The Fieldfare is a large, round-looking thrush which breeds in northern Europe and winters in large numbers across western Europe into Britain and Ireland. Small numbers do, however, breed in northern England and Scotland, and the Fieldfare is officially recognised in Britain as a rare breeding bird. Fieldfares like to breed along woodland edges, but on the wintering grounds they can be seen in almost any habitat, especially open arable fields, hedgerows and gardens.
In the winter, Fieldfares commonly associate with other thrushes, particularly Redwings, forming large roving flocks which can quickly devour a berry-filled hedge. If the winter weather is harsh, the Fieldfare seeks out food in sympathetic gardens, and is particularly fond of any windfall apples.
Reminiscent of the Mistle Thrush in size and shape, the Fieldfare is easily identified by its very distinctive maroon, grey, yellow, white and black plumage, and by its very harsh loud chattering ‘chak, chak, chak’ call. The sexes are similar, although with care subtle differences can be seen.
The male Fieldfare (below right) has a dove-grey head, with an indistinct white stripe above the eye, bold streaks on the crown and a black line around the cheeks. The mantle is a dull reddishbrown and the wings are similar, except for the dark-centred tertials and blackish primaries. The rump is grey, the tail black. The underparts show black arrowheads extending from the chin to the rear flanks, while the breast is washed yellowybuff and the belly is white. The female Fieldfare (left) has finer black streaks on the crown, and is generally duller. The mantle and wings are browner, the head and rump and the breast are paler, showing fewer black arrowheads.
Often seen in large loose flocks, the wayward and erratic flight pattern of the Fieldfare is in itself a useful field point. On a close view the white on the underwing will be clearly seen. On the upperparts, the grey rump, black tail and black-speckled reddish hue are distinctive field features.
A characteristic view of a Fieldfare is to see them perched, back-on, with wings held drooped and tail slightly cocked. The contrast between the russet-coloured mantle, the grey rump and head and the blackish tail is immediately apparent.
A juvenile or first-winter Fieldfare is much duller than the adult. The back is brown, with dark feather centres and indistinct white edges. The underparts show a dingy buff wash, and the black markings on the underparts are less clearly defined.