Winter birding: fieldfares and redwings on the River Ouse – North East

Cold weather brings these visiting thrushes to our fields and hedgerows

Photo: Skyrene


With the coming of winter, many familiar birds head off in search of warmer climes. However, many other species are drawn to our shores because of our relatively mild climate. So wrap up warm and grab your binoculars because, while it may be chilly outside, winter and early spring can be one of the best times of the year to spot birds on and around our waterways.

A common pair of winter arrivals are fieldfares and redwings – both types of thrush – which leave their Northern European breeding grounds as temperatures drop. During the coldest months, it’s common to see large flocks of mixed thrushes hunting for berries, such as bountiful bright red haws, in thick hedgerows. As berry supplies begin to dry up in the late winter and early spring, the flocks often move to open fields to hunt plump earthworms on agricultural land.

Although they are often found together, these two birds are easy to tell apart. The redwing is a small thrush, with a dark brown upper body and white belly. They are distinguished from the more common song thrush (a year-round UK resident) by a cream stripe above its eye and the distinctive orange/red patch on its flank that gives the birds their name.

Much larger than a redwing, fieldfares are similar in size to the resident mistle thrush, though easy to distinguish by their colouring – a chestnut brown back, dark yellow and black speckled chest and flank, grey head and a black tail.

The River Ouse stretches for over 60 miles, passing through a landscape that varies from the urban surroundings of York to some of the finest agricultural land in Yorkshire. It’s in these latter surroundings where you might spot winter thrushes, so keep your eyes peeled for bushy hedgerows and freshly ploughed fields. On clear evenings, listen out for the high pitched ‘seep-seep’ of the redwing and the chattery ‘chack-chack’ of the fieldfare. Often travelling in flocks over more than 200 birds, it can be a truly marvellous winter spectacle to witness.

Plan your visit to the River Ouse with our online guide.