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Blackcap

Blackcap Male Blackcap Male
Mostly grey-brown with a black cap.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Sylvia atricapilla
Length: 13 cm  (5")
Wing Span: 20-23 cm  (8-9")
Weight: 16-25 g  (½-¾ oz) Female Blackcap Female
Similar to the male but with red-brown cap.
Breeding Pairs: 580 000
Present: Summer
Status: Green
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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Description

The Blackcap is a warbler with a distinctive black or red-brown cap (crown and forehead), and a little smaller than a House Sparrow.

The male has grey-brown upper parts, pale grey underparts, and a glossy black cap. The female is similar but has browner upperparts, buff underparts and a red-brown cap.

Juveniles are similar to the adult female, except the juvenile males have black-brown cap and the juvenile female a yellow-brown cap.

The male Blackcap can be easily confused with Marsh Tit and Willow Tit, and both sexes with the Garden Warbler. The Tits both have black bibs. The Garden Warbler is very similar in appearance, but lacks a black cap.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Alarm Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

The Blackcap's alarm call, "tacc", sounds like two pebbles striking one another.

Its song is rich and varied warble, usually starting with a chattering and finishing with a flourish of flute-like notes.

The songs of the Blackcap and Garden Warbler are very similar, but the Garden Warbler's song is often longer lasting with shorter pauses.

Feeding

Blackcaps usually pick insects, such as caterpillars, flies and spiders from among the shrubs and trees during the breeding season. At other times, and particularly in the winter, they feed on fruit, such as berries.

They will sometimes visit bird tables in the winter, and they may feed from suet bars, especially those impregnated with dried flies.

Nesting

The nest is a neat cup built by the female from vegetation and mud and is usually in a hedge, bush, or brambles, though they will use shelves in huts and other outbuildings.

The eggs are about 20 mm by 15 mm. They are smooth and glossy, and pale buff with dark markings. Both adult birds share the duty of incubating the eggs as well as feeding the altricial young once they have hatched.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
mid-April 1-2 4-6 11-12 10-14

Movements

Very few Blackcaps in the UK are resident; most are summer visitors, over-wintering in Spain, Portugal and western Africa.

Blackcaps are predominantly summer visitors (see migration) from Iberia and West Africa, however, there are an increasing number over-wintering in Britain, but many of these are birds that bred in northern or central Europe, e.g. Scandinavia and Germany. The increase in the numbers wintering here may be a result of milder winters, but also the relative abundance of food in the UK, i.e. berries and bird feeders. The UK wintering population steals an advantage over those that still choose to winter in Iberia and Africa, by getting back to their breeding grounds sooner and having used less energy to get there.

Conservation

The Blackcap is thriving well, especially with the milder winters.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

About three years ago a pair of Blackcaps - a male and a female - was a frequent visitor in late winter and early spring. Nowadays we are more likely to see a solitary male or female, and then it is only occasionally.

Within the local woods I have been heartened to discover numerous pairs of Blackcaps nesting, so there is a good chance that Blackcap visits to the garden may increase.


Last revision: 06 Sep 2013
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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