Is it early spring or still late winter? Through winter Britain has hosted large numbers of birds escaping harsh winter conditions. Some of those birds are still around but will head back east soon to be replaced by others arriving in Britain to breed.

Redwing and Fieldfare are among the thrush species over-wintering here. Most Redwing will leave over the next month for Scandinavia and Russia, but Fieldfare hang around for a few weeks longer. Ring ouzel is another thrush, returning to upland areas of the Dales in the spring having migrated south for the winter.

Ring ouzel are found across the upland areas of Britain and Europe. Male birds are very similar to the Blackbirds you may see in parks and gardens but with a bright white band across the chest. Female Ring ouzel are again similar to female Blackbirds, brown rather than black, and the band across the chest is a muddy paler area than the rest of the plumage. The band across the chest is perhaps the clearest identification feature to look out for.

They breed in areas of heather and short-grazed grass, often with rocks nearby, perhaps providing nooks for a nest. However, in spring and autumn, they can turn up in very different habitat during migration, along the coast for example.

Climate change is one threat to Ring ouzel populations with suitable conditions for them now found further north or at higher altitudes. This has been called “the escalator to extinction”.

The mountains of the Pyrenees, Alps and Norway are high enough that birds may find suitable habitat at higher altitudes as the climate changes. In contrast, one area in the Dales I see Ring ouzel is at 450m but the tops of the surrounding hills are at 550m so there isn’t much altitude to go before they reach the top and lose breeding habitat.

We know about changes in bird numbers and distribution because people have recorded what they’ve seen. We have a great set of data for Ring ouzel breeding territories in one part of the Yorkshire Dales, in Wharfedale. One person surveyed Ring ouzels for 15 years in the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s a report online from the National Park Wildlife Team updating that with a survey in 2022 which is well worth reading.

Whether you record or photograph the wildlife you see, or enjoy the moment, I hope you’re enjoying the start of spring. Or the end of winter.