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The common blackbird (''Turdus merula'') is a
species In biology, a species is the basic unit of Taxonomy (biology), classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of ...

species
of true thrush. It is also called the Eurasian blackbird (especially in North America, to distinguish it from the unrelated New World blackbirds), or simply the blackbird where this does not lead to confusion with a local species. It breeds in Europe, Asiatic Russia, and North Africa, and has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. It has a number of
subspecies In Taxonomy (biology), biological classification, subspecies is a rank below species, used for populations that live in different areas and vary in size, shape, or other physical characteristics (Morphology (biology), morphology), but that ca ...
across its large range; a few of the Asian subspecies are sometimes considered to be full species. Depending on
latitude In geography, latitude is a Geographic coordinate system, coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the surface of the Earth or another celestial body. Latitude is given as an angle that ranges from –90° at the south ...

latitude
, the common blackbird may be resident, partially migratory, or fully migratory. The adult male of the common blackbird (''Turdus merula merula'', the
nominate subspecies In Taxonomy (biology), biological classification, subspecies is a rank below species, used for populations that live in different areas and vary in size, shape, or other physical characteristics (Morphology (biology), morphology), but that ca ...
), which is found throughout most of Europe, is all black except for a yellow eye-ring and
bill
bill
and has a rich, melodious
song A song is a musical composition intended to be performed by the human voice. This is often done at melody, distinct and fixed pitches (melodies) using patterns of sound and silence. Songs contain various song form, forms, such as those includ ...
; the adult female and juvenile have mainly dark brown
plumage Plumage ( "feather") is a layer of feathers that covers a bird and the pattern, colour, and arrangement of those feathers. The pattern and colours of plumage differ between species and subspecies and may vary with age classes. Within species, ...
. This species breeds in woods and gardens, building a neat, cup-shaped nest, bound together with mud. It is
omnivorous An omnivore () is an animal that has the ability to eat and survive on both plant and animal matter. Obtaining energy and nutrients from plant and animal matter, omnivores digest carbohydrates, protein, fat, and Dietary fiber, fiber, and metab ...
, eating a wide range of insects,
earthworm An earthworm is a terrestrial invertebrate that belongs to the phylum Annelida. They exhibit a tube-within-a-tube body plan; they are externally segmented with corresponding internal segmentation; and they usually have setae on all segments. The ...

earthworm
s,
berries A berry is a small, pulpy, and often edible fruit. Typically, berries are juicy, rounded, brightly colored, sweet, sour or tart, and do not have a stone or pit, although many pips or seeds may be present. Common examples are strawberries, raspb ...

berries
, and fruits. Both sexes are territorial on the breeding grounds, with distinctive threat displays, but are more gregarious during migration and in wintering areas. Pairs stay in their territory throughout the year where the climate is sufficiently
temperate In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout t ...
. This common and conspicuous species has given rise to a number of literary and cultural references, frequently related to its song.


Taxonomy and systematics

The common blackbird was described by
Carl Linnaeus Carl Linnaeus (; 23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778), also known after his Nobility#Ennoblement, ennoblement in 1761 as Carl von Linné#Blunt, Blunt (2004), p. 171. (), was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician who formalise ...

Carl Linnaeus
in his landmark 1758 10th edition of ''Systema Naturae'' as ''Turdus merula'' (characterised as ''T. ater, rostro palpebrisque fulvis''). The binomial name derives from two
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...

Latin
words, ''turdus'', "thrush", and ''merula'', "blackbird", the latter giving rise to its French name, ''merle'', and its Scots name, ''merl''. About 65 species of medium to large thrushes are in the genus ''Turdus'', characterised by rounded heads, longish, pointed wings, and usually melodious songs. Although two European thrushes, the
song thrush The song thrush (''Turdus philomelos'') is a Thrush (bird), thrush that breeds across the West Palearctic. It has brown upper-parts and black-spotted cream or buff underparts and has three recognised subspecies. Its distinctive Birdsong, song, ...

song thrush
and
mistle thrush The mistle thrush (''Turdus viscivorus'') is a bird common to much of Europe, Palearctic, temperate Asia and North Africa. It is a year-round resident in a large part of its range, but northern and eastern populations bird migration, migrate s ...

