Blackcap sings sweetly
Few birds have a sweeter song than the blackcap, one of the first summer migrants to return to our shores. Look out for them in early April when the cock will often sing from an exposed perch, though usually not far from cover.
Blackcaps are the most abundant of the Sylvia warblers to be found in Britain, their population having increased steadily since the late 1960s. They can be found commonly in woods and gardens anywhere in mainland Britain south of the Highlands.
But it is as wintering – rather than breeding – birds that blackcaps have been hitting the headlines. Though overwintering blackcaps were recorded as long ago as the 19th century, they were always rare. Between 1945 and 1954 an average of 18 blackcaps were found here each winter. Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, numbers started to grow dramatically. By the 1980s the wintering population was up to 3,000 and it has continued rising ever since. Ringing has shown that these aren’t British bred birds but migrants from western-central Europe (mainly southern Germany). Most are to be found in gardens in southern and western England where they find more food and shelter than in woodland.
These wintering individuals are readily attracted to feeders: birdfood cakes and fat balls are very popular and they love mealworms too. Once they find a garden where the feeding is good they will return daily. You may even hear some tentative song in late winter before they slip back to the Continent, to be replaced by our breeding birds returning from wintering quarters around the Mediterranean.