Time to stand and stare – a study of blackbirds

The blackbird chicks being fed by dad on 23 May

The blackbird chicks being fed by dad on 23 May

The blackbird chicks feeding for themselves on 24 May

The blackbird chicks feeding for themselves on 24 May

William Henry Davies’ poem begins:

‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare’.

Since I retired in January 2014 I have had much more time to stand and stare, and lately some of this time has been taken up observing blackbirds in the garden.  We have two resident pairs, one of which nested quite early in the season, laid one egg and deserted the nest. I’ve no idea why this was, and I certainly hope it wasn’t because I was taking an interest in the nest, though this is a particularly tame female and tolerates me within a few feet of her. I would doubt if me looking at an almost-completed nest would have spooked her.

The other pair nested shortly after in clematis growing over a pergola. This was the same nest as was used last year so it is likely that one of the pair, probably the female, was the same bird. They fledged three chicks and the feeding of these three young birds, in the nest and after fledging, cost me a fortune in mealworms.

Both parents were feeding the chicks but I noticed within a week that the female was back on the nest again.  I checked the nest when she was off and there was one egg. She laid and began to incubate three or four eggs while the male continued feeding the fledged chicks.

Meantime the other pair nested in a clematis growing up the house wall. This nest, which was built on top of a last year’s collared dove nest, was no more than 20 metres from the pergola pair. Though the males seemed to half-heartedly protect a territory and chased each other off in a rather mild mannered way, I sometimes saw the two females feeding very close to each other if they were both off the nest at the same time. This seemed to me to be unusual as nesting birds are generally very protective of their territory. I had two mallards in the garden some years ago which had ducklings of the same age and shared their broods. I am sure they were sisters as mallards chase off and will even kill ducklings from another brood. I wondered if my two female blackbirds were related.

The situation now is that the house clematis pair’s chicks have just hatched and the eggs of the pergola pair must be close to hatching. The pergola male continues to feed at least two of the first brood, which he brought to the mealworm supply on Monday 23 May. I assume he will leave them to their own devices once brood number two hatch.  I’m sure they will be ok as I saw them tucking into mealworms tonight (Tuesday 24 May).

The pergola pair have certainly maximised their breeding opportunity by having fledglings and eggs on the go at the same time. Is this common and have I just not had the time to observe it until now? If anyone can comment I’d be obliged.

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