Blackbirds are from the true thrush family Turdidae and the New World blackbird family Icteridae - the Common blackbird (Turdus merula) is from the true thrush family Turdidae. Whilst the Common blackbird is by far the most common and widely distributed blackbird, there are around 20 species with the name ‘blackbird’ in their common name.
Blackbirds are successful, charming birds that are well-loved for their rich and melodic songs, but what do blackbirds eat?
Blackbirds are flexible omnivores that eat primarily berries, grains and seeds, as well as caterpillars, beetles, worms, snails, flies, spiders and various other insects. Plant and vegetable matter is the mainstay of their diet, consisting of around 75% of total food intake. The remainder is made up of insects, molluscs and other invertebrates.
In summer, blackbirds increase their insect intake to take advantage of flourishing insect life, and in winter, they consume more berries, fruits, grains, seeds and other plant matter. Blackbirds foraging for berries from trees in bushes are a common sight in the colder months - they’re trying to fatten themselves up for the winter ahead!
Most blackbirds in the family Icteridae have similar diets to those in the family Turdidae and are flexible omnivores, consuming mostly plant and vegetable matter. Thrushes are sometimes known as soft bill or soft beak birds, meaning they choose softer foods without hard casings.
Read on to learn more about the diets of these well-loved, melodic birds!
Common Blackbird eating rowan berries
Blackbirds tend to switch from a more insect-heavy summer diet to a more plant-heavy winter diet. Insects are generally less abundant in the winter, as they either die or hibernate. As a result, birds have to eat more plant foods to make up for their losses.
The Common, Red-Winged, and Yellow-headed blackbirds all consume markedly fewer insects in winter, but blackbirds distributed further south in Asia, Africa and Central and South America will have more or less the same diet all year round.
Berries, seeds, grains and other foods are also scarcer in winter, which is why many birds spend longer foraging than they do in summer.
Eurasian Blackbird in the snow
A typical blackbird’s spring and summer diet includes more insects and invertebrates. Insect life is more abundant in summer, and blackbirds up their intake to take advantage!
The Red-Winged Blackbird, the most common blackbird in North America, vastly increases its insect intake in the spring. The Common blackbird does the same, consuming around 50% insects compared to just 25% otherwise.
Blackbirds forage from trees, bushes and the ground. Berries are taken from bushes and trees all year round - blackbirds may spend most of their day foraging from the same spots.
Insects and invertebrates like worms and caterpillars are taken from the ground or from low-lying foliage, but occasionally, blackbirds will hunt flying insects on the wing (during flight) too. The Red-winged blackbird also likes to hunt aquatic insects, plucking prey from rushes, lily pads and other aquatic plants.
In autumn and winter, multiple blackbirds can often be seen foraging from the same spots in somewhat of a feeding frenzy. They are rushing to put on weight for the winter ahead!
A female blackbird with a beak full of insects and worms
Blackbirds have a particular fondness for earthworms and have developed techniques for foraging them from the grass.
By watching and waiting from the ground or nearby perch, a blackbird’s keen eye can pick up on the faintest surface movement, then swooping in to grasp the earthworm with its beak and haul it from the soil.
Blackbirds also have keen hearing and can detect the tiny vibrations of earthworms moving just beneath the soil. Both blackbirds and thrushes have exceptionally good eyesight. If you look closely at a blackbird, you may notice that they have large eyes compared to their body.
Blackbird foraging in the grass
Blackbirds generally prefer to feed at dawn and throughout the day, and less so at dusk or at night. In winter, blackbirds have longer feeding hours as they aim to take advantage of whatever is available, maximising their intake of berries and grains.
Whilst blackbirds are not particularly shy, they’re pretty territorial and prefer to feed alone, particularly in summer and throughout the breeding season. In autumn, winter and spring, blackbirds become less territorial and more gregarious, often feeding together from the same berry-abundant bushes and fruit trees.
Baby blackbirds are exceptionally tiny, naked birds that rely on close parental care for around three weeks, which is quite a long time for birds of their size.
