AskDefine | Define throstle

Dictionary Definition



1 a spinning machine formerly used to twist and wind fibers of cotton or wool continuously
2 common Old World thrush noted for its song [syn: song thrush, mavis, Turdus philomelos]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A song thrush.
  2. A machine for spinning wool, cotton, etc., from the rove, consisting of a set of drawing rollers with bobbins and flyers, and differing from the mule in having the twisting apparatus stationary and the processes continuous; -- so called because it makes a singing noise.

Extensive Definition

The Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) is a thrush that breeds across much of Eurasia. It is also known in English dialects as throstle or mavis. It has brown upperparts and black-spotted cream or buff underparts and has three recognised subspecies. Its distinctive song, which has repeated musical phrases, has frequently been referred to in poetry.
The Song Thrush breeds in forests, gardens and parks, and is partially migratory with many birds wintering in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; it has also been introduced into New Zealand and Australia. Although it is not threatened globally, there have been serious population declines in parts of Europe, possibly due to changes in farming practices.
The Song Thrush builds a neat mud-lined cup nest in a bush or tree and lays four or five dark-spotted blue eggs. It is omnivorous and has the habit of using a favourite stone as an "anvil" on which to smash snails. Like other perching birds (passerines), it is affected by external and internal parasites and is vulnerable to predation by cats and birds of prey.



The Song Thrush was described by German ornithologist Christian Ludwig Brehm in 1831, and still bears its original scientific name, Turdus philomelos. The generic name, Turdus, is the Latin for thrush, and the specific epithet refers to a character in Greek mythology, Philomela, who had her tongue cut out, but was changed into a singing bird. Her name is derived from the Ancient Greek philo- (loving), and melos (song). The dialect names throstle and mavis both mean thrush, being derived from the German drossel and French mauvis respectively. Throstle dates back to at least the fourteenth century and was used by Chaucer in the Parliament of Fowls.
The Song Thrush has three subspecies, with the nominate subspecies, T. p. philomelos, covering the majority of the species' range. T. p. hebridensis, described by British ornithologist William Eagle Clarke in 1913, is a mainly sedentary (non-migratory) form found in the Outer Hebrides and Isle of Skye in Scotland. It is the darkest subspecies, with a dark brown back, greyish rump, pale buff background colour to the underparts and grey-tinged flanks. Additional subspecies, such as T. p. nataliae of Siberia, proposed by the Russian Sergei Buturlin in 1929, are not widely accepted.
An individual male may have a repertoire of more than 100 phrases, many copied from its parents and neighbouring birds. Mimicry may include the imitation of man-made items like telephones, and the Song Thrush will also repeat the calls of captive birds, including exotics such as the White-faced Whistling Duck. In New Zealand, where it was introduced on both the main islands, the Song Thrush quickly established itself and spread to surrounding islands such as the Kermadecs, Chatham and Auckland Islands. Although it is common and widespread in New Zealand, in Australia only a small population survives around Melbourne. In New Zealand, there appears to be a limited detrimental effect on some invertebrates due to predation by introduced bird species, and the Song Thrush also damages commercial fruit crops in that country. As an introduced species it has no legal protection in New Zealand, and can be killed at any time.
The Song Thrush typically nests in forest with good undergrowth and nearby more open areas, and in western Europe also uses gardens and parks. It breeds up to the tree-line, reaching 2,200 metres (7,250 ft) in Switzerland. The island subspecies T. p. hebridensis breeds in more open country, including heathland, and in the east of the Song Thrush's Eurasian range, the nominate subspecies is restricted to the edge of the dense conifer forests.
The winter habitat is similar to that used for breeding, except that high ground and other exposed localities are avoided; However, the Song Thrush does not demonstrate the same aggression toward the adult Cuckoo that is shown by the Blackbird. The introduced birds in New Zealand, where the cuckoo does not occur, have, over the past 130 years, retained the ability to recognise and reject non-mimetic eggs.
Adult birds may be killed by cats, Little Owls and Sparrowhawks, and eggs and nestlings are taken by Magpies, Jays, and, where present, Grey Squirrels. A Russian study of blood parasites showed that all the Fieldfares, Redwings and Song Thrushes sampled carried haematozoans, particularly Haemoproteus and Trypanosoma. Ixodes ticks are also common, and can carry pathogens, including tick-borne encephalitis in forested areas of central and eastern Europe and Russia, and, more widely, Borrelia bacteria. Some species of Borrelia cause Lyme disease, and ground-feeding birds like the Song Thrush may act as a reservoir for the disease.


The Song Thrush is omnivorous, eating a wide range of invertebrates, especially earthworms and snails, as well as soft fruit and berries. Like its relative, the Blackbird, the Song Thrush finds animal prey by sight, has a run-and-stop hunting technique on open ground, and will rummage through leaf-litter seeking potential food items. The nestlings are mainly fed on animal food such as worms, slugs, snails and insect larvae. however, Song Thrushes may not be the only selective force involved.


The Song Thrush has an extensive range, estimated at 10 million square kilometres (3.8 million square miles), and a large population, with an estimated 40 to 71 million individuals in Europe alone. The decreases are greatest in farmlands (73% since the mid 1970s) and believed to be due to changes in agricultural practices in recent decades. In gardens, the use of poison bait to control slugs and snails may pose a threat and in urban areas, some thrushes are killed while using the hard surface of roads to smash snails.
Thrushes have been trapped for food from as far back as 12,000 years ago and an early reference is found in the Odyssey: "Then, as doves or thrushes beating their spread wings against some snare rigged up in thickets—flying in for a cozy nest but a grisly bed receives them." Hunting continues today around the Mediterranean, but is not believed to be a major factor in this species’ decline in parts of its range. As with hunting, there is little evidence that the taking of wild birds for aviculture has had a significant effect on wild populations.
The song also inspired the nineteenth-century British writer Thomas Hardy, who spoke in Darkling Thrush of the bird's "full-hearted song evensong/Of joy illimited", but twentieth-century British poet Ted Hughes in Thrushes concentrated on its hunting prowess: "Nothing but bounce and/stab/and a ravening second". Twentieth-century Welsh poet R. S. Thomas wrote 15 poems concerning Blackbirds or thrushes, including The Thrush:
I hear the thrush, and I see Him alone at the end of the lane Near the bare poplar's tip, Singing continuously.
In The Tables Turned, Romantic poet William Wordsworth references the Song Thrush, writing
Hark, how blithe the throstle sings And he is no mean preacher Come forth into the light of things Let Nature be your teacher
The Song Thrush is the emblem of West Bromwich Albion Football Club, chosen because the public house in which the team used to change kept a pet thrush in a cage. It also gave rise to Albion's early nickname, The Throstles.
throstle in Breton: Drask sut
throstle in Bulgarian: Поен дрозд
throstle in Welsh: Bronfraith
throstle in Danish: Sangdrossel
throstle in German: Singdrossel
throstle in French: Grive musicienne
throstle in Scottish Gaelic: Smeòrach
throstle in Italian: Turdus philomelos
throstle in Hebrew: קיכלי רונן
throstle in Lithuanian: Strazdas giesmininkas
throstle in Hungarian: Énekes rigó
throstle in Dutch: Zanglijster
throstle in Japanese: ウタツグミ
throstle in Norwegian: Måltrost
throstle in Polish: Drozd śpiewak
throstle in Russian: Певчий дрозд
throstle in Sardinian: Trullu
throstle in Scots: Mavis
throstle in Slovak: Drozd plavý
throstle in Finnish: Laulurastas
throstle in Swedish: Taltrast
throstle in Turkish: Öter ardıç kuşu
throstle in Samogitian: Strazds (paukštis)
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