Spring – Season of the Blackbird

I thought I would dedicate a post to the world’s best bird (okay, just my opinion). The Blackbird Turdus merula. And here’s why I love them so much…

They may not have the epic migrations and mind-boggling life on the wing such as Arctic terns or swifts. They may not have the flamboyant colours of kingfishers or tropical birds. And they don’t have the wooing artistry skills of bowerbirds. But as I live in built up suburbia this songster’s serenade transports me to woodland and does wonders for my mind. I recall a recent episode of Winter Watch and Dr Amir Khan stating that birdsong helps us release serotonin and dopamine, he described these as ‘happy brain chemicals’ and a study by the National Trust showed that people who listen to birdsong for just ten minutes are at least 30% more relaxed after. I certainly agree with that. When I listen to birdsong I can physically feel my shoulders drop, my breathing slows down and no doubt my heart rate too. And Mr B’s song is sublime.

When I hear Mr B, the sound of aeroplanes, mowers and drone of distant motorway or nearby roads isn’t as prominent. I just focus on a multitude of notes. Just recently on my late afternoon walks around the housing estate I heard the chipping and chirping of Mr B, like he was warming up for the season. And within a few weeks he will be in full song, morning and evening.

Female blackbirds are dark brown and can have pale and lightly speckled throats and breast. The male’s orangey yellow beak and eye rim against his sleek black feathers is rather striking. I discovered that first year males are a duller black and their bill is not as bright. It is said the more orange the beak the more attractive to females, as apparently it signals his good foraging skills. And I found out from Animal Diversity the pigment in a male’s beak comes from the quantity of carotenoids in his diet.

Juveniles are brown and have more speckles.

I often used to see Mr B with his young.

Found across Europe, North Africa and introduced to Australia and New Zealand during the 1800s, blackbirds like a variety of habitat, including gardens, parks and woodland, and over the last couple of centuries they’ve moved into more urban areas.

According to the Wildlife Trusts there are over 5 million pairs in the UK but numbers increase during winter when blackbirds from Scandinavia join our resident birds to escape the extreme cold.

In years gone by ‘our’ Mr B, has given us many fanfare blasts, my favourites were: ‘Deed-up, Deed-up’ & ‘Doo-doo-doo-do’. Then a long melodic piece with all the complexity of an 18th century composer, followed by a delightful ‘twirling, twizzle’ on the end. That year I referred to him as Mr Twizzle. His repertoire varies slightly from year to year. I doubt it’s my original Mr B, given that they only live for around 3-4 years, but could it be one of his descendants?

Young male blackbirds can sing as early as January but the more mature birds join in around March. I know in a matter of weeks he’ll be belting out his song and firmly staking his territory.  Whilst not the first bird that comes to mind when we think of mimicry, blackbirds certainly mimic sounds and phrases such as car alarms and even human beings. I recall my parents telling me in years gone by that their resident blackbird sang the same tune as the fans on the terraces of their local football team!

I read a delightful story in the Guardian, about a family in Colchester in the 1940’s and how the mother would whistle four notes to call her children back in. The resident blackbird’s chosen vantage point was close to the house and he’d copy her tune. It got passed on to other blackbirds in the area and the ditty was sang for another thirteen years!

Blackbird numbers appear to be stable despite a decline of 15% since the 1970’s but be complacent with this bird at your peril. We need to take heed from catastrophic losses with birds we once took for granted – Migratory birds such as the Nightingale; the bird with a thousand sounds has declined in the UK by 90% in just over fifty years and can now only be heard singing in isolated pockets of the south-east. The soft ‘purring’ of the Turtle dove has declined in the UK by 98%, it could be gone from the British countryside altogether in my lifetime. How sad.  Garden birds I used to see regularly or in abundance such as the Starling have now declined by 71%, Song thrush by 56%, Bullfinch by 53% and countryside birds I grew up with; Skylark down by 52% all within thirty years. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and sadly it’s not alone when it comes to drastically declining bird numbers, nearly 3 billion individual birds have gone from North America since 1970 and up to 620 million gone across Europe since 1980 according to Discover Wildlife. And can you guess what is responsible for that decline? Yes, humanity – destruction of habitat, pollution, intensive agricultural methods and cocktails of pesticides, invasive species and climate change. Cherish the birds that sing and visit your garden. Whatever the species.

