BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)

Merle noir

 

The Blackbird is one of the commonest birds in Switzerland and globally is one of the most studied. It can be found in all habitats with the exception of the high alps above about 2,400m. But its greatest density is the lower altitudes of the valleys and the plateaus. They can sing in almost any month of the year but are most notable in spring, they usually are amongst the first of the morning songsters, often starting when it is still dark. Usually singing from a prominent perch - a roof top, lighting pole or chimney - this is the bird that wakes you each morning in April !

The song is a relaxed delivery of somewhat languid, flute-like notes; if the sound were food it would have a creamy texture ! Each phrase is delivered in about 3-4 seconds with a similar gap between them, so it is very rhythmical and somewhat predictable. Here is one echoing around the woods soon after dawn:

 

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There is a huge variety in the phrases that they sing, and individuals often have phrases they like to repeat that become their signature tune if you like. They also have a great facility for learning and can mimic phrases of other species and even humans - Gareth Thomas of the UK Wildlife Sound Recording Society published a great sequence of one that learned to mimic the idle whistle of his neighbour Mr Jones !

 

One thing that all Blackbirds seem to do however is that each phrase sounds like the start of some huge grand opera - but then finishes with some rather weak muttered chucklings, as if the the bird changed its mind and decided it was too much effort to sing the whole thing...

 

 

When upset they give varying levels of alarm calls, a mild irritation (the neighbours cat crossing the garden for example) gets a gentle clucking noise:

 

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(In that last file the swoosh at 20 secs was a Swift passing low overhead, and shortly after the sucking sounds are from the nearby starlings - but it was the cat that upset the Blackbird !)

 

If the level of threat goes up then so does the tone and a penetrating "wink-wink-wink" is the result. They do this in the evening when going to roost, often when no threat is in sight - I have never worked that one out...  in the following file however (recorded at dusk) you can just hear a single call of a Tawny Owl 4 seconds into the clip, so that is probably what was provoking this bird:

 

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