mistle thrush
, are early offshoots from the Eurasian lineage of ''Turdus'' thrushes after they spread north from Africa, the blackbird is descended from ancestors that had colonised the
Canary Islands The Canary Islands (; es, Canarias, ), also known informally as the Canaries, are a Spanish autonomous community and archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster, or collecti ...
from Africa and subsequently reached Europe from there. It is close in evolutionary terms to the island thrush (''T. poliocephalus'') of Southeast Asia and islands in the southwest Pacific, which probably diverged from ''T. merula'' stock fairly recently. It may not immediately be clear why the name "blackbird", first recorded in 1486, was applied to this species, but not to one of the various other common black English birds, such as the carrion crow,
raven A raven is any of several larger-bodied bird species of the genus ''Corvus''. These species do not form a single Taxon, taxonomic group within the genus. There is no consistent distinction between "crows" and "ravens", common names which are ass ...
, rook, or . However, in
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
, and in
modern English Modern English (sometimes New English or NE (ME) as opposed to Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) is a form of the English language that was spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest of 1066, until the lat ...

modern English
up to about the 18th century, "bird" was used only for smaller or young birds, and larger ones such as crows were called "fowl". At that time, the blackbird was therefore the only widespread and conspicuous "black bird" in the British Isles.''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a com ...
'', Oxford University Press, 1933: Bird (sense 2), Blackbird
Until about the 17th century, another name for the species was ''ouzel'', ''ousel'' or ''wosel'' (from
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
''osle'', cf. German ''Amsel''). Another variant occurs in Act 3 of ''
A Midsummer Night's Dream ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a Comedy (drama), comedy written by William Shakespeare 1595 or 1596. The play is set in Athens, and consists of several subplots that revolve around the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. One subplot involves ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream
'', where Bottom refers to "The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill". The ouzel usage survived later in poetry, and still occurs as the name of the closely related ring ouzel (''Turdus torquatus''), and in water ouzel, an alternative name for the unrelated but superficially similar white-throated dipper (''Cinclus cinclus'') and (''Cinclus mexicanus''). Two related Asian ''Turdus'' thrushes, the white-collared blackbird (''T. albocinctus'') and the grey-winged blackbird (''T. boulboul''), are also named blackbirds, and the Somali thrush (''T. (olivaceus) ludoviciae'') is alternatively known as the Somali blackbird.Sinclair, I., & P. Ryan (2003). ''Birds of Africa south of the Sahara''. Struik Publishers, Cape Town. The icterid family of the New World is sometimes called the blackbird family because of some species' superficial resemblance to the common blackbird and other Old World thrushes, but they are not evolutionarily close, being related to the New World warblers and tanagers. The term is often limited to smaller species with mostly or entirely black plumage, at least in the breeding male, notably the
cowbird Cowbirds are birds belonging to the genus ''Molothrus'' in the Family (biology), family Icteridae. They are of New World origin, and are obligate brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species. The genus was introduced by Engli ...
s, the grackles, and for around 20 species with "blackbird" in the name, such as the
red-winged blackbird The red-winged blackbird (''Agelaius phoeniceus'') is a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North America and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland and Labrador, Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gu ...
and the melodious blackbird.