Both parents feed the chicks soft foods, which are often partially regurgitated. For example, berries and worms are both soft enough for the baby blackbirds to eat and digest.
Male blackbird feeding fledgling a strawberry
Blackbirds are often classed as soft bill birds, that include most thrushes like robins and dunnocks. Many soft bill bird feed mixes contain a variety of softer foods, such as pinhead oatmeal, peanut flakes, flaked oats, sunflower hearts, suet and berries.
Dried fruits such as raisins, sultanas and currants are superb choices for feeding blackbirds and other thrushes. Blackbirds also enjoy mealworms and will eat from fat balls during the autumn and winter.
Foods that blackbirds love:
Male and female blackbirds at a garden feeder
Blackbirds drink only water and frequently visit garden birdbaths. Water can be scarce in both summer and winter when dry conditions or ice prevent freshwater supplies from being replenished. Providing fresh water to birds throughout the year can help support them and will attract more birds to your garden.
Blackbirds aren’t particularly shy and will visit gardens that provide consistent bird food and water. They also love foraging from fruit bushes and trees; wild blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and cherries all help attract thrushes and all manner of other birds.
Birds are also attracted by freshwater and bird foods provided on the floor, in hanging bird feeders and on bird tables. Don’t forget that some birds prefer to feed from the ground, including blackbirds.
Close up of a blackbird perched on a fence
Like most other thrushes, blackbirds prefer to feed from the ground rather than an elevated bird feeder. They’re also generally too large to feed on hanging bird feeders, but will still feed on larger bird tables.
When providing birdseed to the birds in your garden, make sure you scatter some on the floor to feed ground feeding birds like blackbirds and other thrushes.
Blackbirds have softbills and prefer softer bird foods as a result, including raisins, sunflower hearts, oatmeal, hemp seed, mealworms and oats. They won’t eat hard-shelled seeds and nuts.
Blackbird with a beak full of mealworms
Blackbirds do prefer to feed on the ground, but will also feed from bushes and trees. They’re generally too large for hanging bird feeders but will happily feed on large bird tables, particularly enclosed bird tables.
Blackbirds are opportunistic feeders, and there are a few species that prey upon animals, including young birds, lizards, amphibians and small mammals such as mice and shrews. This is fairly rare, however. The Common and Red-winged blackbirds are not known to pursue other birds as a food source.
Fruit is ideal for blackbirds’ softbills. Berries such as blackberries, holly berries, raspberries, grapes, cherries, rosehips, rowan berries, elderberries and hawthorn berries are frequently eaten by blackbirds. They’ll also eat apples, plums, figs and other wild and garden fruits.
Female blackbird eating ripe Mahonia aquifolium berries
Bread is soft, which is excellent for a blackbird’s soft bill, but it’s nutritionally poor and won’t provide the bird with the nutrients it needs to thrive and survive. Whilst birds can be fed bread, it should only be provided to supplement seeds, suet and other healthier foods.
Blackbirds eat apples growing in the wild as well as dried or diced apples placed on the ground or on bird tables.
Blackbirds do eat invertebrates, including slugs and worms. In fact, blackbirds may even help to control numbers of garden slugs, including some invasive species, which is great news for gardeners!
Common Blackbird eating an apple off the ground
Blackbirds do eat snails and have been observed dropping them on their shells to make them easier to eat.
Blackbirds are big fans of berries and other small fruits.
Blackbirds have softbills, making sunflower seeds somewhat of a challenge to eat, unless they’re softened by moisture or rain.
Raisins, sultanas and currants are all excellent foods for blackbirds and other thrushes and are amongst their favourite foods.
Blackbird singing from a tree
Oats are extremely nutritious and are ideal for blackbirds, robins and other thrushes. You can find oats in many thrush, songbird and soft-billed bird food mixes.
So long as the peanuts are crushed or flaked then yes, you can absolutely feed blackbirds peanuts.
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