AskDefine | Define blackbird

Dictionary Definition



1 any bird of the family Icteridae whose male is black or predominantly black [syn: New World blackbird]
2 common black European thrush [syn: merl, merle, ouzel, ousel, European blackbird, Turdus merula]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /'blækbəɽd/


  1. A common thrush, Turdus merula, found in woods and gardens over much of Eurasia, and introduced elsewhere.
  2. A variety of New World birds of the family Icteridae.


1. Turdus merula


2. A bird of the family Icteridae.

Extensive Definition

The Blackbird, Common Blackbird or Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) is a species of true thrush which breeds in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. It has a number of subspecies across its large range; a few of the Asian subspecies are sometimes considered as full species. Depending on latitude, the Blackbird may be resident, partially migratory or fully migratory. The binomial name derives from two Latin words, Turdus, "thrush", and merula, "blackbird", the latter giving rise to the French name for this species, merle and also the Romanian name, mierlă. There are about 65 species of medium to large thrushes in the genus Turdus, characterised by rounded heads, longish pointed wings, and usually melodious songs. The Blackbird seems to be closest in evolutionary terms to the Island Thrush (T. poliocephalus) of Southeast Asia and islands in the southwest Pacific, which probably diverged from merula stock fairly recently. Until about the 17th century, another usual name for the species was ouzel, ousel or wosel (from Old English osle). Another variant occurs in Act 3 of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, where Bottom refers to The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill. The ousel usage survived later in poetry, and still occurs as the name of the closely related Ring Ouzel, and in Water Ouzel, an alternative name for the unrelated but superficially similar White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus). The Blackbird breeds in temperate Eurasia, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and South Asia. It has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. Urban males are more likely to overwinter in cooler climes than rural males, an adaptation made feasible by the warmer microclimate and relatively abundant food that allow the birds to establish territories and start reproducing earlier in the year.
Common over most of its range in woodland, the Blackbird has a preference for deciduous trees with dense undergrowth. However, gardens provide the best breeding habitat with up to 7.3 pairs per hectare (nearly three pairs per acre), with woodland typically holding about a tenth of that density, and open and very built-up habitats even less. They are often replaced by the related Ring Ouzel in areas of higher altitude.
The Blackbird occurs up to 1000 metres (3300 ft) in Europe, 2300 metres (7590 ft) in North Africa, and at 900–820 metres (3000–6000 ft) in peninsular India and Sri Lanka, but the large Himalayan subspecies range much higher, with T. m. maximus breeding at 3200–4800 metres (10560–16000 ft) and remaining above 2100 metres (6930 ft) even in winter. However, a 1994 record from Bonavista, Newfoundland has been accepted as a genuine wild bird,


The Blackbird has an extensive range, estimated at 10 million square kilometres (3.8 million square miles), and a large population, including an estimated 79 to 160 million individuals in Europe alone. The species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations), and is therefore evaluated as Least Concern. but there have been local declines, especially on farmland, which may be due to agricultural policies that encouraged farmers to remove hedgerows (which provide nesting places), and to drain damp grassland and increase the use of pesticides, both of which could have reduced the availability of invertebrate food.
The Blackbird was introduced to Australia at Melbourne in the 1850s, but has expanded from its initial foothold in Melbourne and Adelaide to occur throughout south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. The introduced population in Australia is considered a pest because it damages a variety of soft fruits in orchards, parks and gardens including berries, cherries, stone fruit and grapes. It is thought to spread weeds, such as blackberry, and may compete with native birds for food and nesting sites.
The introduced Blackbird is, together with the native Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), the most widely distributed avian seed disperser in New Zealand. Introduced there along with the Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) in 1862, it has spread throughout the country up to an elevation of , as well as outlying islands such as the Campbell and Kermadecs. It eats a wide range of native and exotic fruit, and makes a major contribution to the development of communities of naturalised woody weeds. These communities provide fruit more suited to non-endemic native birds and naturalised birds, than to endemic birds.


The male Blackbird defends its breeding territory, chasing away other males or utilising a "bow and run" threat display. This consists of a short run, the head first being raised and then bowed with the tail dipped simultaneously. If a fight between male Blackbirds does occur, it is usually short and the intruder is soon chased away. The female Blackbird is also aggressive in the spring when it competes with other females for a good nesting territory, and although fights are less frequent, they tend to be more violent.
As long as winter food is available, both the male and female will remain in the territory throughout the year, although occupying different areas. Migrants are more gregarious, travelling in small flocks and feeding in loose groups in the wintering grounds. The flight of migrating birds comprises bursts of rapid wing beats interspersed with level or diving movement, and differs from both the normal fast agile flight of this species and the more dipping action of larger thrushes. Although socially monogamous, there have been studies showing as much as 17% extra pair paternity.
Nominate T. merula may commence breeding in March, but eastern and Indian races are a month or more later, and the introduced New Zealand birds start nesting in August. Eggs of birds of the southern Indian races are paler than those from the northern subcontinent and Europe.
A Blackbird has an average life expectancy of 2.4 years, and, based on data from bird ringing, the oldest recorded age is 21 years and 10 months.

Songs and calls

The first-year male Blackbird of the nominate race may start singing as early as late January in fine weather in order to establish a territory, followed in late March by the adult male. The male's song is a varied and melodious low-pitched fluted warble, given from trees, rooftops or other elevated perches mainly in the period from March to June, sometimes into the beginning of July. It has a number of other calls, including an aggressive seee, a pook-pook-pook alarm for terrestrial predators like cats, and various chink and chook, chook vocalisations. The territorial male invariably gives chink-chink calls in the evening in an (usually unsuccessful) attempt to deter other Blackbirds from roosting in its territory overnight.
At least two subspecies, T. m. merula and T. m. nigropileus, will mimic other species of birds, cats, humans or alarms, but this is usually quiet and hard to detect. The large mountain races, especially T. m. maximus, have comparatively poor songs, with a limited repertoire compared with the western, peninsular Indian and Sri Lankan taxa.
This species is occasionally a host of parasitic cuckoos, such as the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), but this is minimal because the Blackbird recognizes the adult of the parasitic species and its non-mimetic eggs. The introduced merula Blackbird in New Zealand, where the cuckoo does not occur, has, over the past 130 years, lost the ability to recognize the adult Common Cuckoo but still rejects non-mimetic eggs.
As with other passerine birds, parasites are common. 88% of blackbirds were found to have intestinal parasites, most frequently Isospora and Capillaria species. and more than 80% had haematozoan parasites. Blackbirds spend much of their time looking for food on the ground where they can become infested with ticks, which are external parasites that most commonly attach to the head of a Blackbird. there is no evidence that this affects the fitness of Blackbirds except when they are exhausted and rundown after migration.

In culture

The Blackbird was seen as a sacred though destructive bird in Classical Greek folklore, and was said to die if it consumed pomegranate. Like many other small birds, it has in the past been trapped in rural areas at its night roosts as an easily available addition to the diet,
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye; Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie! When the pie was opened the birds began to sing, Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The Blackbird's melodious, distinctive song is the theme of the poem Adelstrop by Edward Thomas; And for that minute a blackbird sang Close by, and round him, mistier, Farther and farther, all the birds Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The song is also recalled in the Beatles track Blackbird:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly All your life, You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
The Blackbird, unlike many black creatures, is not normally seen as a symbol of bad luck, and it symbolised resignation in the 17th century tragic play The Duchess of Malfi; an alternate connotation is vigilance, the bird's clear cry warning of danger. which has a breeding population of 1–2 million pairs,


External links

Species information

Sounds and videos

blackbird in Asturian: Ñerbatu
blackbird in Bosnian: Kos (ptica)
blackbird in Breton: Moualc'h du
blackbird in Bulgarian: Кос
blackbird in Catalan: Merla
blackbird in Czech: Kos černý
blackbird in Corsican: Merula
blackbird in Danish: Solsort
blackbird in German: Amsel
blackbird in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Mèrel
blackbird in Spanish: Turdus merula
blackbird in Esperanto: Merlo
blackbird in Faroese: Kvørkveggja
blackbird in French: Merle noir
blackbird in Western Frisian: Klyster
blackbird in Scottish Gaelic: Lon dubh
blackbird in Galician: Merlo
blackbird in Upper Sorbian: Kós
blackbird in Croatian: Kos
blackbird in Icelandic: Svartþröstur
blackbird in Italian: Turdus merula
blackbird in Hebrew: שחרור
blackbird in Latin: Merula
blackbird in Luxembourgish: Märel (Vull)
blackbird in Lithuanian: Juodasis strazdas
blackbird in Limburgan: Merel
blackbird in Hungarian: Fekete rigó
blackbird in Dutch: Merel
blackbird in Dutch Low Saxon: Gietelink
blackbird in Japanese: クロウタドリ
blackbird in Norwegian: Svarttrost
blackbird in Norwegian Nynorsk: Svarttrost
blackbird in Occitan (post 1500): Turdus merula
blackbird in Piemontese: Turdus merula
blackbird in Polish: Kos
blackbird in Portuguese: Melro-preto
blackbird in Russian: Чёрный дрозд
blackbird in Scots: Merl
blackbird in Albanian: Turdus merula
blackbird in Simple English: Blackbird
blackbird in Slovenian: Kos (ptič)
blackbird in Finnish: Mustarastas
blackbird in Swedish: Koltrast
blackbird in Thai: นกแบล็กเบิร์ด
blackbird in Turkish: Karatavuk
blackbird in Ukrainian: Чорний дрізд
blackbird in Walloon: Måvi
blackbird in Vlaams: Meireloare
blackbird in Chinese: 黑鶇
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