garden and woodland birds: the blackbird. It also includes one that used to be as common but in recent decades has declined to less than half its previous numbers: the song thrush. Both are accomplished songsters.

Their larger relative, the mistle thrush, is less common in Essex than the others, preferring open woodland and parkland. Their main food is worms and insects and, for the song thrush, slugs and snails, but in winter they rely on berries as well.

These are resident all year round, but they are joined in winter by two species that come here from Scandinavia: redwings and fieldfares. They move around our countryside in flocks feeding on the berries of hedgerow and woodland trees.

Starlings are not strictly thrushes, but have much in common. They breed here and move south for the winter, and are replaced by many others migrating south from northern Europe, forming large flocks (murmurations) and roosting communally.

Like the closely related thrushes, among the chats can be found some of our best songsters, including the greatest of them all, the nightingale. The group also contains two of our most familiar resident birds, the robin and wren, both of which sing readily.

Other members of this group are less familiar. A few wheatear and common redstart breed in Essex, but are more likely to be seen on passage in spring or autumn.

Stonechats and black redstart breed mainly in the south of Essex, along the Thames estuary.

© David Harrison