Song thrush perched on a small leafy branch, sky blue background.

Song thrush

The song thrush is associated with thick hedgerows, native woodland and damp ground, especially grazed pasture.

Song thrushes in brief

The UK song thrush population fell by 59% between 1970 and 1998*. 

Loss of food-rich habitats, particularly in the summer, is thought to be the main cause of the decline on farmland. 

*Data source: British Trust for Ornithology   

Key points

  • Maintain or restore damp areas of grazed pasture or woodland – damp habitats through the summer are essential for chick survival.
  • Avoid management of hedgerows between March and August to protect nesting song thrushes – January or February are the ideal months, after the berry crop has been eaten.
Song thrush Turdus philomelos, bathing in garden pond, Warwickshire

What this species needs

Lots of earthworms and snails 

The bulk of the song thrush diet is earthworms and snails, particularly when insect larvae and berry crops are not available. Therefore, damp ground where these food sources are readily available is essential. Using pesticide treatments which are active against ground invertebrates will reduce this food supply. 

Safe nesting habitat from March until August 

Song thrushes will nest in woodland with a thick understorey of shrubs or bramble, as well as in tall, thick hedgerows on the farm. They start nesting early, so woodland and hedgerow management should be completed by the beginning of March to benefit this species.

Hedgerow fruit in the autumn

Fruit is an important part of the diet in the autumn. These generally develop on second year growth. Sympathetic hedgerow management will ensure a supply of berries into the winter.   

A song thrush singing whilst perched on a branch against a blue sky.

How to help

Hedgerow management

  • Provide hedgerows of differing sizes around the farm. Song thrushes favour tall, thick hedgerows with trees.
  • The ideal time for hedgerow management is January and February. All hedge, ditch and field margin management should be avoided between March and August because of nesting birds. 
  • Trim hedgerows only once every two to three years. Avoid trimming all hedges in the same year. Do not plough too close or allow drift of pesticides into the hedge base. This will help provide good quality nesting habitat. 
  • Maintain a thick base to hedgerows. Management such as laying or coppicing can restore a dense structure at the base of a hedge. 
  • Avoid laying or coppicing all hedges in the same year. Undertake management on a long rotation. 

Farm woodlands and scrub

  • Keep areas of damp woodland on the farm for song thrush. However, do not plant trees on open wet areas, as this may reduce the quality of this wetland habitat. 
  • Encourage the scrub understorey to develop and leave fallen trees as a habitat for deadwood insects. 
  • Plant small native woodland patches which will provide habitat for song thrushes in areas where this is lacking. Avoid planting trees on land with existing wildlife interest. Species such as lapwings and corn buntings need open landscapes and so trees should not be planted in their breeding areas. 

Wet features on the farm

  • Maintain a network of wet ditches around the farm to retain water through the summer. Use sluices if necessary. 
  • Do not drain damp grasslands or plant trees there. 

Arable crops and grassland

  • Using pesticides to control slugs and soil invertebrates will reduce food supplies for song thrushes. They may also have toxic effects on the birds. Create firm seed beds to maintain low slug numbers and reduce the need for chemical control. 
  • Keep or create areas of damp, grazed grassland adjacent to woodland or thick hedges. 
  • Create small plots (eg one acre) of wild bird cover. Establish a mix of kale and at least one other crop type in the spring and maintain for two years. Song thrushes are likely to make most use of plots close to woodland or thick hedgerows.
Song Thrush adult, on stone slab in garden, England.