Blackbirds

4 photos of the same blackbird singing

Blackbird, merle, subfusc but quietly stunning with matching bill and eye-ring. The alien creature in the sound-clip above was a good friend and neighbour: sure, I don’t know what he made of me, other than a certain amount of trust, but it felt like we built some connection. He tolerated me, and my mics just in front of him, quite a few mornings one particular week, and then intermittently through the spring: he delivered his first songs of the day regularly from the same perch, despite me fussing in the half-light. One morning it started raining. Another a tawny owl came by and disturbed him. On this morning he simply arrived at the perch and sang for six minutes, listening to his neighbour further up the wood, then moved on to another song-post. You can hear them matching phrases. No fighting or chases. Remarkably civilised for bird-brains.

Now here’s a bird singing way over the moors in the eastern Cairngorms. An outpost of blackbird-dom among the birches fringing the steep gulley of a burn in an otherwise open-rolling heather moor.

Different mode of song entirely from the first bird. In some ways less impressive, but also less babbling. He has an ear for simple melody recognisable within our folk or pop musical psychology. Maybe more ‘musical’ – but that’s getting circular. But something I’ve often felt about the small isolated enclaves of blackbird song, at least in northern Scotland, is that they have a slightly sad, plaintive air (which is not to ascribe these emotions to the bird, only my human musical response).

dark star of the garden

The three male blackbirds singing nearest to my house, in the small town of Wooler, at dawn on 12th april 2008.

Tenter Hill
At the bottom of our road.

Tankerville
In the middle of our road. Pictured above a month earlier when he liked to sing from the balcony outside my workroom.

Glendale
Just round the corner from the top of our road.

 

Subsong from under a bush in my garden on 27th february 2005.
Normally you can barely hear this kind of subsong from a few metres away.

Bird within inches of the mics

A little later – notice at the end he’s doing bits of normal song, but very quietly.

 

Some catchy phrases

From my garden in Felton, Northumberland a few years ago.

Vocabulary

Aside from song, which is mainly heard through spring and summer, blackbirds use a range of calls

basic alarm and contact

becoming more excited

getting nervous – a less strident call

stealth alarm call

maybe anger – often when breaking cover

general quiet contact