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Meet the Model – Brian the Blackcap

The blackcap , Sylvia atricapilla is a grey warbler with a distinctive black cap. It is a member of the Sylviidae family of birds . Only the males  have black caps (as the name suggests), while the female’s cap is chestnut brown. Juvenile males also have a brown cap. They have thin, dark-coloured beaks and brownish-grey wings. They are a similar size to robins, measuring around 13cm in length and weighing in at around 21g. The Blackcap can live for up to 13 years in the wild.

Blackcaps favour woodland habitats, but will venture into parks and gardens if there are lots of trees and shrubs available. They occur throughout the UK, with the exception of the Scottish Highlands. While these birds are traditionally summer visitors, typically arriving in March and April and migrating south for the autumn, they are increasingly staying in the UK all year round. It’s estimated that there are around 1,200,000 breeding pairs, with an unknown but growing number in the winter – made complicated by the fact that some UK breeding birds migrate south, but with some birds from mainland Europe now wintering in the UK.

Did you know? Blackcaps are sometimes referred to as northern nightingales because of their lovely song.

Blackcaps arrive in the UK in the spring, and start to breed when they are one years old. The male bird attracts a female to his territory through song and a display involving raising the black crown feathers, fluffing the tail, slow wingbeats, and a short flapping flight. The nest is typically cup-shaped and built in shrubs, brambles and hedges. Four to five eggs are laid from late April to June with both male and female adult birds incubating the eggs which hatch 11–12 days later. The chicks will fledge around 12–14 days after hatching, and are assisted with feeding for a further two–three weeks. In the U.K. the blackcap will normally only raise one brood per year.

Blackcaps eat a diet mostly made up of insects, including flies and caterpillars. Unlike the majority of warblers, they also enjoy eating berries, and are particularly fond of mistletoe berries. They are actually extremely efficient at spreading mistletoe seeds, eating the flesh of the berry and wiping the seed on a branch, allowing it to potentially germinate there.

Classified as Green in the UK under birds of conservation concern , as with most wildlife in the UK the Blackcap is protected under the wildlife and countryside act , 1981.

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