The blackbird is one of our most widespread and common species of wild birds and familiar to almost everyone.
Of course familiarity breeds contempt and the commonplace is often taken for granted. However, the blackbird is one of our earliest breeders with evolutionary benefit that an early start may mean they are able to raise three or even four successful broods in a season. So with the mild conditions we have been experiencing some of the resident birds are well underway. I suspect that our continental visitors may lag behind somewhat until they have made the long trek home to northern Europe. The local birds such as this one in my garden are well on with establishing territory, singing, and maybe even nesting. For the start of the breeding season the birds must be in good conditions and the males especially are rather splendid. You can see with my bird that the plumage is almost shimmering and the yellow beak and the eye-ring are really quite stunning. So a little like they say in parliament, ‘the eyes have it’, and in this case they certainly do. Readers may have noticed the first great tits bursting into song this week as well, and tawny owls have been getting noisier too.
Of course, if we get a downturn in the weather and in night-time temperatures especially, then this can cause problems for the early breeders for whom life is a bit of a gamble.
However, at present there are other signs if spring awakening with hazel catkins breaking into flower, snowdrops, about to bloom, and the first crocuses already out. I noticed the rooks at various local rookeries at Norton and in the Porter Valley for example are also very active and noisy. There is a constant squabbling around nests in the treetops. There are rumours of waxwings around Sheffield and North Derbyshire as well; so let me know if you have seen them.
The other noticeable thing in terms of garden birds at present seems to be the ever- increasing numbers of very plump woodpigeons with up to twenty in my garden!
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.