BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)
The blackbird is one of the most widely-spread and numerous of British birds. Originally a bird of the wildwood, it has gradually familiarised itself with human habitation and is now a resident of most gardens of any size, replacing the song thrush as the commonest member of the thrush family. Only the adult male is black, with a bright yellow bill, the female is brown, darker above and paler below, while the juvenile’s plumage is mottled brown (it may even be confused with the thrush).
The blackbird’s diet is very varied; it will eat worms, insects and other small creatures, in search of which it may be seen turning over leaves, or coursing the lawn, in short bursts, cocking its head to one side so that it can see the better. In autumn it will eat berries and other fruits and it will take food from the bird-table. It builds its nest, of grass and mud, in any low shrub or tree, often in vulnerable positions – many broods are lost to predatory cats.
Along with the nightingale and the song thrush, the blackbird is valued as among the most accomplished of our song birds. The song is beautifully fluid, flute-like and seemingly effortless. One bird seems to be singing to another, rather than challenging it. In his poem, ‘Adlestrop’, Edward Thomas says:
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
In contrast, if suddenly disturbed, or at the sight of a cat, the blackbird will give a loud and rather harsh rattle of an alarm call.
Photograph by John Sheppard
Text by George Metcalfe