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Redwings - Birds in the Thrush Family

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A photograph of a redwing in the grass.

The Redwing (Turdus iliacus) is a member of the thrush family. Like the Song Thrush it is a bird with a speckled breast and brown feathers on its back. However, the Redwing has pale stripes around its eyes and gets its name from the reddish feathers under its wings.

These birds can be found across Europe, North Africa and Asia. The global population is estimated to be in excess of 80 million birds. However, the number of adult birds has decreased in recent decades, so since 2015 they have been classed as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. They are hunted in some countries. They are vulnerable to climate change, as mild winters disrupt their breeding patterns and cooler summers affect their food supplies.

In autumn and winter, Redwings can be found in trees or shrubs where they eat berries (including hawthorn and rowan berries) and fruit (such as apples). In spring and summer, they can be found in open grasslands where they eat worms, insects and snails. Redwings usually migrate, eg from Iceland to Scotland, or from Norway to England or Spain. They are usually seen in flocks. In winter they may even gather together with other members of the thrush family, such as Fieldfares.

Male and female Redwings are similar in appearance. In the breeding season the females make nests in trees, bushes or on the ground using twigs, grass and moss. The female lays up to five eggs and incubates them. The eggs hatch after about two weeks, and the chicks can fly at about two weeks old. Both parents feed the chicks for around four weeks - if the female lays a second clutch of eggs, the male cares for the first brood until they can feed themselves. The oldest Redwing known to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was 17 years old.

In the UK, Redwings can be seen in trees or grassland between October and March. A small number can be found in Scotland in summer, but most head further north for the breeding season. Redwings are frequent visitors to nature reserves, including Titchfield Haven on the south coast and Burton Mere in the north west.

The Thrush Family

There are many other members of the Turdus genus that can be found around the world1, including the Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) and the American Robin (Turdus migratorius). The plumage of these birds varies depending on the species, but often contains black, brown, speckles or red. Many of the species are of Least Concern with stable populations, but others are less fortunate. The Taita Thrush (Turdus helleri) is Endangered as it is found only in Kenya. The Principe Thrush (Turdus xanthorhynchus) is found only on the island of Principe and is vulnerable to hunting as well as predators, so is Critically Endangered.

Redwings are being monitored internationally and some of their habitat is protected. Efforts to halt the decline in their population are ongoing.

1Excluding Antarctica and Australasia.

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