Few would probably say the Common Blackbird when asked to name a favourite garden bird. It doesn’t have the cute factor of the Robin or the colours of the Blue Tit. However, it does have its charm as a regular visitor and an impressive song. We shouldn’t take this common bird for granted, so let’s learn a little more about their traits, identify them, and take better care of them in our gardens.
What Is A Common Blackbird?
The Blackbird, to give it its more common name, is a regular visitor to gardens across the UK and is seen in city parks, woodland areas, and more. It is a member of the thrush family but stands out as its own species with handsome black plumage on the male.
Once made more famous by a Beatles song, these birds are great songsmiths themselves and an often-heard sound in the evening, even if people don’t realise it at first. It is possible to make a home for territorial pairs of Blackbirds in your garden with suitable nesting sites and feeding.
How Common Is The Common Blackbird?
It is estimated that around 110-174 million Blackbirds in Europe and around 5.1 million Blackbirds in the UK. In winter the population of Blackbirds in the UK swells to an estimated 10-15 million.
We may not use the Common part of the name more casually when talking about this bird, but it is apt. Unlike other species that are no longer as common as they once were, like the Common Gull, there are millions of these little black songbirds around.
The European population is estimated at between 110-174 million. This is a broad estimate because it is difficult to know for sure. An estimated 5.1 million of those are found year-round in the UK, soaring to between 10 and 15 million in winter when seasonal migrants arrive here for better feeding opportunities.
|Insects, worms, berries and fruit
On top of that, you should be able to find these birds anywhere in the UK except for the highest remotest parts of Scotland. They are in cities, remote rural areas, and on all the islands. This success has a lot to do with their breeding habits, size compared to other garden birds, diet, and lack of significant threats. These birds are omnivorous, not too picky about where they nest and will use parks and other wild sites if a good garden territory is taken.
The RSPB Great British Bird Watch campaign regularly sees high numbers of these birds recorded each year. In 2021, there was a slight increase to put them in fourth place. The results for 2022 are due in April, so it will be interesting to see if they are in the same place or not.
How To Identify A Common Blackbird
You need to keep in mind a few factors when looking for Common Blackbirds in your garden. The first is that there is sexual dimorphism between males and females. This isn’t as pronounced as in some other species in your local area, but enough for them to stand out from each other. The males are the ones that live up to the name, with deep black plumage across the whole body.
By comparison, the females are duller and more brown. The males also have a yellow ring around the eye, if you are lucky enough to close so close as to notice it. The other consideration when telling these birds apart is a brown mottled plumage on the juvenile bird. Mottling like this helps birds camouflage themselves a little better against the undergrowth, which is essential for a vulnerable youngster that may still have some skills to learn.
Then there is the risk of leucism in blackbirds. This genetic condition isn’t that common across the whole population, but enough so that you may spot some individuals in your garden at some point. It means that there is a lack of melanin in the feathers and that they end up with white patches on the body.
The patterns and percentage of white coverage vary from bird to bird. I have another guide that goes deeper into this condition where you can learn more about the impact and how to care for birds that have it. You can read that here: Are Leucistic Blackbirds Common? This May Surprise You!
Confusing Blackbirds With Other Bird Species
There isn’t much that looks like a male Common Blackbird around. The most similar is the Ringed Ouzel, from the same family, but this has a white ring on the neck and lives in upland areas. However, you may be forgiven for confusing a juvenile Common Blackbird with a Mistle or Song Thrush.
Thrushes have that similar streaked look and are a similar size. They are also part of that wider Tudus family. But, the thrushes’ marking is more pronounced and should have much paler undersides.
Identifying Common Blackbirds By Song
If you can be sure that you have a Blackbird in your garden by sight alone, you can also listen out for them. This is a vocal bird with an impressive song, both in terms of the melody in the call and the volume. It is one of the key players of the dawn chorus but you will also see them out on high perches in the evening, projecting their voice as far as possible.
What makes this even more interesting for those living in urban areas is that these urban Common Blackbirds tend to have louder songs and curious sounds in their repertoire. The increased volume makes a lot of sense when you want to be heard over traffic noise and other sounds in the city. Other species exhibit this trait too.
Listen to the Common Blackbird song
But, there is the odder quirk of them mimicking unnatural sounds. Some will add car alarms, sirens, and other mechanical noises they master from their environment. Mimicry is less common, so if you hear a car alarm imitation from a tree, it probably comes from a Blackbird. Also, older blackbirds are more likely to do this because of their greater experience and improved skills.
The other sound that you will hear from a Blackbird is an alarm call. This is a short, sharp repeated note to warn off intruders and predators. You may even have it directed at you if you get too close to a nest.
Where Do Blackbirds Nest And Will They Come To Your Garden?
