When trying to describe birds to other people, the first thing that we do is talk about a striking element of their plumage, especially if it is something around the face. For example, it is hard to miss the white and red facial rings of a Goldfinch even if we don’t know it by name. Often, we find ourselves looking at something with a black cap on its head. So, what are we looking at?
One of the most common garden birds with a BlackCap in the UK is the Eurasian BlackCap. Weighing 21g, measuring 13cm, with a wingspan of 20-23cm, this distinctive greyish warbler can be found all year round.
What Bird Has A Black Cap?
There are many birds across the UK that have black caps or black head feathers to some degree. It is a widespread trait from grebes to gulls and many garden birds. But, there is a species called the Eurasian Blackcap that visits gardens. This may be the bird you are seeing. If not, it is still a good idea to get to know this little creature in case one does show up sometime.
Which Birds Have Black Caps In The UK?
Before we talk about the Eurasian Blackcap as a species and its habits in gardens, it is important to look at the commonality of black-headed and black-capped birds across the country.
Many species in various families have black on their crowns, extending right over the tops of their heads, or an entirely black head in contrast to other plumage. Often, you will find this gets stronger in breeding plumage. But, there are also many cases, such as the Eurasian Blackcap, where this is an all-year-round occurrence.
The most common example of black-headed birds in the UK is the gull and tern families. There is the possibility of a Black-headed Gull stopping off in a garden because they can be found gathering on playing fields inland.
These and the related Mediterranean Gulls only get their black heads when in breeding plumage. This used to be called summer plumage, but that term has been phased out now, so many birds have black heads closer to winter.
Other Black Capped Birds In UK Gardens
We are talking about these other birds with black caps and heads because it can be easy to confuse another species with a Blackcap or to assume that a Blackcap is perhaps a juvenile of a different species. The male Bullfinch is a prime example, with a very dark black cap on its head.
But, this is very distinctive due to its grey back and reddish-pink chest. Pied Wagtails are similar in colouration to a point and they have striking black caps and bibs. But, the shape and the long wagging tail mean it is hard to confuse them with a Blackcap.
The species that you may be more likely to confuse Eurasian Blackcaps for are the tits. There are species of tit that have darker heads and aren’t too different in size, although the Great Tit is a little larger. If you have never seen a Blackcap or a Coal Tit and the latter appeared, you may wonder which it is.
But, Coal Tits are much more colourful than Blackcaps and look like miniature Great Tits. There is a stronger resemblance between the Black Cap and the more delicate Marsh and Willow Tits, who have buff grey underparts and dark caps. However, they are a different shape and not so likely to show up in a garden.
How To Identify The Eurasian Blackcap
The main thing to know about the Blackcap is that this cap feature is the most striking part of its appearance. It is not hard to see why they got this name. However, what is interesting is that the cap is very narrow compared to that of other black-headed garden birds.
It tapers back like some stylish hairstyle. The rest of the plumage is quite uniform and grey and while this sounds unremarkable, it is unusual and makes the bird more handsome and easy to pick out from other birds.
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An important thing to remember here is that not all Blackcaps have blackcaps. This plumage is only seen on the male, but the come name of the bird makes it sound like they should all look the same. The female has a brown cap instead that is a nice warm chestnut tone.
There is always the hope that migratory pairs of Blackcaps will appear in a garden to breed, so it is nice when you can spot these clearly sexually dimorphic birds together. They are both handsome in their own right and fun to watch.
Are Eurasian Blackcaps Related To Any UK Garden Bird?
While the Blackcap may resemble the Willow and Marsh tit most in terms of plumage, they are actually more closely related to warblers. This is apparent when you see these birds perched on branches and see how slender they are compared to the more rounded tits.
They have a sleek body shape that tapers down into a relatively long tail. They also have a long thin bill and reasonably long legs for perching. However, many common warbler species, such as the Garden Warbler, don’t have black caps, or any black at all for that matter.
Most have very similar plumage with brown backs and wings, paler undersides, and often some form of stripe over or around the eye. Again, this is something not seen in Blackcaps.
The Blackcap Song
Another way that the Eurasian Blackcap is similar to some warbler species is through its song. This isn’t a species that we tend to think of as a garden songbird because there are so many others with distinctive songs, like the Blackbird and Robin, but it does have a pretty song.
