It doesn’t seem fair or right to me that we have to call such an obviously browncapped bird a “blackcap”, just because the male of the species has a black top.
Similarly with “blackbirds” – which brown female blackbirds are definitely not.
We have a couple of blackcaps (Sylvia atrocapilla) in our wooded back garden most of the year – these warblers like that sort of habitat, with tall old trees and plenty of cover. Last summer I noticed their young for the first time and watched one young female grow to adulthood.
Traditionally British blackcaps go to Iberia or Africa in winter, but having read everything I can find about blackcaps, I have now concluded that here in mild South Wales the blackcaps are probably resident all year round, not bothering to migrate.
And why would they? Both insects and fruit are available year round at my bird table and the latest little lady blackcap will happily sit on the block of bird suet filled with insects and eat from it.
In fact, she is getting quite proprietorial about it and even drives off the robin, which usually rules the roost.
During the breeding season blackcaps usually eat caterpillars, flies and spiders, but they may also feed on berries, especially in winter. In some Mediterranean countries they are called “fig-eaters” and sadly they are sometimes illegally trapped and eaten, as are other little songbirds.
I was going to write about the very recent increase in blackcaps in the garden, but having checked my records I started spotting them in the winter from 1999. Maybe I hadn’t been looking before that, and only in the last year or two have I been taking bird pictures and blogging.
Only recently have I recognised the blackcap’s alarm call, a “tacc” sound like two pebbles striking together, while the song has been likened to that of a nightingale. It is a pleasant chattering with some clearer notes like a blackbird.
According to the books, the blackcap’s nest is a neat cup built by the female from vegetation and mud and is usually in a hedge, bush, or brambles, all of which we have in the garden.
The eggs are about 20 mm by 15 mm. They are smooth and glossy, and pale buff with dark markings. Both parents share the duty of incubating the eggs as well as feeding the young once they have hatched.
The blackcaps in my garden may not be growing more numerous – it may just be that I am more observant. But they are certainly becoming more tame, staying very near when I go out to restock the bird table in the morning.
The most blackcaps I have ever seen at once is three, and I have assumed just one family group is resident in the garden. But who knows? Maybe I have seen dozens of different birds in a season and just not recognised their individual faces…
Other birds I have written about: