The Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is a warbler which is found in woodland, parks and gardens or anywhere where they are plenty of trees and shrubs. Males and females are both mostly grey but in winter, males display a black cap and females a chestnut-brown cap. These birds are roughly 13cm in length and have wingspans of around 23cm, making them about the same size as a chaffinch. They are somewhat bossy by nature and can be aggressive towards other birds when feeding in gardens.
Blackcaps are migratory birds which are traditionally summer visitors to the UK. They travel here from Spain, Portugal and West Africa. However, an increasing number are wintering here too. The population of blackcaps in the UK is on the rise. This trend has been attributed to changes in migration patterns caused by climate change and the prevalence of garden feeders.
What is the blackcap’s distribution and population?
Blackcaps are found through the UK with the exception of northern Scotland and the west coast of Northern Ireland. In some areas, they are merely summer visitors while in others they are present year-round. In recent years, blackcaps from Germany and Scandinavia have been choosing to winter in the UK rather than further afield. The milder winters here are now acceptable for these warblers and they have discovered that food is readily available in British gardens. There are approximately 1, 200, 000 breeding pairs in the UK and the species is not of conservation concern.
What do blackcaps eat?
Blackcaps are enthusiastic eaters of mistletoe berries which are common towards the end of autumn and throughout winter. When the birds eat the berries, the seeds are dispersed across the terrain and this has led to a spread of mistletoes across the country.
Blackcaps will visit gardens to eat a variety of foods but surveys suggest that they favour fatty meals. Offer suet fat balls, suet blocks and sunflower seeds to attract blackcap warblers to your garden. Be prepared to see aggressive behaviour though, as these birds will fend off others to gobble up the food. It is believed that winter food is particularly critical to blackcaps and so they will fight vigorously to get it.
Where do blackcaps nest?
Female blackcaps build neat cup-shaped nests from vegetation and mud. These are usually positioned in hedges, bushes, or brambles. But these birds will use shelves in huts and other outbuildings as nesting sites too. Both adult birds share the task of incubating the eggs as well as feeding their young. Eggs are incubated for 11 days and the chicks fledge after 12 days.
Did you know?
The blackcap's song has led to it being described as the mock nightingale.
Giovanni Verga's 1871 novel, Storia di una capinera, was inspired by the story of a blackcap trapped and caged by children