Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Blackberries; the autumn bounty

Robins and Blackbirds have a common behavioural trait: In Ireland, they are both established garden dwellers. By contrast, in Europe these two Irish garden favourites are more likely to be found deep in forests. This is a clever move on their parts: Ireland is less forested than mainland Europe, and in order to thrive, moving into gardens seems a good strategy. They are the most widespread visitors to Irish gardens in winter, occurring in 99% of gardens surveyed in the annual Garden Bird Survey. Blackbirds are successful adapters, and gardens have a welcoming woodland edge effect, with trees and shrubs and open lawns. The staple diet consists of invertebrates such as earthworms, picked up on lawn patrol.. the familiar hopping action with pauses, tail cocked and wings dropped, ready to swoop on any juicy morsel that presents itself near the surface. In autumn, especially in October, Blackbirds take to the bushes, often appearing clumsy on outer branches, with balancing flaps. They are attracted to the procession of ripening berries on offer. Berries of Elder and Blackberry are a popular choice in hedgerows right now, ripe and ready to devour.

Although our Blackbirds are thought to be largely sedentary, birds from further north and east of us, (from Scotland to Scandinavia) are much more likely to move west to winter in the relatively mild winter conditions of Ireland.  You can sometimes witness this inward migration on the coast, with birds making landfall eager to hunt for food. However, in any garden you might notice a small influx of continental birds, with some territorial squabbles leading to chases and calling at roosts.. ‘chuck..chuck’, as local birds seek to hold their ground. You can’t expect to hear Blackbird song for a few months yet, usually in March, though as early as January if the weather is mild.

Other hedgerow and garden visitors on the move right now are the Blackcaps, summer warblers moving south after a breeding season spent in Irish woods and gardens. They can be skulking, but once you recognise their clicking ‘teck’ call, sometimes repeated, you may notice a grey and olive shape peeping out from the cover. The males have glossy black caps and the females and juveniles have a chestnut coloured cap. They will strip what elder berries remain on maroon coloured bracts. They are also partial to the berries of our cultivated shrubs such as Cotoneaster and pyracantha.