What can we do to help?

  • If you have the space plant with nature in mind – shrubs, hedges, climbers and trees are excellent nesting sites and berries are a great food source.
  • Whatever space you have available, bird boxes are an ideal option. See RSPB’s advice on hole size and location.
  • Put out birdfeeders – fill and clean frequently with warm soapy water.
  • Provide a clean water source daily and if it’s a dish or a bird bath, again clean regularly.
  • A variety of bird food will attract different species: seed, sunflower hearts, suet nibbles, peanuts, fruit such as apple, pear, sultanas and raisins (away from dogs though as dried fruit can be toxic).  
  • Bird tables are great for ground feeding species, like the blackbird.
  • Leave many plants to go to seed, such as teasels and dandelions – our goldfinches love them!
  • For more details on attracting garden birds and types of food the RSPB and BTO have helpful tips.


Male blackbirds set up a territory in their first year and occupy this for the rest of their lives. He’ll defend his area as this will be for pairing up with a female and raising chicks.

The nesting season is from March – July and they rear 2 – 3 broods but can have 4 broods in a good year. I read nesting starts earlier in gardens than in woodland and the RSPB says ‘weather determines the timing of the breeding season’. I wonder if this goes for their song too? As when I’ve been out on my early evening walk down the street, I didn’t hear the blackbirds when it was really cold but on more clement evenings they’ve been very vocal.

Nest building is undertaken by the female, it’s cup shaped and made of straw, plant materials and mud. She then lines it with fine grass and around a fortnight later when it’s complete it’ll be ready for 3 – 5 eggs. The female incubates them and hatching happens 13 – 14 days later. Both parents feed the chicks and this is when I see Mr B deserving ‘Dad of the Year’ award. Constantly back and forth to the nest, beak full of worms, defending his territory, seeing off rivals and voicing loud alarm calls when cats are about. Interestingly, garden blackbird chicks are mainly fed earthworms, where as chicks raised in woodland have a diet largely of caterpillars.

Blackbird Folklore

I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Sleeping Plants and Lively Birds the lovely Italian folktale of the blackbird but one nursery rhyme that’s really intrigued me is, Sing a Song of Sixpence. I remember my Nan’s blackbird pie whistle…

…And it got me thinking of this old nursery rhyme. Where did it come from? After some research I’m still none the wiser as there are different theories. It appears in mediaeval Europe, live birds were put into pies so they could fly out when the pie is cut! Hmmm, think we’ll leave that one in the history books. I discovered the cook would bake an empty pie; put the blackbirds inside then a pastry lid on top, thus, a culinary surprise between courses. Like a show off piece.

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 king was in his counting house counting out his money.
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

Old English Nursery Rhyme

Another belief is that the Queen represents the moon, the king the sun and the number of blackbirds are the hours in a day. Or that blackbirds symbolised monks during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon symbolising the Queen, and Anne Boleyn, his second wife as the maid.

Another theory seems to relate to pirates. Suggesting the rhyme was a coded message to acquire new crew. It’s said, the blackbirds are in fact the famous pirate Blackbeard’s men and the pie is their ship where they hide.

Lastly, the Museum of London says during the late 1800s dockworkers had their own version of Sing a Song of Sixpence when they went on strike.

