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The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark’s is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.
For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang,
Our hearts and lips together.
(William Ernest Henley)

Our garden and bird table have always attracted wildlife – everything from squirrels to hedgehogs to robins, all feeding from the copious amounts of fat balls, nuts, seeds and mealworms that adorn our slabbed area, feeders and bird table shelf. Yet, within a few days of my placing the latest feast upon the table…a nest has arrived! Yes, dear reader, we have some new lodgers in our garden…a blackbird and 4 eggs!

The table is quite open in location as well as to the elements – so I’m quite surprised that the blackbird chose somewhere so frequented by other birds to build its family! Also worryingly, I have seen two magpies flying around – probably in search of eggs! I’ve shooed them away, but it is still a worry! I’ve kept out of the way as much as possible, however, gardening has to continue. I think the blackbird is now use to me walking past on the way to the compost bin or to the shed – and I think they know its me who puts food right next to their nest whilst they are away on their meal-hunting travels.

It’s the first time we’ve had a nest to my knowledge – and so I’ve enjoyed reading a little bit about the blackbird and their nesting habits. This is what I found:

The nest is an untidy cup built by the female from vegetation, such as grass and twigs, and bound together with mud and finer grasses. The nest is usually in a hedge or bush, though they will use shelves in huts and other outbuildings. It can take two weeks to complete, and sometimes the same nest is used for successive broods.

The nesting attempts of blackbirds often end in failure through inexperienced birds deserting the nest, cold weather and predation by cats, crows and birds of prey. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 nesting attempts end in failure!

Breeding starts in March, and the resulting eggs are smooth and glossy, light greenish-blue with reddish-brown spots in colour and approximately 29 mm by 22 mm in size. The female incubates the eggs by herself, although after the young hatch, approximately 14 days later, they are fed by both parents. The normal clutch size is 3-5. 

The chicks are ready to fledge at 13-14 days, but if the nest is disturbed, they can leave and survive as early as nine days old. This ability to fledge early is an important anti-predator adaptation. The young birds creep and flutter from the nest, and remain in nearby cover for the following few days.

They are flightless at first, but within a week will have learned to fly. By this time, they begin to experiment with foods, learning by trial and error what is edible. As their skills and confidence grow, they begin to explore their parents’ territory and range more widely. The young become independent three weeks after leaving the nest, and leave the natal area shortly after. They are not driven away by the male.

Fledged young are often left in the care of the male, while the female prepares for the next nesting attempt. The last brood of the season is usually divided between the parents, with each adult taking sole care of some of the young.

I’ll keep you informed on their progress ;-)