Subspecies

As would be expected for a widespread passerine bird species, several geographical subspecies are recognised. The treatment of subspecies in this article follows Clement ''et al.'' (2000). *''T. m. merula'', the nominate subspecies, breeds commonly throughout much of Europe from
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic countries, Nordic island country in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is the most list of countries and dependencies by population density, sparsely populated coun ...
, the
Faroes The Faroe Islands ( ), or simply the Faroes ( fo, Føroyar ; da, Færøerne ), are a North Atlantic archipelago, island group and an autonomous territory of the Danish Realm, Kingdom of Denmark. They are located north-northwest of Scotlan ...
and the British Isles east to the
Ural Mountains The Ural Mountains ( ; rus, Ура́льские го́ры, r=Uralskiye gory, p=ʊˈralʲskʲɪjə ˈɡorɨ; ba, Урал тауҙары) or simply the Urals, are a mountain range A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains ...
and north to about 70 N, where it is fairly scarce. A small population breeds in the
Nile Valley The Nile, , Bohairic , lg, Kiira , Nobiin language, Nobiin: Áman Dawū is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa. It flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile is the longest river in Africa and has historically been considered ...
. Birds from the north of the range winter throughout Europe and around the Mediterranean including
Cyprus Cyprus ; tr, Kıbrıs (), officially the Republic of Cyprus,, , lit: Republic of Cyprus is an island country located south of the Anatolian Peninsula in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Its continental position is disputed; while it is geo ...
and North Africa. The introduced birds in Australia and New Zealand are of the nominate race. *''T. m. azorensis'' is a small race which breeds in the
Azores ) , motto =( en, "Rather die free than subjected in peace") , anthem= ( en, "Anthem of the Azores") , image_map=Locator_map_of_Azores_in_EU.svg , map_alt=Location of the Azores within the European Union , map_caption=Location of the Azores wi ...
. The male is darker and glossier than ''merula''. *''T. m. cabrerae'', named for Ángel Cabrera, Spanish
zoologist Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is usually regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology that studies the Animal, animal kingdom, including the anatomy, structure, embryology, evolution, Biological clas ...
, resembles ''azorensis'' and breeds in
Madeira ) , anthem = ( en, "Anthem of the Autonomous Region of Madeira") , song_type = Regional anthem , image_map=EU-Portugal_with_Madeira_circled.svg , map_alt=Location of Madeira , map_caption=Location of Madeira , subdivision_type=Sovereign st ...
and the western
Canary Islands The Canary Islands (; es, Canarias, ), also known informally as the Canaries, are a Spanish autonomous community and archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster, or collecti ...
. *''T. m. mauretanicus'', another small dark species with a glossy black male plumage, breeds in central and northern
Morocco Morocco (),, ) officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is the westernmost country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and has land borders with Algeria to A ...
, coastal
Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , religi ...
and northern
Tunisia ) , image_map = Tunisia location (orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = Location of Tunisia in northern Africa , image_map2 = , capital = Tunis , largest_city = capital , ...
. *''T m. aterrimus'' breeds in Hungary, south and east to southern Greece,
Crete Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern: , Ancient: ) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, ...
northern
Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
and northern
Iran Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also called Persia, is a country located in Western Asia. It is bordered by Iraq and Turkey to the west, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest, by the Caspian Sea and Turkmeni ...
. It winters in southern Turkey, northern
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
,
Iraq Iraq,; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq officially the Republic of Iraq, '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to Iraq–Turkey border, the north, Iran to Iran–Iraq ...
and southern Iran. It is smaller than ''merula'' with a duller male and paler female plumage. *''T. m. syriacus'' breeds on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey south to
Jordan Jordan ( ar, الأردن; Romanization of Arabic, tr. ' ), officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,; Romanization of Arabic, tr. ' is a country in Western Asia. It is situated at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, within the Levan ...
, Israel and the northern Sinai. It is mostly resident, but part of the population moves south west or west to winter in the
Jordan Valley The Jordan Valley ( ar, غور الأردن, ''Ghor al-Urdun''; he, עֵמֶק הַיַרְדֵּן, ''Emek HaYarden'') forms part of the larger Jordan Rift Valley. Unlike most other river valleys, the term "Jordan Valley" often applies just to ...
and in the
Nile Delta The Nile Delta ( ar, دلتا النيل, or simply , ) is the River delta, delta formed in Lower Egypt where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the world's largest river deltas—from Alexandria in ...
of northern Egypt south to about
Cairo Cairo ( ; ar, القاهرة, al-Qāhirah, ) is the capital of Egypt and its largest city, home to 10 million people. It is also part of the largest urban agglomeration in Africa, the Arab world and the Middle East: The Greater Cairo me ...
. Both sexes of this subspecies are darker and greyer than the equivalent ''merula'' plumages. *''T. m. intermedius'' is an Asiatic race breeding from Central Russia to
Tajikistan Tajikistan (, ; tg, Тоҷикистон, Tojikiston; russian: Таджикистан, Tadzhikistan), officially the Republic of Tajikistan ( tg, Ҷумҳурии Тоҷикистон, Jumhurii Tojikiston), is a landlocked country in Centra ...
, western and north east Afghanistan, and eastern China. Many birds are resident but some are altitudinal migrants and occur in southern Afghanistan and southern Iraq in winter. This is a large subspecies, with a sooty-black male and a blackish-brown female. The Asian subspecies, the relatively large ''intermedius'' also differs in structure and voice, and may represent a distinct species.Collar, N. J. (2005). Common Blackbird (''Turdus merula''). p. 645 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Christie, D. A. eds. (2005) ''
Handbook of the Birds of the World The ''Handbook of the Birds of the World'' (HBW) is a multi-volume series produced by the Spanish publishing house Lynx Edicions in partnership with BirdLife International. It is the first handbook to cover every known living species of bird ...
.'' Vol. 10. Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Alternatively, it has been suggested that they should be considered subspecies of '' T. maximus'', but they differ in structure, voice and the appearance of the eye-ring.Collar, N. J. (2005). Tibetan Blackbird (''Turdus maximus''). p. 646 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Christie, D. A. eds. (2005) ''
Handbook of the Birds of the World The ''Handbook of the Birds of the World'' (HBW) is a multi-volume series produced by the Spanish publishing house Lynx Edicions in partnership with BirdLife International. It is the first handbook to cover every known living species of bird ...
.'' Vol. 10. Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Similar species

