There are two main families which contain birds with ‘blackbird’ in their name; Icteridae and Turdidae. The name ‘blackbird’ is somewhat of a catch-all for many birds with nearly all-black plumage, but these two families are barely related at all! Nevertheless, blackbirds are a familiar sight throughout much of the world. Here, we’re going to answer the question, “how long do blackbirds live?”
Blackbirds are short-lived birds that typically only live for 2 to 4 years. In the UK, the Common blackbird has a life expectancy of around 3.4 years, and it’s a similar story regarding the non-related North American blackbirds, such as the Red-winged blackbird, which has a life expectancy of just 2.4 years. But, of course, they can live much longer - the oldest blackbirds recorded in the wild are aged between 15 to 20.
The low life expectancy of blackbirds is mainly due to high nestling, fledgling and juvenile mortality rates. Both the Common blackbirds and many North American blackbirds have a year-on-year survival rate of between just 40% and 70%. In addition, young blackbirds have just a 37% chance of reaching adulthood.
Unfortunately, many young blackbirds will never leave the nest, and their adult life is fraught with perils. Despite high mortality rates, blackbirds are still a common and successful bird, and their populations are generally stable.
Read on to learn more about the lifespans of these well-known garden birds!
Red-winged Blackbird, found in the US
The typical lifespan of a Common or European blackbird is 3.4 years. While this seems low, it’s about average for songbirds which generally have short lives and fast lifecycles.
Many blackbirds fail to fledge from the nest, and even if they do, their year-on-year survival rate is only about 50% to 70%. Around 50% of all nests fail, which is partly why blackbirds have 2 to 3 broods a year to compensate. While many blackbirds don’t live for long, many older individuals have been recorded living for longer than 10 years, or even 20 years or longer!
Like with many birds, the lifespan of a blackbird is a game of chance. If they can avoid predators and find plenty of food in a relatively safe and stable environment, they have a good chance of surviving for longer than their allotted 3.4 years.
The lifespans of other blackbirds are very similar to the Common blackbird. For example, the North American Red-winged blackbird typically only lives for 2.4 years. The Indian blackbird, which is related to the Common blackbird, also only lives for around 2 to 4 years.
Blackbird singing in the trees
Blackbirds are often killed by predators like hawks, owls, cats and foxes. Their nests may also be predated by corvids, like the magpie, jay and crow, as well as cuckoos. Blackbirds are known to abandon their nests at the whiff of danger too, which means any unfledged birds will likely die from starvation.
Most blackbirds die in the nest, not too long after hatching. Nestling survival rates are about 50%, so almost half of all nestlings fail to fledge. Studies show that the heavier the hatchling at birth, the higher its survival rate generally is.
But their perils don’t stop there; many fledglings will also die before they are one year old. After then, the year-on-year survival rate of adult blackbirds goes up a little, climbing to around 70% in the UK. So, each year, only 7/10 adult blackbirds will survive.
While this seems like doom and gloom, the rapid lifecycle of the blackbird helps it thrive in the face of adversity. Birds can fledge in just nine days, which is phenomenally fast compared to many other birds. Like many other small songbirds, blackbirds live life in the fast lane!
A juvenile Eurasian Blackbird (Common Blackbird)
Blackbirds have super-fast lifecycles. From the moment an egg is laid, many blackbirds will hatch and leave the nest within the next month, long before the end of the breeding season. This enables blackbirds to raise as many as three broods per year.
The Common blackbird faces numerous threats on both land and in the air. Many nests fail through predation, and fledglings are especially vulnerable to land predators during their first month outside of the nest.
Blackbirds’ main predators are:
As well as animals, blackbirds are often infested with ticks. As many as 70% of blackbirds in rural France were found infested with at least one type of tick. While ticks are not predators to blackbirds, they’re still a significant cause of ill health.
Blackbird eating berries
The oldest Common blackbird was at least 20 years and 3 months old. This is vastly above the blackbird’s typical 2 to 4-year lifespan and just goes to show that the biological life expectancy of many birds is much, much higher than their average lifespan.
The oldest Red-winged blackbird was a similar 15 years, 9 months old, and was banded in New Jersey in 1967.
Blackbirds will attempt to feed every day, and will usually be successful during the summer and winter at least. They can probably live for around 2 to 3 days without food but will become slow and lethargic.
Most small birds are metabolically active for most of the day and need to feed relatively regularly.
A male blackbird with two recently fledged blackbird chicks
Blackbirds often roost in tree and wall cavities during winter. In addition, many blackbirds choose to roost communally in small flocks, huddling for warmth. Nesting boxes also provide warm shelter for winter birds.
Blackbirds further north than the UK, e.g. those in Scandinavia, will typically head south and west during the winter to find warmer wintering grounds.
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