Within its range and to differentiate it from other similar species, it is often referred to as an Eurasian Blackcap. This sexually dichromatic, stocky little warbler, is a member of the genus Sylvia and is sometimes nicknamed the Northern Nightingale due to its beautiful and frequent song.
20cm to 23cm
The adult male blackcap has mainly olive grey upper parts with a pale grey underside. The face and throat are grey and there is a white semi-circular eye ring around the base of the eye terminating where it joins with a distinctive narrow black cap. This black area extends from the forehead, across the crown to the nape. The upperwing area and the medium length tail are a dark grey. The eyes are a dark brown and the bill slate grey with grey legs. The adult female is similar to the male but overall with a brownish shade and the blackcap is replaced with a brown or rufous cap. The juvenile resembles the female but with more buff colour to the upperparts and a less obvious brown cap.
Eurasian Blackcap with berries in its mouth
Male and Female Blackcaps
As a warbler the blackcap is obviously a proficient singer and can often be heard calling from trees, thick undergrowth and low-lying cover. The call itself is a short hard ‘tac’ or ‘tac- tac’ whilst the song is a loud rapid warbling, often lasting up to half a minute in duration, rising to a high pitched finale.
Peter Boesman, XC648935. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/648935.
During the breeding season the blackcap prefers insects and larvae including grasshoppers, beetles, mayflies and small spiders, which it collects off leaves or from twigs and even through ground foraging, although the latter is not as common. As the end of summer approaches their tastes change and they prefer fruits, berries and seeds. In the springtime they can often been seen balancing on small branches taking pollen from tree blossom.
Perched Eurasian Blackcap
Blackcaps are partial migrants and widespread throughout most of Central, Southern and Northwest Europe, the Northeast Atlantic islands including Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and the Canaries, Western Asia as far as Central Russia and Northwest Africa. During winter months those from the colder regions of Scandinavia migrate south, mainly to countries surrounding the Mediterranean or sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last fifty years or so blackcaps have also regularly migrated from northern Germany to overwinter in the United Kingdom. This oddity is explained by some researchers as being down to the fact that many British gardens have winter bird feeders so food is in abundance and freely available. There are five sub-species of the nominate with slight variations in appearance, predominantly down to subtle differences in the colour shade and to the extent of the area covered by the black cap of the male.
Female Blackcap exposing her wings
Forests and woodland areas are the preferred habitats of blackcaps, particularly those with a covering of heavy undergrowth and bushes. Orchards, parks, hedgerows and gardens in more urban areas are also popular. The song of the male is often the first indication of the presence of a blackcap and once spotted the distinctive black cap of the male or rufous brown cap of the female are the primary aid to identification. They are relatively solitary birds although may feed together during the winter months from berry laden bushes.
Small cup shaped nests are constructed out of grasses and stems by both parents and generally located inside bushes at roughly a metre above the ground. Up to two broods, occasionally three in some of the Atlantic islands, averaging 4 or 5 buff coloured eggs, with grey brown blotches, are laid between April to August. Those birds on the very fringes of their normal range may produce outside of these time parameters. Both parents incubate the eggs which hatch at around two weeks. Fledging occurs roughly twelve days later.
Nest of a Blackcap with eggs
Blackcap feeding chicks
The lifespan of the blackcap is normally up to five years although some ringed birds have been recorded at almost twice that age.
An elusive reedbed-dwelling songbird, the moustached warbler breeds in marshlands across southern Europe. Rare reports of breeding in the UK do exist, although no sightings of the species have been confirmed in Britain since the 1940s.
This small but long tailed, large headed warbler, is a resident of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean where it is common, although is not present on the island of Menorca.
Widespread across southern Europe and North Africa, Sardinian warblers are known for their chattering, fast-paced song, commonly heard throughout Mediterranean areas.
Yellow-browed warblers are rare winter visitors to the UK, with fewer than 30 birds arriving after their breeding season in Siberia has drawn to a close. A few hundred sightings of these tiny migrants are also recorded in passage each year, along the east coast of Scotland, and eastern and southern coasts of England.
Wood warblers are tuneful breeding visitors, arriving in British woodlands from April onwards. Well hidden in their preferred tree-filled landscapes, their bright yellow breast makes them easily distinguishable from other similar warbler species.
The diminutive Willow warbler is a small bird from the Leaf Warbler family Phylloscopidae which contains 80 species. Willow warblers are primarily insectivorous and are energetic, constantly moving birds that dart their tree and hedgerow habitats. They possess soft and subtle green plumage with a pale green-grey back, wings and tail with a pale grey stomach that has a slight yellow tinge.
Whitethroats are active warblers that can be seen and heard in hedgerows around Britain during spring and summer months, as they raise their young and busily forage for insects. Each autumn, they depart for wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, returning in April to breed once more.
Widespread and common breeding visitors to the UK, sedge warblers arrive on marshlands and reedbeds in April, and spend up to 6 months on British soil (or wetlands, to be more accurate), raising their young, before preparing for lengthy migrations to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.
Savi’s warblers are long-distance migratory songbirds, breeding across continental Europe and north-west Africa, and spending winters in West Africa. Extremely rare in the UK, with only around 5 breeding pairs a year, Savi’s warblers are mostly found in marshlands and habitats with dense reed cover.
A wetland songbird with a rather unremarkable appearance, the reed warbler is a spring visitor to the UK, raising young in wetland reedbeds across England and Wales before returning to African wintering grounds at the end of the summer.
Seen only very occasionally in the UK, the marsh warbler is a long-distance migrant, breeding across central and eastern Europe and spending winters in south-eastern Africa. Sightings in Britain are limited to coastal areas, where up to only around 8 pairs are recorded as breeding each year.
Smaller and less common than the closely related whitethroat, the Lesser Whitethroat, is a hard-to-spot breeding visitor to the UK, due to its unremarkable plumage and favoured habitats of dense hedgerow vegetation.
A well-camouflaged visitor to grasslands and reedbeds, grasshopper warblers arrive in Britain to breed each spring. You may stand a better chance of hearing one than actually getting a sighting, as their secretive nature of creeping through vegetation makes them almost impossible to spot.
Garden warblers are unobtrusive, inconspicuous songbirds that are most commonly found foraging in woodlands during spring and summer months, before heading south to wintering grounds in Africa each autumn.
Mainly confined to lowland heaths in southern England, the Dartford warbler is an elusive little resident breeder with distinctive plumage and physical characteristics.
Until recently this small, solitary, old world leaf warbler was classified as being a member of the family Sylviidae, but following extensive research and reclassification, now falls within the family of Phylloscopidae.
A particularly hard-to-spot bush warbler, the Cetti’s warbler bred in Britain for the first time in the 1970s and now is an established species, with an expanded breeding range in wetland reedbeds around the southern, eastern and south-western coasts of England, and the south and north coasts of Wales.
Aquatic warblers are rare and temporary migrants to parts of southern England each autumn, en-route from their breeding grounds in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus to their winter territories in West Africa. Only around 40 sightings are reported each year, with the species classed as vulnerable and in decline.
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