Blackcap

Sylvia atricapilla

13cm

Appearance

This is one of the bigger warblers, and the sexes differ. The male is greyish brown on top, smoky-grey underneath (palest beneath the tail and on the throat) with a grey face and back of the neck. There's a whitish ring around the eye and the diagnostic black cap on the head. Females and juveniles resemble each other; they're browner than the adult male, with brownish-grey underparts, the cap has a reddish-brown tinge, and the pale ring around the eye is still evident.

Habitat

Summer habitats including woodlands with at least some deciduous trees and a combination of trees and bushes; tends towards thickets and other areas with dense, bushy vegetation. May also visit mature parkland and gardens.

Character

Blackcaps can be territorial and may attack other birds, particularly if they invade the Blackcap's feeding space. This is an energetic bird that is fairly inconspicuous.

Food

Summer diet includes caterpillars, flies and beetles. Autumn and winter diet includes honeysuckle, holly, mistletoe and sea buckthorn. Will feed on what is convenient and abundant, including scraps, nectar, fallen apples and from feeders.

Breeding

Breeding takes place in April and May, with both parents incubating a clutch of 4 or 5 eggs for 13 – 14 days. The young are tended to by both parents and leave the nest at about 10-12 days old. A second brood may be laid, particularly by birds in the south of the region.

Population

Populations in the northern areas of their reach are migratory, while birds of the southern habitats are mostly residential. Blackcaps are predominately summer visitors to the region, arriving during April and May. The region also plays host to a small number of birds over winter (about 3000), most of these from the north-east of Europe. Breeding birds of the region usually spend winter in Spain and Portugal via France, and some go to West Africa. Over 1.2 million pairs breed in the UK and 10 000–20 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

These birds are widespread when breeding, with males singing fully by the middle of April. Birds who remain in the region for winter are harder to find, but some of them feed habitually from the same feeders in gardens.

Voice

The rich, melodious song resembles a Garden Warbler's, however it is more jolty and the speed is more varied. Has phrases and notes, and generally ends with a songful climax. Has a 'tack' call and a churring call as well; some birds may mimic other birdsong.
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