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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
In the whole world it is believed there are thousands of species of birds, but only a few hundreds of them seem to frequent the British Isles, and it is said that perhaps two hundred live here permanently. Everyone knows that the cuckoo, the swallow and various other birds leave these shores before the rigours of Winter beset then, but it may come as a surprise to some people that that most Scottish of birds, the curlew, the well-known whaup of the Caithness mosses, also spends its winters abroad.
The blackbird, however, the ten-inch friend in everybody's garden, one of the most common of our resident birds, stays at home with us all the year round. The adult cock is all black with a yellow beak and yellow rings around the eyes. He has a magnificent tail, which he flicks up and down at all seasons of the year, and in truth he is a bit of a show-off. In Winter he tends to puff out his body feathers to keep warm. Conversely the hen is rather more subdued both in behaviour and colouring, which is deep brown with blurred ring spots on her throat and breast.
They eat fruit and berries, insects and of course worms, but will only take crumbs on the odd occasion. Extremely tame, they will hop about nearby when the gardener is digging and almost literally pick up the worms as he turns them over. It is said that, if watched carefully and quietly, one can see a blackbird tilting its head to one side, listening for worms just below the surface.
The nest is built very often in a bush or small tree, but any convenient ledge, fall-pipe junction or similar position seems to suffice. It is made of dried grass with perhaps a few very small twigs and leaves woven in, and is lined with mud. Unlike the thrush, which leaves it at that seemingly unfinished stage, the blackbird further lines it with more dried grass.
The hen lays four eggs generally, but the number may be only three or as many as five. In colour they are pale blue-green and speckled with brown. Normally laid at any time in March, April or May, except in the north where it is more likely to be in the latter two months, they take some two weeks to hatch, after which a cautious approach to the nest - although this is not really recommended - will result in several gaping beaks being thrust upwards for the expected feed.
After possibly two weeks the feathers will have grown on the chicks and they will be ready to leave the nest and flutter about the garden for quite a time, although still depending on the long-suffering parents for sustenance. At this stage they are easy game for the predators, be they hooded crows or just cats.
Poets and song-writers have tended to eulogise the nightingale, the skylark, the thrush and even the eagle, but, as far as is known, only Lord Tennyson praised the common blackbird, and his expressions of, 'the silver tongue' and 'that gold dagger of the bill' are delightful.
Who cares if later on he samples the strawberries before the net is draped over them? What matter if he steals a breakfast or two from the raspberry crop? The reward cones in hearing his rapid, metallic call of, 'Tick, tick, tick ... ', and earlier, when the rich fluted warbling sounded from high up on the chimney pot or television aeriel one knew Spring had arrived.
T. D. W.