BTO (Citizen Science) Garden Blackcap Survey – Jan 2013

December 27, 2012

in Birds, Gardening For Wildlife

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Garden Blackcap Survey – welcome!

 Blackcap BTO

Do you have more female Blackcaps in your garden than males?


Blackcaps are an increasingly common sight at garden feeding stations during winter and are spotted most often early in the New Year. The foods that we provide seem to be having a profound effect on the ecology of these birds, changing their migratory patterns and subsequent nesting habits.

With your help, we want to find out more about the behaviour of Blackcaps in winter gardens. Choose one day this January to help us answer these three key questions:

1) Which foods are Blackcaps eating?
2) Are there equal numbers of male and female Blackcaps?
3) Are the Blackcaps aggressive with other, similar sized birds?

Download a survey form and instructions here

Blackcaps and bird feeders-     Feeding goes a long way

 We usually think of Blackcaps as being spring and summer visitors to our shores, enlivening these seasons with their rich, piping melodies from scrubby thickets. For most garden birdwatchers, however, Blackcaps are birds of wintertime, arriving at feeding stations around the turn of the year when natural fruits have been depleted. But for a few waifs and strays, these winter visitors are not the same birds that nested in the UK earlier in the year, these having departed south for warmer climes during late summer. Instead, they are breeding birds from central Europe, which turn to our gardens in search of bird food.

Blackcap migration map BTO

Blackcaps (green) leave Britain in the autumn to winter around the Mediterranean, returning in spring (cream). A few birds (orange) pass through on migration. Some birds (yellow) now winter in Britain and Ireland – these are the ones we are looking to study through the Garden Blackcap Survey.

Numbers of these winter wanderers are increasing. When once Blackcaps spending the winter with us would probably have died, our growing fondness for feeding birds in gardens, coupled with our warming winter climate, is helping them to survive. Higher housing densities in urban and suburban areas mean that food supplement availability is greater than in rural habitats, and temperatures are also that bit higher due to the ‘urban heat island’ effect. As a result, Blackcaps push right into our towns and cities over winter to enjoy the benefits.

Where Blackcaps spend the winter is important. Research shows that those wintering here tend to pair up together when they return to their nesting grounds in central Europe in the spring. Similarly, those Blackcaps that spend the winter in Iberia and North Africa – this species’ traditional wintering grounds – also tend to pair up together when they arrive back in central Europe to nest. Blackcap breeding populations are, therefore, separating because of differences in wintering locations, and these differences appear to be influenced by food provided in our gardens.

So, presumably we must know quite a lot about the feeding habits of Blackcaps in gardens? Well, actually, no. Although garden feeders appear to be hugely important to this species we don’t really know which foods they prefer, where they sit in the pecking order with other garden birds and whether similar numbers of males and females are spotted. With your help, we are looking to find out more.

Frequently asked questions

1) Can I record on more than one day?
The Garden Blackcap Survey is designed to be simple and quick to complete. It provides a snapshot of Blackcap behaviour in gardens during January. You can complete more than one Garden Blackcap Survey form if you wish, but we will only be able to include one survey day from each garden, selected at random, in our analyses.

2) What will the BTO do with these results?
We aim to publish the findings of this study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Findings will also be relayed to participants via email and through BTO publications.

How to spot a Blackcap

Download a free BTO Factsheet about Wintering Blackcaps 

Download a survey form and instructions here


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