Another winter migrant from Scandinavia and Siberia, the Fieldfare have arrived in huge flocks. As the cuckoo is considered to be the herald of Spring, so the Fieldfare announce that winter is definitely here. An enormous flock descended on our garden, and the woods behind, two weeks ago when the snow was at its deepest. They quite literally filled the woods with their raucous chack-chacking. Fieldfares arrive on the east coast from October onwards and work their way across the country foraging for berries, resorting to worms and insects when the berries run out.
Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes, much like a mistle thrush in terms of size, shape and behaviour. They stand very upright and move forward with purposeful hops. They are the most pugnacious of birds, prepared to get physical to defend a food supply. We put out apples and currants for them to supplement our meagre berry crop and watched as they strutted, argued, threatened and when that failed to deter a competitor, wrestled each other to the ground.
The English common name fieldfare dates back to at least the eleventh century. The Anglo-Saxon word ‘feldefare’ perhaps meant traveller through the fields. But it may be derived from Old English ‘fealu’ which in modern terms means ‘fallow journey/farer’. This may allude to the natural habitat of the bird being the fallow winter fields and their hedgerows. It is a lovely name, the ‘Fallow Farer’, and conjures an image of silent, frosty fields with the hedgerows laden with berries and flocks of ‘Fallow Farers’ busily flitting along them.
John Clare’s poem describes this scene perfectly.
On Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter
I love to see the old heath’s withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps its melancholy wing,
An oddling crow in idle motion swing
On the half-rotten ash-tree’s topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gypsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread;
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the haw round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels, twenty in a drove,
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.