Autumn is a more conservative time for our birds; the days of plenty, of lush fruits and buzzing insects is over and now the natural larder is arguably more prosaic, with seeds and berries at the heart of Nature’s menu. Enter the finches and thrushes. Our resident populations start to flock and seek food in greater numbers and are joined by rural individuals and Northern and Scandinavian cousins.
As we walk in the parks and gardens and spot our more sedentary Blackbird, Song Thrush and Chaffinch populations, they will be interspersed with birds that have come from far afield seeking richer pickings in our comparatively warmer settings. Additionally new species arrive and stay until spring before returning to their breeding grounds.
Just as the Chiffchaff and Swallow are signatures of the arrival of spring and the temptation of summer, the Redwing is a herald of colder more austere times; the flash of red on their underwings a welcome relief on our shorter greyer days. Slightly smaller than a Song Thrush, the scientific name of the Redwing, Turdus Iliacus translates as thrush of the flanks indicating its distinctive field characteristic whilst a prominent pale eyestripe adds to the ease of identification.
As with most bird species the Redwing has the ability to see part of the ultraviolet spectrum which means that even on the greyest of days, waxy berries appear as bright beaming beacons and are easy for the bird to locate; rowan and hawthorn bushes being particular favourites, and as the early morning frost clears they can also be seen feeding on the softer ground for worms.
As this Scandinavian invasion proceeds during late October and through November, Mistle Thrushes aggressively defend berry yielding yews, perched at the top of the bush screeching out their strangulated alarm call, whilst Blackbirds and Redwings dart in to surreptiously gorge themselves. After any snow disappears, flocks of hundreds of Redwings can be seen on open ground, such as Dulwich Park and Peckham Rye, desperately restoring their lost fat reserves.
Their presence is a sign that despite human pressures there are some natural processes that are still working and congratulate yourself if you have berries in your garden as you are providing a much needed winter larder for our birds whilst being a perfect winter host for the Redwings.