Along with their more easily identifiable Redwing cousins, Fieldfares have arrived in Otley! I often feel a little sad noticing all our summer migrants have left, it has been a couple of months now but Fieldfares arriving along with our other winter visitors always put a smile on my face. Their bellies are white, their breasts and flanks are tinted orange and are heavily speckled. They can be found living in flocks which can be quite large, often mixed with Redwings, in a variety of habitats including hedgerows, woodland, farmland and gardens around Otley.
Each year, thousands of fieldfares leave Scandinavia and even Russia to spend the winter in the comparatively mild UK, so remember that when you feel it’s too cold to go for a walk! Fieldfares stand upright, almost proud and on foot they move forward with purposeful hops. The name fieldfare is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘feldware’ which meant ‘traveller of the fields,’ probably from their constantly moving, foraging habits. Which is the other reason they come to us, our hedgerows and woodlands are brimming with fruit, their diet features large amounts of these berries and fallen fruits; hawthorn, holly, juniper and yew are some of their favourites. Like our year round Mistle thrushes, Fieldfares will aggressively defend a food source, such as a fallen fruit, chasing away any other birds that get too close.
Towards dusk, Fieldfares congregate, often with Redwings to roost together and, if a tall hedge or tree is selected, they all face the same direction when they sleep. The fieldfare is a bird that has been historically hunted for food. There is evidence from AD 150 that the Romans enjoyed roasted Fieldfare and, in Germany, they were officially hunted until the early 20th century. One record shows that in the 17th century, approximately 600,000 fieldfares were caught in one season by Prussian trappers. Thankfully those sorts of numbers are no longer taken, but in some continental countries the birds may still be trapped or hunted between September and February.