In Europe, the common blackbird can be confused with the paler-winged first-winter ring ouzel (''Turdus torquatus'') or the superficially similar
common starling The common starling or European starling (''Sturnus vulgaris''), also known simply as the starling in Great Britain and Ireland, is a medium-sized passerine bird in the starling family, Sturnidae. It is about long and has glossy black plumage ...
(''Sturnus vulgaris'').Mullarney, Killian; Svensson, Lars, Zetterstrom, Dan; Grant, Peter (2001). ''Birds of Europe''. Princeton University Press. pp. 304–306. A number of similar '' Turdus'' thrushes exist far outside the range of the common blackbird, for example the South American Chiguanco thrush (''Turdus chiguanco'').Fjeldså, J., & N. Krabbe (1990). ''The Birds of the High Andes''. Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen. The Indian blackbird, the Tibetan blackbird, and the Chinese blackbird were formerly considered subspecies of the common blackbird.


Description

The common blackbird of the
nominate Nomination is part of the process of selecting a candidate for either election to a public office, or the bestowing of an honor or award. A collection of nominees narrowed from the full list of candidates is a short list. Political office In the ...
subspecies ''T. m. merula'' is in length, has a long tail, and weighs . The adult male has glossy black
plumage Plumage ( "feather") is a layer of feathers that covers a bird and the pattern, colour, and arrangement of those feathers. The pattern and colours of plumage differ between species and subspecies and may vary with age classes. Within species, ...
, blackish-brown legs, a yellow eye-ring and an orange-yellow . The bill darkens somewhat in winter. The adult female is sooty-brown with a dull yellowish-brownish bill, a brownish-white throat and some weak mottling on the breast. The juvenile is similar to the female, but has pale spots on the upperparts, and the very young juvenile also has a speckled breast. Young birds vary in the shade of brown, with darker birds presumably males. The first year male resembles the adult male, but has a dark bill and weaker eye ring, and its folded wing is brown, rather than black like the body plumage.


Distribution and habitat

The common blackbird breeds in temperate Eurasia, North Africa, the
Canary Islands The Canary Islands (; es, Canarias, ), also known informally as the Canaries, are a Spanish autonomous community and archipelago An archipelago ( ), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster, or collecti ...
, and South Asia. It has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. Populations are sedentary in the south and west of the range, although northern birds migrate south as far as northern Africa and tropical Asia in winter. Urban males are more likely to
overwinter Overwintering is the process by which some organism In biology, an organism () is any life, living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells (cell theory). Organisms are classified by taxonomy ( ...
in cooler climes than rural males, an adaptation made feasible by the warmer microclimate and relatively abundant food that allow the birds to establish territories and start reproducing earlier in the year. Recoveries of blackbirds ringed on the
Isle of May The Isle of May is located in the north of the outer Firth of Forth The Firth of Forth () is the estuary, or firth, of several Scottish rivers including the River Forth. It meets the North Sea with Fife on the north coast and Lothian on ...
show that these birds commonly migrate from southern Norway (or from as far north as
Trondheim Trondheim ( , , ; sma, Tråante), historically Kaupangen, Nidaros and Trondhjem (), is a city and List of municipalities of Norway, municipality in Trøndelag county, Norway. As of 2020, it had a population of 205,332, was the third most pop ...
) to Scotland, and some onwards to Ireland. Scottish-ringed birds have also been recovered in England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. Female blackbirds in Scotland and the north of England migrate more (to Ireland) in winter than do the males Common over most of its range in woodland, the common blackbird has a preference for deciduous trees with dense undergrowth. However, gardens provide the best breeding habitat with up to 7.3 pairs per hectare (nearly three pairs per acre), with woodland typically holding about a tenth of that density, and open and very built-up habitats even less. They are often replaced by the related ring ouzel in areas of higher altitude. The common blackbird also lives in parks, gardens and hedgerows. The common blackbird occurs at elevations up to in Europe, in North Africa, and at in peninsular India and Sri Lanka, but the large Himalayan subspecies range much higher, with ''T. m. maximus'' breeding at and remaining above even in winter. This widespread species has occurred as a vagrant in many locations in Eurasia outside its normal range, but records from North America are normally considered to involve escapees, including, for example, the 1971 bird in
Quebec Quebec ( ; )According to the Government of Canada, Canadian government, ''Québec'' (with the acute accent) is the official name in Canadian French and ''Quebec'' (without the accent) is the province's official name in Canadian English is ...
. However, a 1994 record from Bonavista, Newfoundland, has been accepted as a genuine wild bird, and the species is therefore on the North American list.


