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Blackbirds fighting to the death

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 03 Feb 2012 at 11:35 AM

Knowing that birds fight over resources in winter, what I found yesterday wasn’t entirely a surprise. Going through the side gate of the garden I was visiting, I noticed clumps of black feathers scattered about and then came upon a rather grisly sight – two dead blackbirds (Turdus merula) laid side by side and they had obviously died fighting. They were lying close enough to be touching each other, both were bloodied and one had feathers in its beak and claws. One was certainly an adult male, shown by the black feathers and yellow beak, whilst the other may have been a female or a younger male that had not yet developed a yellow beak. It wasn’t very easy to tell as both birds were frozen solid and covered in frost.

I tried to imagine what might have happened for both birds to end up dead and yet be lying side by side. Except for on their bodies, there was no blood to be seen. Did they die of exhaustion, did they both die of their injuries at the same time, or could they have somehow knocked each other unconscious and then died of cold? Without thawing them out and investigating more closely, which I was not inclined to do, there was no way to tell.


Blackbirds are known to migrate from colder parts of Europe, so it may be that the intruder had flown in from elsewhere and come up against a bird with an established territory. It is just as likely to have been a local bird from a neighbouring territory, coming in to take advantage of a garden with a good supply of natural food. A resident blackbird will defend its food stores with vigour, as we have seen at home, where a male guards both berries and windfall apples throughout the autumn and early winter, noisily chasing away any other blackbirds who come close.

This sudden cold weather has prompted the birds into even fighting harder to defend their territories. The worms have gone deeper into the frozen soil, other food is more difficult to find and water is frozen; times are hard for the birds just now. A couple of weeks ago, the weather was almost spring-like and there were lively songs in the air, but winter has barged in to change it all. Thoughts have turned from breeding to survival. If you feed the birds, it’s good motivation to put out extra food and water during the winter, when resources are scarce. It is, after all, partly because of our actions that some territories don’t provide enough to eat.


sue1002 said:

What a sad story Miranda, I hope they didn't suffer for too long.

on 03 Feb 2012 at 01:56 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I hope that as well, Sue, though it looked there had been one heck of a fight.

on 03 Feb 2012 at 05:03 PM

richardpeeej said:

A very interesting read about nature and survival Miranda. Thank you for sharing your observations and thoughts with us all. Hope you are well....

on 04 Feb 2012 at 11:17 AM

serena said:

It is sad Miranda, I have had lots of different birds in my snowy garden today and I have put food out all over the place so there is plenty for all the birds, the worst bickering birds seem to be the Goldfinches and Greenfinches and Starlings of course, at least they have taken turns to have a nice bath after de-frosting the birdbath three times today.

on 04 Feb 2012 at 09:31 PM

Michael said:

Hello Miranda, when I read your post I had to sign up to tell you my story.

There's been fierce competition among Blackbirds in my Wirral garden for some years. I've seen parallel walking, or should I say parallel hopping - and sometimes with 3 cock birds. The territorial lines continually move a little each way.

But the fights usually begin later in the season with both birds flying up vertically, claws and beaks scrapping. Last year one bird got broken tail feathers.

The blackbirds took to turning over leaves. During one moment of bird comedy the aggressor came swooping in and  turning over a few leaves before making off. The resident came back and just to make the point on territory ownership turned over leaves frantically. I have to worry about my plants.

Last year I saw a sinister increase in aggression with one cock bird repeatedly swooping into the garden and flying directly at the resident bird. Then the aggressor made off. This kept the resident bird on tenterhooks and weary but it seemed to hold on. However, it was hard to identify a hen bird for this cock.

Today two cock birds were posturing around my pond for a few moments. Well there it is - and I think it's quite an exciting story.

on 05 Feb 2012 at 12:41 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Michael, thank you for the lovely story. The birds certainly do provide a good deal of entertainment, don't they. I have also noticed them swooping at one another, often a robin swooping at a blackbird or the other way round. I don't know why those two should pick on each other, but they do here and in other gardens too.

Good to hear from you, Richard! I hope the birds in your garden are thriving!

Serena, it's good to hear that the birds in your garden are so well cared for. I'd like to think that many people would put out fresh water three times a day in freezing weather - I hope your birds appreciate it!

on 06 Feb 2012 at 03:02 PM

pushkin said:

Sad story.

on 12 Mar 2012 at 12:33 PM

jan said:

I have been watching thrushes jostling over some food I put out. Now I wander whats best? I don't want to start a battle. jan

on 13 Mar 2012 at 02:46 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I'd still put food out, but in different areas so that the birds are kept apart. They'll probably still chase each other, but will have more chance of getting something.

on 14 Apr 2012 at 12:08 PM