This autumn, I was delighted to have some close encounters with Song Thrushes. I was on the Isles of Scilly, where much of the birdlife is much tamer than on the mainland, and where Song Thrushes remain wonderfully common, again in contrast to much of the rest of the country.
Indeed, in last year's Big Garden Birdwatch on the islands, the Song Thrush came in at Number 12, with an average of 0.7 per garden, five times more per garden than in the country as a whole where it now languishes at Number 20. It is astonishing to think that in the early days of the the Birdwatch, this was a Top 10 bird.
So it was a delight to have the chance to watch them at close quarters going about their business. And despite being a bird dressed in shades of brown, what an attractive bird it is.
See how the inverted-heart-shaped spots are actually laid over a quite richly amber coloured breast, whereas the belly basde-colour is whitish.
I often advocate the virtues of leaving parts of the lawn to grow long, but for Song Thrushes (as well as Blackbirds, Starlings and Pied Wagtails), short turf is a bit of a godsend. Creepy-crawlies just below the surface are much easier to get to and extract if you're not having to wade your way through a thick forest of grass stems.
But how do they find their dinner? Some of their hunting is done visually; anything wriggling on the surface is spotted by eye and quickly snaffled up. But their party trick is when they locate their next meal by sound.
It means that, very often, you can see the Song Thrush listening intently, head cocked to one side.
It is listening for worms. So what does one sound like? Do they groan or whistle or hum?
The secret is that earthworms propel themselves using little bristles called chaetae. Each segment of an earthworm (bar the first and last) has four pairs of these little hard hairs, which are protruded to get a grip on the sides of their burrows, and then are retracted as that part of its body is contracted forwards. The scraping of these bristles against the soil creates little scratching noises which guides the Song Thrush in for a full beak-depth plunge.
I also often advocate raking up autumn leaves from the lawn, which if left as a thick mat can kill the grass beneath. But a scattering of dead leaves left on the surface will soon be dragged down by your worm population, feeding them, and the lawn, and hence the Song Thrushes, so don't be too fastidious. There are little signs that the slide in Song Thrush numbers may have ceased, but there is a long, long way back to its former population levels, and they need all the help they can get.
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