Behaviour and ecology

The male common blackbird defends its breeding territory, chasing away other males or utilising a "bow and run" threat display. This consists of a short run, the head first being raised and then bowed with the tail dipped simultaneously. If a fight between male blackbirds does occur, it is usually short and the intruder is soon chased away. The female blackbird is also aggressive in the spring when it competes with other females for a good nesting territory, and although fights are less frequent, they tend to be more violent. The bill's appearance is important in the interactions of the common blackbird. The territory-holding male responds more aggressively towards models with orange bills than to those with yellow bills, and reacts least to the brown bill colour typical of the first-year male. The female is, however, relatively indifferent to bill colour, but responds instead to shinier bills. As long as winter food is available, both the male and female will remain in the territory throughout the year, although occupying different areas. Migrants are more gregarious, travelling in small flocks and feeding in loose groups in the wintering grounds. The flight of migrating birds comprises bursts of rapid wing beats interspersed with level or diving movement, and differs from both the normal fast agile flight of this species and the more dipping action of larger thrushes.


Breeding

The male common blackbird attracts the female with a courtship display which consists of oblique runs combined with head-bowing movements, an open beak, and a "strangled" low song. The female remains motionless until she raises her head and tail to permit copulation. This species is monogamous, and the established pair will usually stay together as long as they both survive. Pair separation rates of up to 20% have been noted following poor breeding. Although the species is socially monogamous, there have been studies showing as much as 17% extra-pair paternity. The nominate ''T. merula'' may commence breeding in March, but eastern and Indian races are a month or more later, and the introduced New Zealand birds start nesting in August (late winter). The breeding pair prospects for a suitable nest site in a creeper or bush, favouring evergreen or thorny species such as ivy,
holly ''Ilex'' (), or holly, is a genus of over 570 species of flowering plants in the family (biology), family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. ''Ilex'' has the most species of any woody dioecious angiosperm genus. The speci ...
, hawthorn,
honeysuckle Honeysuckles are arching shrubs or Vine#Twining vines, twining vines in the genus ''Lonicera'' () of the family Caprifoliaceae, native to northern latitudes in North America and Eurasia. Approximately 180 species of honeysuckle have been identi ...
or pyracantha. Sometimes the birds will nest in sheds or outbuildings where a ledge or cavity is used. The cup-shaped
nest A nest is a structure built for certain animals to hold Egg (biology), eggs or young. Although nests are most closely associated with birds, members of all classes of vertebrates and some invertebrates construct nests. They may be composed of ...
is made with grasses, leaves and other vegetation, bound together with mud. It is built by the female alone. She lays three to five (usually four) bluish-green
eggs Humans and human ancestors have scavenged and eaten animal eggs for millions of years. Humans in Southeast Asia had domesticated chickens and harvested their eggs for food by 1,500 BCE. The most widely consumed eggs are those of fowl, especial ...
marked with reddish-brown blotches, heaviest at the larger end; the eggs of nominate ''T. merula'' are on average in size and weigh , of which 6% is shell. Eggs of birds of the southern Indian races are paler than those from the northern subcontinent and Europe. The female incubates for 12–14 days before the
altricial In biology, altricial species are those in which the young are underdeveloped at the time of birth, but with the aid of their parents mature after birth. Precocial species are those in which the young are relatively mature and mobile from the mome ...
chicks are hatched naked and blind. Fledging takes another 10–19 (average 13.6) days, with both parents feeding the young and removing faecal sacs. The nest is often ill-concealed compared with those of other species, and many breeding attempts fail due to predation. The young are fed by the parents for up to three weeks after leaving the nest, and will follow the adults begging for food. If the female starts another nest, the male alone will feed the fledged young. Second broods are common, with the female reusing the same nest if the brood was successful, and three broods may be raised in the south of the common blackbird's range. A common blackbird has an average
life expectancy Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time an organism is expected to live, based on the year of its birth, current age, and other demographic factors like sex. The most commonly used measure is life expectancy at birth ...
of 2.4 years, and, based on data from
bird ringing Birds are a group of warm-blooded Warm-blooded is an informal term referring to animal species which can maintain a body temperature higher than their environment. In particular, homeothermy, homeothermic species maintain a stable bo ...
, the oldest recorded age is 21 years and 10 months.


