Words and pictures by Peter Hanscomb
The Blackbird , Turdus merula is a member of the thrush family and can be found throughout Britain and mainland Europe. Easily recognisably , the male with it’s glossy black plumage , bright yellow eye and yellow-orange bill is a firm garden favourite and can also be found in it’s natural habitat , woodlands. The bird can be resident all year round or migratory , depending on food supply. The female and young have a dark brown plumage and builds their nests in woodlands and suburban gardens.
The Blackbird has a wingspan of around 38cm , with a body length of between 20-25cm and average weight of around 100g. The young male resembles the adult male, but has a dark bill and weaker eye ring, and its folded wing is brown, rather than black like the body plumage . Life expectancy of the Blackbird is about 2.5 years , however individual ringed birds have been recorded surviving more than 20 years.
Blackbirds are omnivorous, feeding on earthworms and grubs , insects , fruit , berries and seeds. Mainly a ground feeding bird , it can be seen rummaging through bark and undergrowth looking for insects , earth worms and invertebrates. In trees it actively hunts caterpillars and insects . Occasionally it will hunt small lizards and amphibians.
Both sexes are territorial during the breeding season and will defend their nesting site from other pairs of blackbirds. Pairs stay in their territory throughout the year where the climate is sufficiently temperate and food is plentiful . The bird prefers to nest in deciduous woodland but has also adapted to urban gardens and hedgerows. The male common blackbird defends its breeding territory, chasing away other males with a running and bowing display. Fights are not uncommon between males however in early spring the female can also become aggressive when competing with other females for the best nest sites.
The male Blackbird will try to attract the female with a courtship display of runs combined with head-bowing movements together with an open beak. The female will often remains still and motionless until she raises her head and tail to permit copulation. The blackbird monogamous, and the established pair will usually stay together for life. Breeding starts in March, The breeding pair will look for a suitable nest site, favouring thorny bush species such as hawthorn, ivy and holly. The cup-shaped nest is made with grasses, leaves and other vegetation, bound together with mud. It is usually built by only the female. Laying between three to six greenish eggs with reddish-brown blotches. The female incubates for 14-16 days before the chicks are hatched naked and blind. It takes another 10–19 days, with both parents feeding the young before the chicks are ready to leave the nest. The young are fed by the parents for up to another three weeks after leaving the nest. Second broods are common, with the female reusing the same nest.
The main predator of the common blackbird are foxes and birds of prey such as the sparrow hawk. In urban areas as with most other birds the main threat to life is the domestic cat, with newly fledged young especially susceptible to attack.
The colour of the male blackbirds beak is a very good indication of the birds health. The birds own immune system is able to release a pigment in a healthy bird turning it’s yellow Bill an shade of golden orange.