Behavior

Many thrushes feed on the ground most of the time and keep under cover in forest or scrub. They scratch with their feet and turn over dead leaves and other litter with their bills to get at invertebrate food. Chats include species that do much the same, and others that live in more open places, especially the wheatears, which hop over open grass, stony or gravelly ground, scree slopes, and rocky places in desert or semi-arid areas. They are territorial birds and sing to attract mates and to warn other males that they are present and claiming their territory. Most sing from perches, but some smaller chats also have a song flight. In some species such as the robin, both sexes may sing and hold winter territories that they defend vigorously. This makes springtime courtship even more imperative to break down territorial tendencies between the sexes. Wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) wintering in the United States return to the same spot year after year and defend territories with great determination. Experienced birds that can fight to defend a territory do better than young ones that have not yet found themselves a vacant space: these floating individuals, moving from place to place and losing out in territorial fights, are less likely to survive.

The mistle thrush is well known for defending individual bushes with plentiful berries in fall and winter, fending off competition with great expenditure of energy in order to maintain exclusive access to this food supply all winter. Yet flocks of mistle thrushes feed happily together in late summer and early fall when there is such an abundance of fresh berries that defending them is both impossible and unnecessary: All can feed without competition. Other species remain in flocks throughout the winter, and in western Europe mixed groups of fieldfares and redwings, often with blackbirds and song thrushes at least temporarily joining them, live a nomadic life, wandering and pausing wherever there is food. They are often driven far to the west and south by the onset of severe winter weather.

Keeping plumage in good condition is essential to any bird and thrushes and chats preen frequently. This includes scratching of the head and neck by drooping one wing and reaching above it with the foot, called the indirect method, as opposed to reaching up directly in a method with the foot beneath the wing. They bathe regularly in shallow water but, unlike many smaller species such as sparrows and larger ones such as the game birds, they do not dust-bathe. These birds are, however, noted for their frequent sun bathing and they adopt strange positions in order to soak up the sun as much as possible. The sun may help in keeping feathers in good condition, or reducing infestation by parasites. Some species, including the American robin and blackbird, have also been seen anting, which is placing ants into their feathers or sinking down to let ants run over them; it is likely that this also helps reduce parasites.

At night, thrushes seek a safe, warm, dry, sheltered spot to sleep. Many roost alone, but some do so communally, at least outside the breeding season. Blackbirds call loudly at dusk, sorting out their social hierarchies as they seek the best roost sites. They may form roosts hundreds strong; fieldfares (Tur-dus pilaris) have been known to roost in flocks of 20,000, and one mixed-thrush roost in winter in France held 200,000 birds. These roosts are usually in dense thickets, where temperature and humidity are much the same inside as outside. However, exposure and wind speed are greatly reduced. Rock thrushes, in contrast, are solitary, roosting in rock crevices or in high tree branches, occasionally in the roofs of old, secluded buildings, while ring ouzels (T. torquata) roost alone among rocks and boulders.

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