Friday, January 3, 2020

An Apple A Day

Here’s wishing every one my readers a Happy, Prosperous, Optimistic and Bird Filled New Year. 

The first post of 2020 concerns the common Blackbird Turdus merula. 

The Blackbird is ubiquitous in these parts, so common that it rarely makes the bird headlines. On a Rarity Scale of one to ten the mundane and seemingly uninteresting Blackbird scores a resounding zero to most birders. 

Since early December there have been lots of Blackbirds in my garden with an average count of 15 on any given day but now in the New Year down to a handful. But on dull, rainy days I’ve taken a closer look at the numbers together with their diverse appearance and behaviour. 


Our Blackbird is also called Eurasian Blackbird, especially in North America. This is to distinguish it from unrelated New World icterids (e.g tanagers) and species that have “blackbird” in their title (e.g. Red-winged Blackbird, Melodious Blackbird), birds which have a superficial resemblance to the Blackbird even though they are unrelated by evolution. 


It may not be immediately apparent why the name "blackbird", first recorded in 1486, was applied to this species and not to one of the other common black English birds, such as the Carrion Crow, Raven, Rook, or Jackdaw.  In Old English, and in 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 the only widespread and conspicuous "black bird" in the British Isles. (Wiki).


Turdus merula breeds in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and has a number of subspecies across its large range; a few of the Asian subspecies are sometimes considered to be full species. The Blackbird is but one member of the genus Turdus, one of  about 65 species of medium to large thrushes dotted around the world.  Depending on latitude, the common Blackbird may be resident, partially migratory, or fully migratory. 

In the last four weeks Blackbirds, resident, migratory or maybe even fully migratory cleaned me out of apples, not a six-pack from Tesco, but dozens and dozens of windfalls left in the garden since September. 

During early September we, the family and neighbours took our fill of this year’s bumper crop of Granny Smiths until apple crumble, apple pie, apple charlotte, baked apple, apple cake and fried apples came out of our ears.  Just along Grange Lane our friend Stinky the Pig welcomed a few bags of slightly bruised apples and grunted in delight at our generosity. 


Blackbirds eat apples and many types of soft fruit. I know from experience that they like blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, cherries grapes, plums, damsons and even kiwi fruit. They don’t seem keen on pineapple - very wise; neither do I - more so when it defaces a crusty pizza. 



In Australia where the Blackbird was introduced in the 19th century it is now considered a pest because it damages a variety of soft fruits in orchards, parks and gardens including berries, cherries, stone fruit and grapes. 

Meanwhile and by the middle of September when we left for a Greek holiday all the fallen apples were deliberately left for the onset of cold weather and the annual arrival of thrushes. By early December it was good to see 15/20 Blackbirds on most days, the only member of the thrush tribe, with no garden sightings of Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing or Fieldfare. We had few days of real frost, ice or snow during that period. 


And now in January 2020 as the apples have shrunk to morsels of apple skin and not much else, the Blackbirds have mostly left in search of other bounty. 

There’s been the full range of Blackbirds. Both male and female adults, first winters of both sexes, black ones, brown ones and grey toned ones. We’ve had males & females with yellow bills, and then dark-billed Blackbirds of both sexes. Size was apparent with both large and small Blackbirds, plus some of intermediate size. 


The large ones, especially the yellow-billed males, threw their weight around by way of chasing off the less dominant dark bills from an apple that they themselves took a liking to. I suspect these were local birds defending both an apple and their familiar winter territory. 

Females have seemed less aggressive, submissive even, in allowing themselves to be chased away from an apple and content to find an alternative. Meanwhile larger females would also chase away other females and even less dominant males. 

There’s no doubt that many, many dozens of Blackbirds took advantage of our apple bonanza and that a number of them were "Continental Blackbirds", winter immigrants escaping the colder temperatures of Europe. 





Yep!  Blackbirds are definitely worth a second look.  A 1/10 if ever I saw one.

Linking today to Anni's Birding in Texas and also to Eileen's Saturday Blogging. Take a look and join in.


Mike Attwood said...

Very interesting Phil. I've got two that are regulars and will soon be eating out of my hand they are so trusting. Best wishes to you too.

Shiju Sugunan said...

