Sunday, 3 April 2016

The beauty of blackbirds

As I write this posting a female blackbird is wearing herself out building a nest in the garden. I've been in Northumberland for a few days for work and pleasure (sat in the garden of our house there watching more greenfinches than I've seen in years - the males almost lime green in their breeding plumage) and have returned to witness the building frenzy of a blackbird in our clematis. Blackbirds are such wonderful birds.
On Thursday I stayed in Julie's house in the Northumberland National Park and having a quiet half hour sitting looking at the stunning view of the moorland which is just the other side of the fence, I was joined by a very friendly female blackbird. I had some Aberdeen Angus sandwiches with me so threw her a morsel. That was gratefully accepted as were the other half a dozen beef crumbs. It was fabulous to be accepted by this animal and although we had never met, she accepted my presence and I felt a bond developing. She'd chink chink, I'd throw a bit of beef, she'd land and take it, fly off to the fence, and the whole process began again. To my right a neighbour feeds the birds and there were a couple of dozen sparrows, chaffinches, the aforementioned greenfinches, cola tits, blue and great tits and a pair of courting dunnock who entertained me with their mice like run and hop pairing behaviour. Beyond the field a woodpecker drummed and a raven cronked overhead.  Absolute bliss. A man needs nothing else.

Aberdeen Angus morsels loved by this female 
Our neighbours garden and the feeder with Harbottle Crags beyond.

But back to the main story. This inconspicuous piece of foliage hides the beginnings of new life, or will do so soon. On Saturday morning I kept seeing this female blackbird on the lawn but couldn't see where she was going. Armed with a pint mug of tea I watched her. And to my amazement into the clematis she flew, then again two minutes later. I had a quick look from a distance and sure enough a half saucer of dried grasses was beginning to be built. Fantastic. We worked in the garden yesterday and she made no attempt to avoid us, in fact she just ignored our activity often flying over our heads to get to the nest construction site. Once again I'm amazed at how nature is trusting of us humans if we just leave them alone.

Having the camera to hand I tried to take some telephoto shots of her activity. They sort of work but it was a dullish day and so getting the ISO levels high enough made it a bit grainy. But a nice sequence of images nonetheless.

I like this shot as it was as she was about to leave so just caught her.

Watching her antics for an hour is one of the most enjoyable things I have done for a while. On average she came to the nest about every two minutes. Between nest visits, hopping over the garden wall to a bit of unkempt land behind which is full of straw, grasses and twigs. I could almost predict her behaviour.  Out the nest, perch on the wall, a quick cheep then drop down the other-side. Two minutes later she'd land on the wall, beak crammed with nesting material, hop along the wall, drop down onto the grass, then fly up into the nest from there. Often she was only hidden by the clematis for 20 seconds then out she'd fly, onto the wall, and away we'd go again. Occasionally the male appeared, sang a short 'pink pink' refrain and then flew off somewhere. He'll be watching her somewhere out of sight but for the moment keeping out of the hard work.
I've left her to it and will keep a close eye on the next phase which will be lining of the nest with mud before the final soft grasses are lain down prior to egg laying.
According to my beloved Collin's Guide to Nests and Eggs, after laying, incubation by the hen is 13-14 days and fledging 13-14 days later. So by my calculations if the nest is finished next weekend, we should see fluffy blackbird chicks in the garden by the first week on May... can't wait.


  1. A lovely post Andrew so beautifully illustrating the pleasures that can be achieved by watching wildlife in the garden.

    It struck a real chord with me as I've been watching a wren building a nest in ivy on the patio and blue tits taking nest material into the nest box. You don't even have to leave your house and garden to enjoy nature :)

    I managed to get hold of the a second hand copy of the Collin's Guide to Nests and Eggs a few years ago - I now use it all the time and I am afraid the Observer's Book on Birds' Eggs remains on the bookshelf!

  2. I hope you have had more luck with your birds Caroline, sadly my blackbirds have disappeared and the nest has been abandoned. Sad but that is nature.. I agree with you and enjoying nature close to home is wonderful.