Column: Blackbirds on song during Big Garden Birdwatch

(Photo: Nigel Blake/RSPB)
(Photo: Nigel Blake/RSPB)

Last weekend was the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, when we’re asked to sit for an hour counting the birds seen in our gardens (or parks).

Saturday was such a wet day I chose Sunday, when it was both sunnier and colder – conditions far more likely to encourage birds out to feed.

I spent fifteen minutes watching the birds with breakfast and sure enough all the usual species came for their breakfast.

Pigeons (both feral and wood) and robin for the scattered seed, blackbird for the apple core and sparrows, magpie and starlings for the coconut feeder.

I was unable to spend a full hour, so came back later on in the afternoon to watch for the remaining time (perhaps this is cheating?).

However, it was clear that 3pm is a far less popular time to feed than 8.30am and all I saw were a few sparrows and a blue tit.

The birds seem to follow the maxim ‘eat breakfast like a king’ which makes sense – after a cold night, they need to fuel up for the day first thing in the morning.

The one blackbird I saw had a dark beak, rather than the more traditional yellow.

I have discovered that this indicates a juvenile and many of last year’s young will carry a dark bill right through until the following spring. Although it is still early to hear a blackbird in full song, a few weeks ago, I opened the bathroom window to hear a blackbird singing somewhere nearby.

I paused and thought I must be mistaken – it was early January – however, there is no mistaking the song of the blackbird.

It is so evocative of long summer evenings when all the blackbirds in the area compete to proclaim their territories from tree tops and TV aerials.

Those days will come again, although it seems hard to imagine when you look out of the window and a light snow is falling.