Song and calls

In its native
Northern Hemisphere The Northern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is north of the Equator. For other planets in the Solar System, north is defined as being in the same celestial hemisphere relative to the invariable plane of the solar system as Earth's North ...
range, the first-year male common blackbird of the nominate race may start singing as early as late January in fine weather in order to establish a territory, followed in late March by the adult male. The male's song is a varied and melodious low-pitched fluted warble, given from trees, rooftops or other elevated perches mainly in the period from March to June, sometimes into the beginning of July. It has a number of other calls, including an aggressive ''seee'', a ''pook-pook-pook'' alarm for terrestrial predators like cats, and various ''chink'' and ''chook, chook'' vocalisations. The territorial male invariably gives ''chink-chink'' calls in the evening in an attempt (usually unsuccessful) to deter other blackbirds from roosting in its territory overnight. During the northern winter, blackbirds can be heard quietly singing to themselves. Like other passerine birds, it has a thin high ''seeet'' alarm call for threats from
birds of prey Birds of prey or predatory birds, also known as raptors, are hypercarnivorous bird species that actively predation, hunt and feed on other vertebrates (mainly mammals, reptiles and other smaller birds). In addition to speed and strength, these p ...
since the sound is rapidly attenuated in vegetation, making the source difficult to locate. In urban and suburban environments with high levels of anthropogenic noise, such as near airports, blackbirds have been observed modifying their song to successfully compensate and compete with the noise, singing for longer periods of time, at a higher volume, and earlier during their area's dawn chorus, when environmental sounds are less prominent.


Feeding

The common blackbird is
omnivorous An omnivore () is an animal that has the ability to eat and survive on both plant and animal matter. Obtaining energy and nutrients from plant and animal matter, omnivores digest carbohydrates, protein, fat, and Dietary fiber, fiber, and metab ...
, eating a wide range of insects, spiders,
snail A snail is, in loose terms, a shelled gastropod. The name is most often applied to land snails, terrestrial molluscs, terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs. However, the common name ''snail'' is also used for most of the members of the m ...
s,
earthworm An earthworm is a terrestrial invertebrate that belongs to the phylum Annelida. They exhibit a tube-within-a-tube body plan; they are externally segmented with corresponding internal segmentation; and they usually have setae on all segments. The ...

earthworm
s, seeds, berries and other fruits. It feeds mainly on the ground, running and hopping with a start-stop-start progress. It pulls earthworms from the soil, usually finding them by sight, but sometimes by hearing, and roots through leaf litter for other
invertebrate Invertebrates are a paraphyletic group of animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column (commonly known as a ''backbone'' or ''spine''), derived from the notochord. This is a grouping including all animals apart from the chordata, ...
s. Small
amphibian Amphibians are tetrapod, four-limbed and ectothermic vertebrates of the Class (biology), class Amphibia. All living amphibians belong to the group Lissamphibia. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, with most species living within terres ...
s, lizards and (on rare occasions) small
mammals Mammals () are a group of vertebrate animals constituting the class (biology), class Mammalia (), characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in Female#Mammalian female, females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a ...
are occasionally hunted. This species will also perch in bushes to take berries and collect
caterpillar Caterpillars ( ) are the larva, larval stage of members of the order Lepidoptera (the insect order comprising butterfly, butterflies and moths). As with most common names, the application of the word is arbitrary, since the larvae of sawfly ...
s and other active insects, such as
beetle Beetles are insects that form the Taxonomic rank, order Coleoptera (), in the superorder Endopterygota. Their front pair of wings are hardened into wing-cases, Elytron, elytra, distinguishing them from most other insects. The Coleoptera, wit ...
s and
grasshopper Grasshoppers are a group of insects belonging to the suborder Caelifera. They are among what is possibly the most ancient living group of chewing herbivorous insects, dating back to the early Triassic around 250 million years ago. Grasshoppe ...
s. Animal prey predominates, and is particularly important during the breeding season, with windfall apples and berries taken more in the autumn and winter. The nature of the fruit taken depends on what is locally available, and frequently includes exotics in gardens. As the blackbird lives in proximity to urbanized areas, it likely supplements its diet with man-made food.


