What do they eat?
Blackbirds are primarily invertebrate eaters, and definitely like worms, so appreciate a mowed lawn. You can often watch them tugging at a resisting worm as they pull it out of the ground. They often eat leaf litter creatures; flicking leaves over with their bill, hopping as they do so and pouncing on their prey. They will take other food if it is on the ground or otherwise easily accessible. In the Autumn Blackbirds will eat fruit; they will tackle rotting apples, for example, and berries.
If you want to attract blackbirds to your garden bear in mind they are rarely seen on bird feeders, partly because they are too big. They feed from the ground or a bird table, and will readily eat mealworms, fatballs and flaked oats. Their special love is sultanas, ideally soaked beforehand, but put these on a bird table because they are bad for dogs and cats.
What do they do?
Blackbirds are the songsters of the garden world. Early morning and during the light summer evenings you can hear them advertising their territories, and sometimes they use a repetitive ‘tack’ call very much like the alarm call.
They are highly territorial and you will see them chasing each other as they encroach on others’ ground. Both males and females act in this way. This seems to take up quite a lot of their time during late Winter and early Spring!
Like Robins they are used to nesting around human habitation and often choose peculiar (to our eyes) sites – there are regular press reports in the UK of Blackbird nests being taken for long drives when they build in cars or trucks. Normally they nest in shrubbery. Typically they lay around 4 eggs.
In winter the UK hosts numbers of Eurasian blackbirds which migrate south and west to escape freezing temperatures. Many more pass through Britain as they migrate from Northern Europe. Blackbirds seem to be rather mobile overall with some exchange of population between the UK and Europe.
How are they doing?
The BTO Breeding Birds Survey 2019 shows that blackbirds appear to have increased by around 25% over the last 25 years, although there seems to have been some small decline more recently. There are about 5.1 million pairs in Britain in the summer.
Adaptation to urban life
Remarkably blackbirds have not been garden birds for very long. Their natural habitat is deciduous woodland, but in 1828 the first records appeared of blackbirds in Rome in Italy. By the end of the nineteenth century they were common urban residents in many European cities, and in London by 1920. Adaptation to urban life has been intensively studied in blackbirds, and there is increasing evidence that they are evolving into one or more new species, characterised by changes in behaviour and migration pattern, and by shorter stubbier bills.
Finding out more:
Schilthuizen, M. (2018) Darwin comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution. Quercus. Blackbird evolution see pages 243-252
Page written by Roy Smith, compiled by Steve Head