Blackbird, Eurasian blackbird
An elegant bird with a melodious song, the Common blackbird is rather territorial during the breeding period. These birds live close by humans. Adult males are, as per their name, totally black, with a bright golden-yellow beak and, during spring and summer, a yellow ring around their eyes. Towards summer’s end the beak starts to turn darker. Females are brown with streaky dark mottling on their paler, reddish brown breast. Juveniles look like females, but have pale spots on their upperparts.
Common blackbirds breed in Europe, North Africa, India and southern China. Populations in the north and east migrate to winter in Egypt and the west and south-east of Asia. These birds were also introduced into Australia and New Zealand during the 1850s. This species lives in very varied habitats, including mountainous regions and big city centers, where they inhabit open forests and forest edges, cultivated areas, gardens and parks, if the cover is dense enough for hiding.
Habits and lifestyle
Common blackbirds are diurnal and eat mainly on the ground, turning the leaf litter to find the invertebrates hidden below. The bird runs for short distances, stops suddenly to turn its head sideways to detect its prey and hops while it digs the ground with its bill to attract worms. It will feed in trees and bushes on the fruits and berries that it prefers. These birds will often take sun baths, while flattened on grass or warm ground, with their beak open and their head inclined, and wings and tails spread. Common blackbirds are territorial, strongly defending their territory, mostly in urban areas where each pair does not have much space. Females may also fight, in defense of a good nest site. While winter food is available, common blackbirds will stay within their territory for the year, although they will occupy different areas. Migrating birds are more gregarious, flying in small flocks and eating in loose groups at the wintering grounds.
Diet and nutrition
These birds are omnivores, they mainly eat cultivated fruits like apples, pears, strawberries, cherries and grapes. They also eat wild berries and fruits, insects, spiders, earthworms and some seeds, when hunting on the ground.
This species is monogamous, the pair usually staying together for life. Courtship displays begin very soon, often in February. Males sing at dawn. An individual will fan its tail and raise it vertically, while drawing its head into its shoulders until it looks like a black ball with a yellow beak. The female fluffs up the feathers of her neck and rump in answer to the male’s display. The Common blackbird breeds in spring and is able to produce three clutches. Females build a robust nest within vegetation, low down but well hidden, located in the fork of three branches. Usually 3 to 4 eggs are laid, greenish and mottled with brown. The female incubates the eggs, sometimes relieved by the male for brief periods, and the chicks hatch in 12 to 14 days and leave the nest when they are 13 to 14 days old. They climb into the vegetation around the nest to hide, where both parents feed them for two or three more weeks.
Common blackbirds are widespread and not considered to be threatened. There have been local decreases, however, especially on farmland, possibly due to agricultural policies encouraging farmers to remove hedgerows (where the birds nest), and increase their use of pesticides, and drain damp grassland, which may have reduced the amount of invertebrate food.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Common blackbird population size is around 162 million to 492 million individuals. In Europe, there are about 40 million to 82 million breeding pairs, equating to 120 million to 246 million individuals. Estimates of national populations include: in China, around 100-100,000 breeding pairs; in Taiwan on migration, fewer than 50 wintering birds and fewer than 50 individuals; and in Korea, fewer than 50 individuals migrating and fewer than 50 wintering birds. Overall, currently Common blackbirds are classified as Least Concern (LC) and their numbers today remain stable.
Fun facts for kids
- The Common blackbird makes several different calls, depending on the situation. When disturbed, it gives a low, slowly repeated “tchuc”, and when alarmed, it utters a shrill “tink-tink-tink” repeated quickly, which may become hysterical when it is faced with a dangerous predator.
- If four chicks hatch, each blackbird parent cares for two of them within their territory, in two different areas.
- The courtship songs of male blackbirds are very beautiful, with clear and liquid notes. Songs vary from bird to bird, but with similar musical phrases.
- Blackbirds like to sing following rain.
- Shakespeare called blackbirds ‘ousels’, and referred to them in Henry IV, Part 2 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- Research in 2013 shows that urban lighting causes city dwelling blackbirds to breed earlier than ones in the country.