The na­ture of things

Song thrush

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

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

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