Natural threats

Near human habitation the main predator of the common blackbird is the domestic cat, with newly fledged young especially vulnerable. Foxes and predatory birds, such as the
sparrowhawk Sparrowhawk (sometimes sparrow hawk) may refer to several species of small hawk in the genus ''Accipiter''. "Sparrow-hawk" or sparhawk originally referred to ''Eurasian sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus'', now called "Eurasian" or "northern" sparrowha ...
and other
accipiter ''Accipiter'' is a genus Genus ( plural genera ) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of extant taxon, living and fossil organisms as well as Virus classification#ICTV classification, viruses. In the hierarchy of biologica ...
s, also take this species when the opportunity arises. However, there is little direct evidence to show that either predation of the adult blackbirds or loss of the eggs and chicks to
corvids Corvidae is a Cosmopolitan distribution, cosmopolitan family (biology), family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crows, ravens, rook (bird), rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcracker (bird), nutcrackers. In coll ...
, such as the
European magpie The Eurasian magpie or common magpie (''Pica pica'') is a resident breeding bird throughout the northern part of the Palearctic, Eurasian continent. It is one of several birds in the Corvidae, crow family (corvids) designated magpies, and belong ...
or
Eurasian jay The Eurasian jay (''Garrulus glandarius'') is a species of passerine bird in the crow family Corvidae. It has pinkish brown plumage with a black stripe on each side of a whitish throat, a bright blue panel on the upper wing and a black tail. The ...
, decrease population numbers. This species is occasionally a host of
parasitic Parasitism is a Symbiosis, close relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or inside another organism, the Host (biology), host, causing it some harm, and is Adaptation, adapted structurally to this way of lif ...
cuckoos, such as the common cuckoo (''Cuculus canorus''), but this is minimal because the common blackbird recognizes the adult of the parasitic species and its mimicry, non-mimetic eggs. In the UK, only three nests of 59,770 examined (0.005%) contained cuckoo eggs. The introduced ''merula'' blackbird in New Zealand, where the cuckoo does not occur, has, over the past 130 years, lost the ability to recognize the adult common cuckoo but still rejects non-mimetic eggs. As with other passerine birds, parasites are common. Intestinal parasites were found in 88% of common blackbirds, most frequently ''Isospora'' and ''Capillaria (nematode), Capillaria'' species. and more than 80% had haematozoan parasites (''Leucocytozoon'', ''Plasmodium'', ''Haemoproteus'' and ''Trypanosoma'' species). Common blackbirds spend much of their time looking for food on the ground where they can become infested with ticks, which are external parasites that most commonly attach to the head of a blackbird. In France, 74% of rural blackbirds were found to be infested with ''Ixodes'' ticks, whereas, only 2% of blackbirds living in urban habitats were infested. This is partly because it is more difficult for ticks to find another host on lawns and gardens in urban areas than in uncultivated rural areas, and partly because ticks are likely to be commoner in rural areas, where a variety of tick hosts, such as foxes, deer and boar, are more numerous. Although ixodid ticks can transmit pathogenic viruses and bacteria, and are known to transmit ''Borrelia'' bacteria to birds, there is no evidence that this affects the fitness of blackbirds except when they are exhausted and run down after migration. The common blackbird is one of a number of species which has unihemispheric slow-wave sleep. One hemisphere of the brain is effectively asleep, while a low-voltage Electroencephalography, EEG, characteristic of wakefulness, is present in the other. The benefit of this is that the bird can rest in areas of high predation or during long migratory flights, but still retain a degree of alertness.