Some colloquially call this the “northern nightingale” or “lesser nightingale” because of the tone and complexity of the song. These songs can last for around two and half minutes, which is no mean feat for such a small bird, and there is a pleasant crescendo at the end. It is an excellent way of getting noticed.
Are Blackcaps Rare?
Blackcaps aren’t the most commonly seen bird, but they certainly aren’t rare either. In the UK, these birds have a Green Status as determined by the RSPB and a status of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The species has extended its range for many years and there are now approximately 1,200,000 breeding pairs in this country. So there is a greater chance of seeing these now than a few years ago.
Are Blackcaps Common In UK Gardens
There has been a rise in the number of sightings of Blackcaps across the country because they have changed their habits in recent years. You can find these birds in a range of locations and mostly, this will be in parks and gardens in southern parts of the country. Gardens are an excellent place for them to find food like insects and berries across the year – either for feeding themselves and their chicks in spring or staying alive in winter.
However, there was a time when they were so commonly seen because they were just summer visitors. They would come to gardens to breed and take advantage of the food resources here and across a lot of mainland Europe.
Then when the weather got too cold, they would get south to winter feeding grounds that were much warmer. This could be down in the Mediterranean or further south into Africa. The difference now is that there are better opportunities and warmer temperatures in the UK. You can also find that some birds come into the country from Europe, boosting numbers further.
There are benefits to these birds deciding to take an alternative approach and stick around for winter. There are plenty of gardens across the country where they can find enough food to stay healthy and the milder areas shouldn’t get too cold.
This is a reason why there are more found in the south of the UK than in the north. It also saves them a dangerous and tiring journey back to Africa or the Mediterranean. An added benefit there is that they can avoid areas where it is legal to hunt and trap songbirds for food. Unfortunately, not all songbirds like Blackcaps make it through some of the Mediterranean islands back to the UK to breed again.
Providing Food For Blackcaps In Your Garden
The importance of supplemental feeding for the success of the Blackcap in the UK over winter can’t be overlooked. If we were to cut back on stocking up feeders, then numbers could suffer. These birds will come to bird feeding tables to stock up on food.
They will enjoy getting hold of some reliable sources of energy and fat in the winter, so leaving out fat balls, suet cakes, and fruit is a great idea. It always helps to offer a varied diet because you don’t know who may come by and take advantage of it. Ignore guides that say that Blackcaps will eat bread. Bread isn’t good for any bird.
It is also good to have a range of plants in the garden that provide berries and hips for birds to enjoy. These little boosts of energy allow birds to engage in natural foraging behaviour. The wider the range, the more there is to go around. Furthermore, the better the botanical biodiversity, the more chance to attract insects that can feed Blackcaps and their chicks in the spring.
Are Blackcaps Aggressive?
You may find references online to Blackcaps being aggressive birds. This tends to relate to their relationships with other birds at feeding stations rather than other situations. They aren’t going to get overly aggressive if they don’t have to compete for something and aren’t going to come after people in the garden.
What happens here is that these birds like to maintain their place in a food supply. This may be because they are afraid to miss out on a good thing by being further down the pecking order. Whatever the reason, you can see them try and chase other birds away from a good meal.
A good way to prevent this is to ensure that there are several feeding stations in the garden during the winter. This not only means that you can provide different types of food in different areas, but also that there is less competition in one spot. You might be able to create something for the sparrows and tits in one area and something for smaller migrants in another.
The Nesting Habits Of Blackcaps
There is a good chance that these birds will breed in our gardens if conditions are suitable. They will make nests in the shape of cosy little grass cups in bushes and hedges in gardens, parks, and woodland areas. These secluded nests should hold 4-5 eggs, which both parents incubate. This may not seem like a lot, but most pairs will attempt a second brood during their April to July breeding season.
An interesting fact about the breeding habits of these Eurasian Blackcaps takes us back to that idea of them having a great song. The male of the species has been known to sing when it is incubating eggs. This sounds like a bad idea for a bird that doesn’t want to give away the location of a nest.
But, the idea here is that he is maintaining his bond with his mate. Also, this is more common with the second brood than the first.
This leads to one final important consideration if you want to encourage Blackcaps into your garden. It isn’t enough to offer food. They need somewhere to nest.
Healthy natural hedgerows provide great cover for them to build their secluded nests. With this, a good feeding regime, and healthy insect populations, you could help this cute black capped bird thrive in your area throughout the year.
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