A fluting and powerful birdsong from warblers

Birds of the ‘warbler’ family are mostly summer visitors to us just coming over here to breed and then wintering in warm climates to the south.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 12:00 am
A female blackcap, by Ian Rotherham

Winter blackcap is a welcome visitor. However, there are two species, the blackcap and the chiffchaff, which are increasingly resident year round. This is a trend going back to the 1970s but certainly increasing with recent milder winters.Warblers tend to feed on small invertebrates like insects and soft fruit such as berries; and so harsh winters are not to their liking. In colder weather these overwintering birds will come to gardens and add welcome diversity to the usual visitors. I have had chiffchaff visit in previous winters but it didn’t stay for long.

However, this year a female blackcap seems to have taken up residence and has stayed most of the winter. These birds are quite distinctive being roughly sparrow sized (around six inches long) and a pale olive colour to the bulk of the plumage. The key feature is the rather angular top of the head which is sooty black in the male and russet brown in the female. My blackcap tends to feed on sunflower seed hearts in a feeder, and on the fat-balls. I am hoping there is a male in the area as well and then I might have an early pair in the wood across the road. I generally hear chiffchaff first and then the blackcap’s melodious singing a couple of weeks later. The blackcap song is fluting and powerful and quite similar to a blackbird though not so inventive. They tend to sing from dense undergrowth such as stands of holly in woodland.

I also heard greenfinch and bullfinch in recent weeks; and the latter are around in good numbers. In Gleadless Valley, in scrub around where Lees Hall used to stand, I had bullfinch singing which is not commonly heard. These are stunning little birds but ever on the move, they are very hard to photograph. They do seem to be doing well and will visit gardens; though potentially nipping out buds from your fruit trees!

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues