St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

May 2014: Spotlight on.. Blackcap

Male Blackcap, St Nicks, August 2013

Male Blackcap, St Nicks, August 2013

Sylvia atricapilla

This small bird (wingspan 20 cm – 8 inches) is a spring and summer visitor to St Nicks.

It’s not the easiest bird to see (or photograph!) because it often sings in deep cover, in the centre of a bush or small tree. It is best seen in early spring, before there are too many leaves on the trees.

But its song is very distinctive. Click here to hear a recording of the bird. Its call is also very distinctive, and has been likened to two stones being knocked together.. much slower than the clicking alarm calls of Wren, Robin or Blackbird. It sounds like this.

As its name suggests, the male has a neat black cap with an overall grey colour to the body (the photo above doesn’t do it justice). Females and juveniles have the same grey body, but have a reddish brown cap, rather than a black cap.

Juvenile Blackcap, St Nicks, August 2013

Juvenile Blackcap, St Nicks, August 2013

Blackcaps are one of the earliest spring visitors to arrive at St Nicks (the earliest usually being Chiffchaff). This year, the first Blackcaps were heard on the 9th April, and by mid May, we counted at least 9 singing males, heard all over the reserve.

So, where do Blackcaps go in the winter? Well, increasingly, a few remain in Britain, mainly birds from central Europe, but the majority of an estimated 950,000 pairs migrate south. Some move down to southern Europe and North Africa, others have been recorded as far south as East Africa. This is a massive migration distance for a small bird with a wingspan of 8 inches! But it is still unknown where the bulk of British Blackcaps spend the winter; it’s a mystery yet to be solved.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the presence of these lovely little birds, with their delightful, warbling song, at St Nicks. They will be laying eggs soon (if they have not done so already) and hatching one or two broods of up to 4 – 5 chicks before they leave for warmer places in late August to mid September.

Concise Birds of the Western Palearctic, Bird Guides iPhone app
The Migration Atlas, British Trust for Ornithology
Bird Atlas 2007 – 2011, British Trust for Ornithology

20 May 2014 | Categories: Spotlight on... | Tags: blackcap