The nature of things
PROTEIN-RICH, soft morsels are the focus of the hard-working song thrush right now: earthworms, caterpillars, slugs and snails are ideal to feed growing chicks in an ever-more-crowded nest of woven grasses and dead leaves. Wet weather brings out the snails into the open and the thrush has a nifty way of extracting the slimy mollusc from its shell: simply grip it in your bill at the shell entrance, slam the thing down on a handy rock or slab of paving and extract the contents from the broken shell. I’ve noticed that blackbirds know this trick, too, so, in gardens, it’s to be hoped that the snails have not been exposed to poisonous slug pellets.
‘That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,/lest you think he never could recapture/the first fine careless rapture!’ wrote Robert Browning (1812–89), observing the characteristic song of various paired phrases, usually ringing out from high in the treetops. Edward Thomas (1878–1917) went further, casting thrushes in 15 poems, before he died at Arras.
The people devoted and patient enough to count such things have noted some 100 different phrases; the song is especially poignant when ringing out as dusk descends. In a good year, two or three broods will be raised, the hen incubating a clutch of 3–6 beautiful, lightblue eggs dotted with tiny black speckles. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe