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 Blackcap - Fact File
male (left), female
Sylvia atricapilla
Common and widespread summer visitor. A small number are found in winter, but ringing studies suggest these birds are from the continent rather than breeding birds.
A Woodland, parks and gardens.
Greyish with distinctive cap, black in male, chestnut in female and juvenile.
14cm (5.5")


My request for details of blackcaps wintering in Norfolk via the pages of the Eastern Daily Press resulted in an almost overwhelming response from readers. I am most grateful.

I have received information from Beeston Regis, Blofield, Coltishall, Costessey, Cromer, Flordon, Garboldisham, Holme, How Hill, Loddon, Northrepps, North Walsham, Norwich, Oxborough, Salhouse, Sheringham, Thornham, Thorpe-next-Norwich, West Beckham, West Runton and Weybourne.

Several of these over-wintering warblers came to readers' bird-tables; others have been content to feed on windfall apples. As a result of ringing, one observer at Garbolidsham was able to confirm that a succession of blackcaps had passed through this garden since the end of November.

The sixth volume of the massive Birds of the Western Palearctic (1993) gave me an opportunity to read the latest information. This volume - devoted solely to warblers - provides 20 pages on the blackcap.

As one would expect during the breeding season, the diet is then chiefly insects, changing to fruit in late summer and during autumn migration. Varieties have included raspberry, cherry and currant. Later, food choices change yet again; largely elder and bramble, followed by over-winterers, taking fat, bread, peanuts, cheese, porridge oats, potato and coconut.

References quoted in the birder's bible extend page upon page. Among them are Stewart Linsell's description of blackcaps wintering in North Africa. They fed from his hand on bread, cake and bacon-rinds. The same Stewart Linsell was Hickling Broad National Nature Reserve warden for more than 12 years.

Blackcaps spending the summer in northern and eastern Europe are wholly migratory and winter south to sub-Saharan Africa. They are 'leap-frog' migrants, the northern populations travelling the longest distances. It is thought that movement is by a few long-distances movements.

In this country, summering blackcaps depart and wintering visitors are thought to all come from continental Europe. Considerable mid-winter blackcap movements are described from the Mediterranean region, apparently relating to fruit availability.

It is not yet know if any spend winter south of the Sahara in some years and north of the great desert in others. But varying annual numbers in West Africa suggest this possibility

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.