Beautiful pics! I had seen an Indian Blackbird last winter, here in Bangalore. You can see it here.

eileeninmd said...


Great post and photos on your Eurasian Blackbird. It is great to have a bumper crop of apples, for desserts, Stinky and for the birds to eat.
They are handsome birds. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your day and weekend. PS, thanks so much for visiting my blog.

Anu said...

Hello Phil. Interesting text and beautiful photos. Thank you. In the spring, I like song of blackbirds. Blackbird's song is so beautiful.
Happy New Year!

Elkes Lebensglück said...

you show beautiful birds again and interesting what you write!
greetings Elke

Jenn Jilks said...

I tried planting a couple of apple trees for the birds, but one died! I'm so sad. Our cherry tree died, too. It was a favourite.
I love the various colours of the species.

(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

We see a lot of birds eating berries on the trails now. Interesting to note the apples as a popular food for these Blackbirds. They are very eye catching! Happy New year!

Rhodesia said...

I love the blackbirds, we usually have 4 to 6 hopping around the garden, I find they are not generally interested in the seed though at times I do see them on the ground under the feeder. With all the rain we have had I think they are easily finding worms at present. I have to admit I have never noticed them at our fallen apples!! Hope you are well, Diane

Lea said...

Great photos!
And thanks for the explanation of "bird" and "fowl"
Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

Linda said...

It was fun seeing Stinky the Pig!

Lea said...

Thanks for your visit and comment on my blog. As for my Hawk-Buteo photo. I can not be sure about the ID, but I think it might be a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus. Or maybe a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis. Both are common hawks here.

Anni said...

Wow...great images Phil. Even of grunting Stinky! Ohhhh, and pineapple on pizza? Never. And thanks for bringing them, the blackbirds, to our attention this week, at I'd Rather B Birdin

betty-NZ said...

I love watching blackbirds around the house, They are amazing to watch and very smart.

My Corner of the World

The Ornery Old Lady said...

I've never seen a blackbird in this area. I do like them. I also like Stinky, what a cool creature. And I don't care what anyone else thinks, I like pineapple, and I like it on pizza.

Wally Jones said...

Here I am playing catch-up once again. The holidays were much more eventful than planned. Annual bird counts, family visits and Gini and I couldn't afford gifts so we exchanged the flu virus this year. Both just now recovering.

So, my excuses out of the way, I've gone through two cups of coffee reading the past several posts. I really like them all, of course, as they exhibit the brilliance we have all come to expect. Today's discussion of the Blackbird is not only historically interesting and pictorially stimulating, it has resulted in pangs of jealousy that you can walk out of your door and enjoy fresh apples.

Your essay, "Doom And Gloom", has been printed and taped to my wall in order that I can point to it to prove to visitors that I am not the only cynic on the planet regarding "climate change". Of course, I never have any visitors, so that may be an issue. I just wish the "experts" would decide whether I need to be buying cold or hot weather clothing for the pending apocalypse. I do plan to donate something to someone for my "carbon tax", just as soon as I walk down the path and can actually see my "carbon footprints" behind me.

Sorry for taking up so much space but I had so much of value to say.

Happy New Year, Phil!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Really interesting stuff Phil. I especially liked your listing the various British black birds - I know the names from old British literature like quote the raven, and I used to wonder why I never heard the names here. I guess we don't have them. I know crows and red winged blackbirds (which are very pretty and used to visit my home 20 years ago further south). Always fun to stop by here.

Veronica Lee said...

Love the photos! Stinky is my favourite!

Happy 2020, Phil!

Lady Fi said...

Stinky is adorable!

Fun60 said...

Pleased that you featured one of the more common garden birds. I enjoy listening to the blackbird singing in the garden.

Angie said...

Phil - as others have said, it was kind of you to devote so much column space to the lowly Blackbird, AND to raise it to 1 out of 10! Delightful to see Stinky the Pig - as with most of her ilk, it doesn't appear that she has missed many meals, be they apple or otherwise! Happy birding to you in 2020!

judee said...

Lovely photos and interesting information about these birds!

likeschocolate said...

Praying for all the birds and animals of Australia. Happy New year!

Lowcarb team member said...

Aww I think Stinky looks cute …
Lovely seeing all the birds, they clearly loved the apples.

Here's to a good weekend.

All the best Jan

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