The Common Blackbird, or (Turdus merula) as it’s known scientifically, is a common sight across a massive range in Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. This charming bird is a proud member of the ‘Turdus‘ genus, which is quite large, made up of 65 extant species. Together with 16 other genera and a total of 175 species, these birds make up the ‘Turdidae‘ family of thrush birds, which in turn belong to the order of ‘Passeriformes‘.
Within the ‘Turdus‘ genus, the Common Blackbird is represented by a total of 7 subspecies, each adapting and thriving in its specific environment.
Appearance & Characteristics of the Common Blackbird
The Common Blackbird is a bird with striking contrasts between the sexes. The males boast a glossy black plumage, with a vivid yellow eye-ring and beak. The females and the juveniles on the other hand, wear a more subdued, brown plumage.
Typically, these small to medium sized birds weigh between 80-125 grams are around 23-29 cm long and have a wingspan of between 34-38 cm in maturity.
Their song is their standout feature, and one that we in their native Northern Hemisphere range can hear for up to 10 months of the year. Their songs are both incredibly varied and melodious, making them a delightful songbirds to have around your neighbourhood.
Distribution – Location and Habitat
The Common Blackbird is found widespread across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. This is their native range, though they have also been introduced by humans to Australia and New Zealand. They have learned to thrive in these countries too, having adapted some behaviours and habits to suit the new environment.
They are a species that coexist very well with humans in urban settings, we are often the source – be it in our gardens or our bins – of ample food. They also thrive away from humans too, with a very adaptable diet and little demand for specific needs for nesting.
The Lifestyle & Behaviour of the Common Blackbird
The Common Blackbird is renowned for their varied and melodious songs. It’s not for our benefit though, it is their main method of communication. They use their call to attract potential mates, to set boundaries and to warn of threats amongst other situations. They even sing to themselves in winter! Young blackbirds that are setting out for their first mating season may start singing earlier in the year than others, to establish their territory.
They do exhibit a high level of intelligence, but not as much as some other black birds such as crows and ravens. They are somewhat solitary, often seen alone or in small, intimate groups, marking territories which they defend vehemently. Usually if you see a group of blackbirds it is a family, with the monogamous parents preparing the young with the skills for their lives ahead.
Their lifestyle is a blend of diurnal and nocturnal behaviours, mostly active by day but some populations also observed venturing out after sunset.
Diet & Nutrition of the Common Blackbird
The Common Blackbird is an omnivore and has quite a wide diet. It hunts primarily by foraging on the ground, meticulously flipping leaves and debris to uncover insects, worms, and other invertebrates. They will even pluck earthworms that they spot, directly from the soil. In some habitats across their range, they will eat more small amphibians and lizards, or carrion from small mammals. They might even hunt small mammals but this is rare.
They will also subsidise this diet of small creatures with berries and other fruits when they are in season, but it is usually the meaty diet that they regurgitate for their young.
Predators & Threats to the Common Blackbird
The population of common blackbirds is thriving, but they are not without threats. They are relatively small birds and have plenty of predators in the wild. Foxes are one of their main land predators, but most of their attackers come from the sky. The sparrow hawk, the crow and the magpie are three of the most notable birds that will prey on the blackbird or their nests. But their are many predators across their massive range.
For those that live near humans, domestic pets, and particularly domestic cats are the biggest predator of these birds. Especially those that choose to nest near gardens or parks in built up residential areas.
The Common Blackbird Reproduction
Common blackbirds typically breed between March to July. The male, much to our delight is particularly vocal at this time. They will serenade potential mates with their melodious and varied songs, often from an elevated perch to broadcast his vitality.
Once a pair forms, they engage in a monogamous relationship throughout the breeding season, with the male actively defending their territory and the female meticulously crafting a nest using materials like grass, twigs, and mud, often concealed in dense shrubbery for protection.
After successful mating, the oviparous female will lay between 3-5 greenish-blue eggs, with reddish-brown specks. The incubation period lasts for about 12-14 days, and the female can have two or three broods in a season. During the incubation period, the female diligently safeguards the eggs, while the male stands sentinel, protecting his mate and future offspring.
Once hatched, the chicks are blind and helpless, but this doesn’t last for long. They undergo a rapid development, opening their eyes and sprouting feathers within a few days, ready to explore the world outside the nest in about 13-15 days.
Even after fledging, the young blackbirds continue to depend on their parents for nourishment and guidance for several more weeks, learning the skills they need, as well as honing their song so they can survive and find a mate of their own.
Lifespan of the Common Blackbird
The average lifespan of a Common Blackbird is between 2-3 years, with some exceptional individuals living to 4 years of age. In very rare cases they might live longer lives, with one recorded by the RSPB as having reached over 21 years old!
Environmental conditions, such as the availability of suitable nesting areas and ample food supply do impact longevity. But these are very adaptable birds.
Population and Conservation
Currently, the Common Blackbird is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. As of the most recent assessment in 2016, this is one species where the population trend is increasing rather than decreasing. There are local declines, usually due to the use of pesticides and the change in agricultural methods. But as a whole, this is one species that across their massive range, are thriving.
5 Fun Common Blackbird Facts for Kids
- Common Blackbirds can imitate the sounds of other birds and even mimic human-made noises!
- They absolutely love to bathe and can often be spotted joyfully splashing around in bird baths.
- The males are renowned for their beautiful and varied songs, serenading their surroundings.
- They are intelligent birds, but not as much as other black birds belonging to the Corvidae family, such as the hooded crow (Corvus cornix)
- Not all Common Blackbirds are black – the females and the juveniles are brown!
The 7 Subspecies Of Common Blackbird
|Turdus merula merula||Europe, Iceland, Faroes, British Isles, Nile Valley||Nominate subspecies; males all black, females dark brown; may be resident, partially or fully migratory|
|Turdus merula azorensis||Azores||Smaller; males are darker and glossier than T. m. merula|
|Turdus merula cabrerae||Madeira and the western Canary Islands||Resembles T. m. azorensis|
|Turdus merula mauritanicus||Central and northern Morocco, coastal Algeria, northern Tunisia||Small, dark subspecies with glossy black male plumage|
|Turdus merula aterrimus||Hungary, south and east to southern Greece, Crete, northern Turkey, northern Iran||Smaller than T. m. merula, duller male and paler female plumage|
|Turdus merula syriacus||Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey to Jordan, Israel, northern Sinai||Darker and greyer than equivalent T. m. merula plumages|
|Turdus merula intermedius||Central Russia to Tajikistan, western and northeastern Afghanistan, eastern China||Large, with a sooty-black male and a blackish-brown female|