What do blackbirds look like? And other blackbird facts

Martha Boalch, 29/05/2018

The sleek and alert blackbird is a regular sight across the UK, it is an everyday occurrence and was third place in a vote for the nation’s favourite bird. It is an interesting and amusing bird to observe. What do you know about our blackbird?

Appearance

Male blackbird with yellow eye ring, Fiona Exon

Female blackbird, brown with mottled chest, WTPL Margaret Barton

Blackbird juvenile with pale streaks all around the neck and shoulders, David Stevens

Males are all black with yellow beak and eye ring, apart from young males in their first winter which are black with a hint of brown on the wing tips and do not have the yellow beak or eye ring. Females are a sooty brown with a slightly paler throat and diffuse streaks on the chest, the bill is a darker yellow. The juveniles resemble the females but have pale spots on their upperparts.

Voice

The song of the blackbird is mainly heard between March and July when they are breeding. The song is loud and varied and often delivered from a prominent perch. It is well known as a melodic fluting at a slow tempo.

Calls can be heard all year. If disturbed the blackbird may utter a loud ‘tchook-tchook’. At dusk many utter a timid little ‘chink-chink’.

A.F.C. Hillstead described the song of the blackbird, ‘… a really wonderful voice…it possesses the purity of a wood instrument, though with some individuals, a certain harshness is introduced at the end…delivery is lazy, and, on a hot day, gives the impression of sleepy contentment…’

Where to find blackbirds

Blackbirds are found across the UK, although at lower densities on moors and uplands. They inhabit a range of habitats including woods, gardens, park and hedgerows.

Behaviour

Typical blackbird stance, WTML

Blackbird with feathers ruffled soaking up some rays, WTPL Margaret Barton

They tend to fly in a direct line and upon landing raise the tail and drop the wing tips slightly. They prefer to feed under or close to cover on insects, worms and berries. Like most us, they even enjoy sunbathing with their eyes closed, feathers ruffled up and wings relaxed.

Nesting

Female blackbird carrying nesting material, Fiona Exon

A predated blackbird egg, John Quinton-Adams

Male tending to two juveniles, John Sharp

They regularly nest in bushes, on trellis or behind logs. If the weather is mild the female will start constructing a nest as early as February. She forms a cup structure from grass, straw and small twigs. This is followed by a layer of mud to act as plaster, and then wallpapered with fine grass. The 3-5 eggs are incubated for around 14 days. Chicks are fed in the nest on caterpillar and worms by both parents until they are two weeks old. The egg and chick stages are perilous and only a third of nests produce fledged young.

When they fledge, the group of juveniles are split between the male and female parents. The female may leave her charges earlier than the male in order to start another brood. She may raise two or three broods in a season sometimes using the same nest again.

On Nature’s Calendar you can let us know when you first spot:

  • nest building activity
  • adults bring food back to the nest for the chicks
  • juveniles out of the nest

This is easy to spot in your garden or park. Records for first juvenile are coming in thick and fast, so why not add your sightings too?

Juvenile blackbird desktop calendar

Download our juvenile blackbird desktop calendar to remind you what to look out for this month.

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