Blackbirds make a basic cup shape nest relatively low to the ground in dense shrubs, bushes or Ivy. They are lined with grass and moss.
On that note, you will be pleased to learn that Blackbirds will nest in gardens where there are ample opportunities and they can hold down a good territory. They will create a fairly basic cup nest low to the ground from twigs and then line it with grass for protection and warmth.
It isn’t on the same lines as the feather-filled soft lining in other nests, but it will do. When the pair are ready, they will mate and lay 3-5 beautiful blue-green eggs. You may spot some fragments of these striking shells around your garden in spring.
Ideally, the pair will be able to incubate the eggs for the necessary two-week period, raise the chicks in the nest for a further 16-19 days, and then fledge. During this fledgling period, the male will take on most of the care duties while the female gets on with starting another brood.
If conditions are good through the year and food is plentiful, they might be able to raise three broods over the year. However, there are threats to the survival of Blackbird chicks that mean that not all of those eggs will hatch and not all chicks will make it to adulthood.
How Long Does A Common Blackbird Live?
The average age of a Common Blackbird is 3-4 years. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is an average in a species with many infant fatalities and many birds that go on to live well into double digits. The oldest recorded Blackbird was 20 years old, but there may have been older birds that were never ringed. Survival rates depend on how successful parents are at building nests and raising young, but also on the success of adults when it is time for them to create a territory of their own.
Are Blackbirds Territorial?
Blackbirds are territorial and become particularly defensive when they are raising and defending their young.
This raises another interesting point about the territorial nature of blackbirds. Typically, these birds are monogamous, meaning they will pair up with the same female year on year. Then, for the rest of the year, they stick to themselves. They like to hold a territory where they can feed and raise young without other males stealing what they gained. So, you will see confrontations as males chase off intruders.
Blackbird Predation Risks
One of the problems is that this bird isn’t that good at hiding its nest out of sight. Predators can sniff out the birds or stumble across the nest sight and take advantage of it. The eggs are a great meal for any small mammal in your garden and the chicks are important food sources for predatory birds like Corvids.
While many demonise the local Carrion Crows and Magpies for raiding nests, they have young to feed too. This does not make witnessing an event such as this any easier. I once witnessed a magpie take a Blackbird chick and tear it apart in my back garden!. Once the chicks fledge, the threats aren’t over. Predation risks continue from local cats, foxes, and birds of prey. Even an adult is no match for an agile Sparrowhawk.
Providing Nest Boxes For Blackbirds
Blackbirds aren’t that picky about their nesting sites. Some will even make their nest in buildings or on the ground if they think they are safe enough. This might not be the case, especially in areas with predators, risk of disturbance, or prone to flooding.
They will have a better chance if they choose a spot in a shrub where there is plenty of cover. They don’t like to nest too high up but will go into trees sometimes. With all these choices, they should have no problem creating nest sites. But, it doesn’t hurt to provide some secure alternative.
If you want to give these birds a helping hand during the breeding season, you can also provide suitable nestboxes and ensure that you have mature shrubs and hedges with native species. The nest boxes aren’t the same as those that you would use for your other songbirds like Blue Tits and Great Tits.
Blackbirds want something with a wider open face that is more accessible, like their own twig structures. You also don’t want to put these too high up where the birds feel unsafe. There is no guarantee that a local pair will use the box, but it is worth trying.
What Do Common Blackbirds Eat?
Those rich native hedges and other plant life in your garden will also help these birds’ diets. During the spring, fat juicy worms and other insects are high up the preferred menu. Caterpillars and grubs with water content are great for growing chicks too.
You will see these birds foraging in the winter, berries should be more plentiful for a good burst of energy. They will also pick at fallen fruit, so don’t be in a rush to clean up under fruit trees. I wrote another article about Which birds eat holly berries?.
Can You Feed Common Blackbirds In Your Garden?
While giving these birds access to all they need in a natural setting is more than possible, supplemental feeding can help. Consider adding some live mealworms to a table or under feeders in spring. You can use fat mixes with suet, a little cheese, and fruit to give them a tasty meal in winter.
Are Blackbirds In Need Of Our Help?
Finally, there is some debate on the importance of taking care of Common Blackbirds in gardens like this, much like that around the House Sparrow. This isn’t a bird in decline and the steady numbers of sightings show that they are doing well. They should be fine on their own without the need for housing and supplemental feeding.
But, there is always that risk that one year conditions are bad and they struggle to feed their young, or that a displaced pair needs a new territory. So, make the most of these charming birds and let them reward you with song.
- How Long Do Blackbirds Live?
- Parakeets In The U.K. – How Did They Get Here?
- When Do Blue Tits Nest?
- Where Do Kestrels Nest In the UK?
- The Difference Between Female And Male Blackbirds