I often daydream that in another life my amateur interests and passions in this life would be my work and vocation. I’m either an entomologist specialising in bees and hoverflies or an expert on the blackbird – we can dream can’t we? It’s a world where my body is healthy and pain free and I travel to places to further understand the delightful blackbird. My PhD would be on his song. I would decipher every trill, pip and whistle. Then an element of sadness falls upon me, because in the spring of 2018, just after completing my first assignment on bumblebees with Manchester Metropolitan University I was about to embark on my next project – birds. And of course, you’ve guessed which bird I would have focused on. But by the summer of that year I became so ill I was unable to walk. I don’t want to get sad or angry as that’s not healthy, so often I swallow it down. But that’s not healthy either. When things fester they manifest elsewhere in the body or mind and it’s certainly not good for mental health. This all led me to find a community of people like me in the UK, Quintox Support. I’m not always in touch with them as I don’t want this painful condition and debilitating circumstances to consume my life. However, when it feels overwhelming, that’s when it’s good to have a community that understands. The rest of the time I bathe in nature and this time of year has to be my favourite. From treetops to rooftops the blackbird warms up his song. And like the unfurling buds around him, the beauty of spring unfolds.

I leave you with a wonderful quote from one of the world’s best crime writers just before his death, Swedish author, Henning Mankell –

“I have heard the blackbird. I have lived.”

Henning Mankell


























20 thoughts on “Spring – Season of the Blackbird

  1. Gosh such an interesting post. I like Dr Khan’s advice too – and his highlighting of the power of nature is so worthwhile.
    I inherited the exact same pie blackbird. from my mother!
    It’s wonderful to hear the shrill song of our garden Blackbirds!
    E 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the link! I’ll have a listen! You are welcome! I know how precious it is when someone reads your blog and take the time to leave a comment ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m also a bird lover. One of my favorite birds is the Uguisu- it’s a warbler. Such a magical sound! I’m going to look up your bird here on YouTube- maybe I can listen to it🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I had to choose a favourite piece of music, it would be the blackbird’s song! I’m very glad to have found your beautiful blog, there is so much that resonates deeply with me and I’m enjoying reading my way through your posts. Have a lovely weekend! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful post about this lovely bird! I can see how much love it. I didn’t know about the territory, the men build. I love it too when they sing. 2017 a pair was breeding on my balcony in the 3rd floor. It was so nice and exciting, because the young ones left the nest in a thunderstorm! I was shocked, but apparently the birds were wiser than me 😉 And for a while I had a female Blackbird as a guest up here. She was almost tame, landed nearly on my foot. So wonderful! I miss those times. Since then the Blackbirds are rare in the garden (it is a garden that belongs to appartement houses and it isn’t watered the whole year through). The drought over the last 5 years cast them out and Usutu had decimated them. But this year we have lots of rain and now they come back in the garden, which makes me happy 🙂 Luckily many people around here put bowls with water out for the birds and they use it happily. Thank you for this post and I wish you a lot of joy with all the birds in your garden, and especially with your Mr. and Mrs. B 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post 🙂 They are such a joy & how lucky you were to have them so close to you. Happy times indeed 🙂 I had to look up Usutu, that is dreadful, really heart-breaking. I don’t know what I’d do & sadly it looks as though it arrived in London 2020. We’ve had lots of casualties of coastal birds due to Avian flu & I’ll now listen out for further news on Usutu, thank you. I’m so pleased they’re arriving back in your gardens after the rain & it warms my heart people put out water & like yourself, get so much joy from them too. Thank you for taking the time to comment & enjoy the birdlife where you are 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. About Usutu I can comfort you a bit. As it seems there was a declining of bird population, but at the moment it looks a bit better again. I found a map and saw, that in 2018 it was very bad in the region of Hannover (now I know why I saw so less birds then!) and in the northwest in general. I heard about immunity some birds develop, so maybe in the future it will get better for the Blackbirds again. I really hope so! I see and hear much more of them this winter than before 🙂 And on the birds counting day 2023 people in Lower-Saxony even counted the most Blackbirds in Germany. So maybe it needs time for the bird population to recover! We shouldn’t give up hope 🙂 Please enjoy your birdlife too! It makes us happy, doesn’t it?!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much for alleviating the worry of your declining bird populations. It seems birds, like us, have also gone through their own pandemic & I’m so pleased they are now recovering in Germany! And as always, yes, we must never give up hope, thank you 🙂

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