As the first frosts cast an icy carpet around London’s fringes, feathered visitors are arriving in the capital. Birds from colder countries are flying in to spend winter in Britain, where the season is less severe. One of the finest looking of these is the fieldfare, a large thrush with a handsome grey-blue head, a speckled, chestnut-gold breast and a snow-white belly.
Fieldfares start arriving in October, with perhaps a million flying in from Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Their migration comes in waves, continuing into December, with many thousands sometimes flying high overhead.
Loud, chacking flight calls announce their arrival as their flocks twist and tumble across the winter sky. Most London fieldfares are only passing through, but a few thousand will settle in the capital’s fields, woodlands and parks.
These highly social birds cluster high in the treetops, sometimes in large numbers, before launching noisy, chattering raiding parties along hedgerows, where they gorge themselves on the nutritious berries of rowan, rosehip, holly and hawthorn. Fieldfares will also drop in on sports pitches and open fields, spreading out in untidy ranks to seek late-season insects and worms. Like other thrushes, they move across the ground with purposeful hops, their heads held high.
They will also sometimes venture into gardens, particularly in harsh, snowy conditions, to feast on fallen apples and bird-table treats. Try placing halved apples or apple cores on the lawn. You may not get fieldfares but other thrushes will appreciate the treat.
Fieldfares will stay with us until spring, their nomadic flocks exploring the suburbs, before returning to their overseas breeding grounds. As they leave, other birds fly in to take advantage of our summer, creating an endless cycle of avian diversity that enriches our city.