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Published on January 17th, 2021 | by The Town Crier

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The Redwing

Not so long ago I was at Dungeness watching what I guessed were the last Swallows I would see in 2020. Like all migrant summer birds they were heading south to spend our winter where they would be able to find sufficient insect food. Then just a few days later, walking near Penshurst, I heard the familiar whistle of my first Redwings of the year. These are birds that also go south for the winter but the journey they undertake is not quite so lengthy as most will be travelling to our shores from Scandinavia, where they will have nested and raised young over the Spring and Summer. Redwings are members of the thrush family, cousins of the Blackbird and Song Thrush and as the name suggests they have a distinctive flash of red on their flanks. They are berry eaters, attracted to this country by the promise of milder winter conditions and plenty of energy rich food.

           A very small number of pairs do breed in Scotland and thus stay all year, but generally speaking the first Redwings reach us here in the UK in October, where they will stay until March or April. In some years the numbers making the hazardous southward journey across the North Sea can be truly impressive. There are reports of over 32,000 heading south over Bridlington in Yorkshire on the 13th October this year, making it a bumper year. Redwings often migrate after dark too and on clear still nights it is worth listening for their soft seep, seep call as they pass overhead.

         Once here, they are birds of field edges and hedgerows, wherever there are enough berries. As the berries get eaten they will take to foraging in fields for earthworms often alongside Fieldfares, their bigger Scandinavian cousins. When winter cold makes finding food more challenging they are worth looking for in gardens and they will often visit bird tables. (As Christmas approaches its worth keeping an eye on your favourite Holly bush as in leaner years they might well gobble up its berries before you can get there.)

Enjoy the Redwings and Happy Christmas.

House Martin


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