I’ve just read the latest fascinating post from one I follow – Finn Holding’s ‘Naturephile’– on the topic of the territorial battles between male blackbirds and was transported back to my garden in southern Spain, where I witnessed similar dramas on several occasions. Spring arrives slightly earlier there, so the breeding cycle and related territorial skirmishes are about a month to six weeks ahead of the UK.
The following is an extract from my Spanish blog dated January 2011; my pictures were taken in 2008 and some are not quite as clear as Finn’s, but I think they similarly portray some of the real fierceness of these encounters, particularly those of the pair on the ground.
“Blackbirds are very numerous hereabouts, thanks no doubt to year-round access to plenty of well-watered lawns, berried shrubs and trees and safe places to build their nests. We have had a pair nesting in our garden each year we have lived here so far, most years successfully raising a family of three, and a few times managing two broods. This breeding success, repeated throughout the area, often results in a local population explosion, which come the onset of the next breeding season means there’s a lot of competition for the best territories.
At this time of year I have seen as many as six males in the garden at any one time demonstrating the familiar challenging routine that generally involves a lot of following and retaliatory chasing between two or sometimes more birds, with one usually succeeding in sending the rest packing, often protesting loudly as they retreat over a wall or hedge.
The fight I photographed, (25th January 2008), took the competition to a whole new level the intensity of which I had never witnessed before. The duelling began in pretty much the same way as usual, with one of the birds shadowing the other as it ran between shrubs or along the corridor between the hedge and the wall, then the one being followed would turn and lunge at its follower and chase it purposefully, attempting to intimidate it into leaving. This behaviour went on for days, with each challenge lasting for quite some time, which must have been very tiring for the birds. The contenders must have been very equally matched and more determined tactics called for, and chases began to be more aggressive, with the birds flying up at one another, bill to bill until one departed. This happened over several mornings, but the incidents were so brief, or in an awkward place that I failed to get anything on camera. Then one day one of them must have decided that enough was enough and that there would be no more Mr. Nice Bird, as the following pictures show……….
Despite the apparent ferocity of the attack, I don’t think either bird was seriously hurt, but as they were very similar in appearance and well-matched too, I have no idea which one emerged as the victor.
On a good note, later in the year a pair of Blackbirds nested in a fork of the branches of our big yucca tree raising three very healthy young.”