Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

The Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

The Mistle Thrush, the song bird of Winter.

Advent Day 13
The Mistle Thrush accompanies us through the Winter days and its scratchy tuneful song can be heard high up in the canopy even when wild weather blows through. For this reason the bird is also known as ‘Stormcock’ but then it has a number of nicknames.

The Latin name for the Mistle Thrush is Turdus viscivorus, which literally means devourer of mistletoe. Mistletoe is one of its favourite berries along with holly and ivy berries but the Mistle Thrush is an omnivore and will eat worms and beetles as well. Mistletoe is a toxic plant to humans but was used historically to treat epilepsy. Thus the Mistle Thrush flesh was considered to have special powers and was killed and eaten to treat epilepsy.

Mistle Thrush

What does the Mistle Thrush look like?

It is a larger bird than the Song Thrush and can be over 25cm in length. It is light brown in colour with a beautiful light coloured breast decorated with chestnut brown wedge shaped spots. The song has been likened to running a piece of wood up an old fashioned wash board and so was also known by the name of ‘Skrite’.

It does stand out in the garden because of it’s size and we have watched them breaking open snail shells on the path just like the Song Thrush does.

Because it stays with us close by during the Winter months, it can become a real friend in the garden and one to listen out for. However like many of our native birds, numbers are in decline. Listen to the beautiful song of the Mistle Thrush on the RSPB site, cheers any cold day.

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush By Brian Robert Marshall, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Mistle Thrush in literature.

When Thomas Hardy wrote his poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ in December 1900, he wrote about a desolate world. 1900 was a tricky year in Britain. Queen Victoria was coming to the end of her reign, the Empire was crumbling and the Boer Wars had left the country looking fairly shaky on the world stage. So Hardy set this scene and then allows a Thrush to burst forth singing a beautiful and hopeful song that lifts the reader out of the gloom. The speaker suggests that all he can see around him is desolation somehow the Thrush knows something he doesn’t. If there was ever a poem to read in 2020 maybe this is the one.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy 1900