Thursday, 10 May 2012

Blackcaps: timeshare around the garden

  There have been widespread gains in the breeding population of Blackcaps over the last  40 years across Ireland, particularly in the westThe percentage change between the 1968-72 Breeding Bird Atlas and the just completed Bird Atlas shows an increase of 52% for Britain and Ireland combined.  An annual percentage change of 15.5% is recorded in the Countryside Bird Survey in the Republic of Ireland, with data recorded each summer since 1998.  

Our wintering Blackcaps actually leave us to breed in Central Europe
Male, photo by Dick Coombes

Right now we are hearing Blackcaps in hedgerows and gardens, not just the classic breeding territories in dense scrub woodland.  In winter they visit the bird feeders in gardens, especially in suburban areas and they are attracted to apples and berries in particular. They are easy enough to observe, often noted as territorial and bullying around the feeders.  Our summer population winters in Africa and the birds that winter here migrate out of Ireland in early spring, back to central and northern Europe to breed: so its a real changing of the guard and a strategy that takes advantage of current climate conditions. 

In contrast to the wintering population, summering Blackcaps are more likely to be heard rather than seen, remaining in dense foliage and feeding up into the canopy layer. The summer birds sing persistently: a short, scratchy, hurried warble.  Its just as well, I hear ten for every one seen in summer!

Female Blackcap with distinctive chestnut crown Photo: John Fox

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