The Blackbird: the Dark Tenor on the Roof Ridge

In spring you can see his silhouette on treetops, roofs, and street lights.

Once on this stage it really gets going: The blackbirds not only signal their presence to the ladies with their singing but also formulate warnings to all rivals within earshot – this is my territory! The male blackbird is also a very attractive bird from a visual point of view. With glossy black plumage and its distinctive orange beak, it is unmistakable and easy to recognize even for laypeople. The female blackbird appears more discreet. With its simple, brownish-gray plumage, it looks modest and inconspicuous. And it has to be: in the breeding season, when it sits in its half-open nest in the bushes, it merges with its surroundings and is difficult for predators to detect.

Profile of a Cosmopolitan

The blackbird, also known as the blackbird and among ornithologists as the Turdus merdula, is a member of the thrush family and one of the most famous songbirds in our latitudes. The birds are about 24-26 cm long from beak to tail tip and have a wingspan of 36 cm. They weigh around 100 grams on average, making them one of the larger native songbirds. Males are black and have a conspicuous yellow-orange beak and eye-ring. Female blackbirds are brownish-gray-green on the back, the colors on the belly vary from gray to shaded brown to red-brown. The chest is mostly speckled. A peculiarity that can occur more frequently in blackbirds is so-called partial leucism, similar to albinism, in which individual feathers and parts of the animal’s body are snow-white – an effect that unfortunately makes the animals more noticeable to predators.

Versatile Living Space

Blackbirds occur almost worldwide, in Europe with the exception of the northernmost areas, also in North Africa and Asia. After Australia and New Zealand, the blackbird was naturalized by humans, probably in the form of escaped caged birds from immigrants. Originally blackbirds were forest birds. As a cultural follower, parts of the population shifted towards city parks, cemeteries, and gardens by the 19th century at the latest. Today the blackbird is an almost urban bird that has got used to being around people. Blackbirds are part migrants: While more and more birds are wintering in this country due to the milder climate in our latitudes, some of the blackbirds continue to make their journey to their winter quarters on the other side Alps.

Mating and Brood Care

Blackbirds become sexually mature towards the end of their first year of life and have a monogamous relationship, which is resident birds also last for several breeding periods. The animals that stay in our latitudes all year round and do not migrate to the south over the winter are referred to as resident birds. The first broods are possible as early as the beginning of March, and up to three broods over the course of the year are not uncommon. Blackbirds build their bowl-shaped nests in the protection of dense bushes whenever possible.

Evergreen trees or clad facades are accepted as nest locations in settlements. Building a nest from twigs, clay, and cushioning material takes between two and five days, depending on the weather. The finished nest has a diameter of about 16 cm. A clutch consists of up to five green eggs and is incubated for about two weeks by the female, who only leaves the nest to eat. The period from hatching to an outing is also around two weeks for the chicks. As so-called branchlings, they are cared for by their parents for another month. The adult birds organize 16 grams of mainly animal food per chick per day, such as insects and their larvae and worms.

Singing and Scolding: the Blackbird as a Warning System

The best-known utterances of the blackbirds besides singing are the typical tixen (“tix-tix-tix”) and a penetrating, sloping “ssiih” sound: both are warning calls, whereby the tixen usually applies to finding the ground, the “ssiih” being in the air. If you hear the warning sounds and look in the appropriate direction, there is a high probability that you will spot a cat or a bird of prey.

The Menu of the Blackbird

The main food of the blackbird consists of a mixed diet of fruits and animal components. The favorite foods are earthworms, beetles, and small snails and their clutches. When digging for prey, blackbirds do not stop at fresh sowing or mulch on beds, which earned them their reputation as feathered vandals among gardening enthusiasts. The preferred hunting area is open meadow areas: During and shortly after rainfalls, you can usually see several blackbirds there, looking for earthworms. Depending on the seasonal availability, blackbirds add fruit to their diet. The blackbird’s beak is designed to eat soft food. When feeding wild birds, you should take this into account and, especially in winter, offer the animals not only fatty food but also apples, berries, or raisins.

The Blackbird as a Guest in the Garden

If you want to make your garden blackbird-friendly, offer the birds attractive framework conditions. The ideal blackbird garden contains thick bushes, a watering hole – blackbirds like to bathe, curiously especially when it rains – a fruit tree or berry bush, and a piece of open lawn. If you still have a roof ridge or at least an exposed high branch, it won’t be long before the black vocal artist enters the stage with you too.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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