Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Irish Garden Birds - Boisterous Blackbirds

We know from previous years of the Garden Bird Survey that around 98% of you will have seen a Blackbird in your garden this winter - in most cases you've probably seen one every week, or maybe even every day! With the cold conditions and heavy snow this week you might get a few more in your garden, especially if you leave out fruit.

Here's some facts and info that you might not have known about your regular visitor...


Species Profile: Blackbird

As Gaeilge: ‘Lon dubh’

Irish Garden Bird Survey Ranking 2016/17: 2nd place

Conservation status: Green-listed in Ireland and 'secure' at European level. Results from our Countryside Bird Survey indicate that there are around 5 million Blackbirds in Ireland each summer.

Male Blackbird. Photo by B. Burke

Did You know?

  1. Blackbirds usually begin to sing around the end of January – a beautiful and easily-recognisable song. The first ones to start singing in the new year are males that hatched the year before, with older birds starting to sing around March.

  2. In urban areas, Blackbirds are often heard singing at night – confusing streetlights with natural sunlight. Blackbirds have large eyes relative to their body size so are often the first species to be active in gardens in the morning.
  3. Male Blackbird singing in the early morning. Photo by B. Burke
  4. The most common causes of death for Blackbirds, as revealed through ringing studies, are cats and cars!

  5. Blackbirds are a species of Thrush – just like Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare!

  6. Male Blackbirds are very territorial. Much of their territorial aggression is triggered by colour – the orange bills of other males. They’re much less aggressive to birds with yellow or brown bills, or Blackbirds with brown plumage – which means they don’t chase away females, and fledgling blackbirds don’t get harassed in their first few months either.
  7. Blackbirds are known to have ‘unihemispheric slow-save sleep’ – that is to say that one half of the brain sleeps while the other half is awake, which ensures it won’t get caught out by predators at night!
Female Blackbird. Photo by B. Burke

How long do they live?
The oldest known Blackbird in Ireland & Britain was ringed in Orkney in Scotland and was 15 years old the last time it was seen. The typical lifespan for a Blackbird is 3 years old though.

What do they feed on? 
Blackbirds are famous for hopping around on a lawn or in a field, occasionally pulling out a worm that they either saw or heard. They will eat other insects and invertebrates too, as they root around in bare soil or under leaf litter. Though they predominantly feed on invertebrates they do also eat seeds, berries and fruits, particularly late in the year.

Male Blackbird feeding on berries during winter. Photo by B. Burke

Irish Garden Bird Survey Trends:

You won't be surprised to hear that Blackbirds are seen in nearly every single garden each winter - on average they're recorded in 99% of gardens during the Garden Bird Survey! In most year they're pipped to the post by the Robin which is recorded in a handful more gardens, relegating the Blackbird to second place where it has sat in 14 of the 23 years since the Garden Bird Survey was revamped in the mid-1990's. 

On three occasions, most recently in 2009/10, the Blackbird sat in first place as the bird seen in most Irish gardens. Four times it has been overtaken by the Blue Tit and had to settle for third place, most recently in 2006/07. And in 1994/95 it had to languish in 4th place, the only time it was outside the top 3, with Great Tits recorded in one more garden than Blackbirds! 

Most gardens record 2 Blackbirds in the early part of the winter, with a slight increase as the weather gets colder and food supplies in the wider countryside diminish into late-December onwards.

Average number of Blackbirds per garden per week during the Irish Garden Bird Survey. Note the relatively stable trend, with high numbers during some particularly cold winters.

Movements and Migration:
Blackbird migratory movements from the BTO book 'Time to Fly'
As you can see from the maps here, Blackbirds move around a lot compared to many of the other species we’ve featured in this blog. In winter we get a large influx from cold countries in northern and eastern Europe such as Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany. In some cases, these birds stop here briefly as they migrate further south into France or Spain, but many will stay here for the winter. On a clear morning in autumn or early winter you might suddenly notice a big increase in the number of Blackbirds in your area – fresh arrivals that will be busy feeding on berry-laden bushes in small groups, before scattering out more widely around the countryside for the winter.
Not all of the Blackbirds from these cold countries in northern and eastern Europe migrate - some stay put where they are, but research in Germany has shown that the ones that move to milder and warmer countries in the winter have better survival than those that stay put!

Locations where Blackbirds from Ireland and the UK have been recorded in other countries. For full details see BTO website here.

How can I help Blackbirds?

Blackbirds usually nest low down in a covered area such as a tree or shrub. They will sometimes use a well-placed open-faced nestbox however (the same type used by Robins). These boxes are available from the BirdWatch Ireland shop, and now is a really good time to put them up!

See this link here for nestboxes for Blackbirds and other birds in our shop.

Blackbirds tend to feed on the ground and won’t really be seen perched on the side of a feeder. They will eat mealworms or seed that has fallen on the ground however and peck at fatballs if they can perch on the feeder (ideally it’d be slanted so they can sit on top, though that might also attract crows…). If you have bushes with berries then you’re probably familiar with the sight of one or more Blackbirds carefully eating every single berry over the course of a winter, so planting bushes that bear fruit at the end of the year is a fantastic thing to do for your Blackbirds and other species too.

If you're a Blackbird fan, we have a very popular Blackbird soft toy available in our shop for only €9, which sings a Blackbird song when you squeeze it!

We also have singing soft toys of Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Great Tit and  Goldfinch!

We also have a Blackbird pin badge available for a donation of €2 - and plenty of other garden bird, owl, raptor, seabird and waterbird species available too!


And finally...
Your BirdWatch Ireland Membership Pack.
A reminder too that one of the best things you can do to help birds and wildlife in Ireland is add your voice to the cause by becoming a member of BirdWatch Ireland
Blackbirds tend to survive well in a  variety of habitats, but other species need our protection or we could lose them from Ireland completely. We protect Ireland's birds and wildlife through our conservation projects, through our monitoring projects that let us know what species are in trouble and where, and through our policy and advocacy work where we lobby politicians and other groups to ensure that our birds and wildlife have a voice!

BirdWatch Ireland members receive our 'Wings' magazine four times per year.

We have numerous membership options available, and all members receive our Wings magazine four times a year, as well as garden and seabird posters when you join!

1 comment:

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