Status and conservation

The common blackbird has an extensive range, estimated at 32.4 million square kilometres (12.5 million square miles), and a large population, including an estimated 110 to 174 million individuals in Europe alone. The species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations), and is therefore evaluated as least concern In the western Palearctic, populations are generally stable or increasing, p. 1215–1218 but there have been local declines, especially on farmland, which may be due to agricultural policies that encouraged farmers to remove hedgerows (which provide nesting places), and to drain damp grassland and increase the use of pesticides, both of which could have reduced the availability of invertebrate food. The common blackbird was introduced to Australia by a bird dealer visiting Melbourne in early 1857, and its range has expanded from its initial foothold in Melbourne and Adelaide to include all of southeastern Australia, including Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. The introduced population in Australia is considered a pest because it damages a variety of soft fruits in orchards, parks and gardens, including berries, cherries, stone fruit and grapes.Clarke, G. M.; Gross, S., Matthews, M.; Catling, P. C.; Baker, B.; Hewitt, C. L.; Crowther, D.; Saddler, S. R. (2000), ''Environmental Pest Species in Australia'', Australia: State of the Environment, Second Technical Paper Series (Biodiversity), Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra. It is thought to spread weeds, such as blackberry, and may compete with native birds for food and nesting sites. The introduced common blackbird is, together with the native silvereye (''Zosterops lateralis''), the most widely distributed avian seed disperser in New Zealand. Introduced there along with the
song thrush The song thrush (''Turdus philomelos'') is a Thrush (bird), thrush that breeds across the West Palearctic. It has brown upper-parts and black-spotted cream or buff underparts and has three recognised subspecies. Its distinctive Birdsong, song, ...

song thrush
(''Turdus philomelos'') in 1862, it has spread throughout the country up to an elevation of , as well as outlying islands such as the Campbell Island group, Campbell and Kermadec Islands, Kermadecs.Falla, R. A., R. B. Sibson, and E. G. Turbott (1979). ''The new guide to the birds of New Zealand and outlying islands''. Collins, Auckland. It eats a wide range of native and exotic fruit, and makes a major contribution to the development of communities of naturalised woody weeds. These communities provide fruit more suited to non-endemic native birds and naturalised birds than to Endemism, endemic birds.


In popular culture

The common blackbird was seen as a sacred though destructive bird in Classical Greek folklore, and was said to die if it consumed pomegranates. Like many other small birds, it has in the past been trapped in rural areas at its night roosts as an easily available addition to the diet, and in medieval times the practice of placing live birds under a pie crust just before serving may have been the origin of the familiar nursery rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh, wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The common blackbird's melodious, distinctive song is mentioned in the poem ''Adlestrop'' by Edward Thomas (poet), Edward Thomas;
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
In the English Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas (song), The Twelve Days of Christmas", the line commonly sung today as "four calling birds" is believed to have originally been written in the 18th century as "four colly birds", an archaism meaning "black as coal" that was a popular English nickname for the common blackbird. The common blackbird, unlike many black creatures, is not normally seen as a symbol of bad luck, but R. S. Thomas wrote that there is "a suggestion of dark Places about it", and it symbolised resignation in the 17th century tragedy, tragic play ''The Duchess of Malfi''; an alternate connotation is vigilance, the bird's clear cry warning of danger. The common blackbird is the List of national birds, national bird of Sweden, which has a breeding population of 1–2 million pairs, and was featured on a 30 öre Christmas postage stamp in 1970; it has also featured on a number of other stamps issued by European and Asian countries, including a 1966 4d British stamp and a 1998 Irish 30p stamp. This bird—arguably—also gives rise to the Serbian language, Serbian name for Kosovo, which is the possessive adjectival form of Serbian ("blackbird"), as in Kosovo field (Kosovo), Kosovo polje ("Blackbird's Field"). A common blackbird can be heard singing on the Beatles song "Blackbird (Beatles song), Blackbird".


References


Further reading

* David Snow (ornithologist), Snow, David W. (1987). ''The Blackbird''. Shire Natural History *


External links


Species information


BBC Science & Nature – Blackbird, with song clip
(archive)
Birds of Britain – Blackbird

Madeira Birdwatching – Information on subspecies ''cabrerae''

RSPB – Blackbird, including video and sound clips

iberCaja Classroom Network – Blackbird ageing and sexing
(archived PDF; 5.3 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta & Gerd-Michael Heinze


Sounds and videos

*
Blackbird videos, photos & sounds
on the Internet Bird Collection
Other blackbird songs on ''Sonatura''


Images


ARKive – Blackbird still images
(archive) {{Authority control Turdus, common blackbird Birds of Europe Birds of Central Asia Birds of Oceania Birds described in 1758, common blackbird Taxa named by Carl Linnaeus, common blackbird