Wednesday, January 17, 2007


It is time to make a real start on the task of cataloguing the things living in my garden. Here goes:

There are Blackbirds (Turdus merula) in my garden.

Perhaps not a fact likely to make my garden a place of pilgimage for the world’s birdwatchers! I have deliberately chosen to start with with this down-to-earth example however since:

a) I’m fairly confident I know enough to have not made a mistake in my identification (something that’s likely to become much more of a problem when I get on to cataloguing e.g. my garden’s lichens - a subject about which I know absolutely nothing as yet!)
b) I don't expect my claim to have seen blackbirds will evoke very great scepticism. Readers may forgive me for not including photographic evidence in this posting therefore. I’m not averse to the idea of including occasional photographs in postings. There are a great number of truly excellent bird and wildlife photographers and bloggers out there however. I’m not one of them! I don’t see there’s much merit in me cluttering up these pages with large number of (woefully amateurish) ‘snaps’.

In an attempt to learn something more about blackbirds I have been reading The Blackbird by David W. Snow (pub. Shire Natural History, 1987) – a scholarly but very readable account of their habits (for a review and photo of which see here). By interesting coincidence, the book’s cover notes tell me that Dr. Snow began his career as a field ornithologist in Oxford (in the 1950’s). In his booklet he makes a number of references to studies undertaken in ‘Oxford gardens’. I just wonder whether he ever looked at mine?

Two elements of the book particularly stood out for me:

Firstly, although a proportion of Britain’s blackbird population are migratory (migrating to Ireland and the European mainland apparently), despite this

“from an intensive 4 year study of an Oxford garden…[of]…some five hundred birds… there was no evidence any bird moved more than 2 miles from where it was ringed.”

Unless Blackbird have markedly changed their habits since the 1950’s therefore (can anyone comment on this?) it would seem very probable that the blackbirds I see in my garden stay with me all year round. I find this thought curiously comforting.

A second thing that stands out are the statistics on blackbird life expectancy: annual mortality rates are a whopping 33%; only 50% of garden nests are successful; and of nests that are successful, although an average of 4.1 young birds fledge, only on average 1.7 survive into the next breeding season.

Life as a garden blackbird is pretty tough is seems!


Mines said...

Dear Henry
Where is the link to your live lawn-cam?

Henry Walloon said...

Dear mines

Thanks for the interest, but sorry - I don't have one!
Just me writing I'm afraid.

(Although it is something that's crossed my mind for the future...)

Laura said...

Your comment on avoiding amateur paparazzi blackbird snapping is forgiveable but given that you provide the revelation of their generationally homey nature, your birds are your homies! A perfect reason for us getting to know them better.

I remember, as a kid, the blackbird that made a noise like a telephone and the generations of sparrows that had curious white feathers. They were fragiley and intimately bound to their environs...