During the winter months the orchards take on a different character. Disrobed of their leaves, the trees reveal their true form. It is a good time of year to catch sight of the many bird species that use the orchards as their winter larder. The Mistle Thrush is a regular visitor attracted by the mistletoe that grows in the apple trees. At this time of year this pale, black-spotted thrush can be heard loudly defending clumps of mistletoe which is a valuable food source for the bird.
The Mistle Thrush and mistletoe have a close relationship. The bird’s scientific name, Turdus Viscivorus, means mistletoe-eating thrush. Although the white berries of this semi-parasitic plant are highly nutritious, few birds are attracted to them. It is highly dependent on those that are for propagation, mainly the Mistle Thrush and Blackcap.
The Thrush excretes the sticky seeds and deposits them onto the branches where in time some will germinate. Strings of these seeds can sometimes be seen hanging like tiny pearls from the branches. The Blackcap, considered by some as more efficient at spreading the seed, eats the berries and then wipes its beak on the tree’s bark and in the process deposits the seed.
According to a recent British Trust for Ornithology survey, the Mistle Thrush is declining in numbers in the UK. Fortunately, they are still a common sight in Herefordshire where this tuneful bird can be found in the county’s many traditional orchards one of its favourite habitats. Listen out for its distinctive rattling call when in flight. It is the easiest way to spot this thrush.