Hello everyone,                           

This week we are focusing on one of our favourite garden birds, sitting in the top 10 at number 5 in the Bird Garden Birdwatch, blackbirds are a regular visitor to our gardens. I personally love them, they are striking and interesting to watch when they bounce across my lawn and they have a beautiful song which I love to hear.

Blackbirds are very productive in the UK, with around 5,100,000 breeding pairs. It is a species that has adapted well to human settings, in particular our gardens and shrubby borders. Blackbirds are a part of the thrush family, in which we have six UK visitors and four UK breeders; including the ring ouzel, mistle thrush, song thrush, fieldfare and redwing. The fieldfare and redwing are winter visitors, arriving in October and leaving around April. Like the blackbird, many of them have a powerful and beautiful song. Not all blackbirds we see here are residents, large numbers winter in the UK, with individuals originating from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany. However, with the increase in global temperatures, it is thought less and less are wintering in the UK, since the winters elsewhere are becoming less severe.

Image: Paige Donnelly

Prior to changes in their behaviour and ecology, leading them to live in close proximity with us, the blackbird was originally a mature woodland bird. However, it adapted to the changing land and increased urbanised settings by moving in alongside us in the early 19th century. The blackbird’s ability to adapt so well to our gardens, is that they show to resemble woodland in a variety of ways. Gardens provide a mix of shrubby cover, a mix of short and tall trees, and some open areas such as lawns and flowerbeds, which they will use for foraging. Blackbirds from a young age will hop along the ground in search of food among leaves, soil and undergrowth. They eat mostly insects, especially during this time of the year, but also like to eat worms and berries. They also like to eat fruit given by humans, such as apples. If I eat an apple, I will put what is left of it in my garden and the blackbirds always find it and finish it off.

When asked, most people would imagine a blackbird as a common ground-feeding bird with striking deep-black plumage and a conspicuous yellow beak and yellow ring around the eye. However, this is only the male blackbird (as seen above), both female and juvenile varieties are quite different; they display a reddish-brown plumage (as seen below). This is the time of year to see juveniles leaving the nest and entering adult life. The breeding season for blackbirds is between March and July, typically having 2 - 3 broods within this time. There can be between 3 – 5 eggs in each clutch, and it takes around 14 days before they start to hatch. Once hatched, they are fed on earthworms and will leave around two weeks later. During this time, the male is primarily feeding the chicks while the females prepares a nest for the next brood.

Image: Jeremy Eyons

In many cases, we see some of the struggles breeding blackbirds face within our gardens. Two of the main threats to garden blackbirds are cats and windows; many collide with windows and some are snatched by curious cats, both can be fatal. During the spring this would also leave their chicks without a parent, which may also be fatal. Juveniles will have even less of a chance as they emerge into the adult world naive and unexposed. However, they have less nest predators in gardens and a constant supply of food in some places, so perhaps it’s a risk worth taking. Sometimes people mistakenly identify fledglings as being abandoned and think the best thing to do is help. However, be careful, young birds leave the nest when they are starting to fly and can find their own food. If you intervene you may reduce the risk of them surviving. In unique cases, you may feel obliged too. For instance, if you have seen your cat attack the nest and remove the parent, leaving behind unfledged nestlings. If you witness something and think birds might be in danger, the RSPCA can help:

https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/orphanedanimals/youngbirds

 Just be aware this in these current times, with the covid-19 crises, many organisations are struggling with the capacity of work because of reduced numbers in staff. The RSPB doesn’t deal with reports of baby birds and will instead direct you to a local wildlife hospital or the RSPCA where they can provide the advice you need.

You can also help blackbirds in your garden by completing a range of garden wildlife activities. Knowing blackbirds are fond of berries and apples, you can grow food for them that will berry, particularly in the winter when there are less inverts around (such as rowan berries, blackberries, holly berries and ivy berries). I’m sure they would also appreciate you sharing your apples with them like I do. You can also grow insect attracting plants so there is a higher abundance of food for them in your garden during the breeding season (such as alder buckthorn, purging buckthorn, holly bush and ivy which attracts yummy caterpillars). Creating nature highways and shrub is another thing you can do as it will help them move in between gardens and find nesting material. There are numerous things you can do that will benefit blackbirds, if you want to know more, visit the link below:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/?Help=34

We have a lot more to see in the coming months with the blackbirds in our gardens, with some likely working on their next brood right now. Look out for baby blackbirds entering the big wide world!

Thanks for reading, take care. 

Anonymous