TThe Common Blackbird, الشّحرور

Turdus merula:

By Maha Khalil

The blackbird is a very special bird that has been resident in Egypt’s Nile Delta and Mediterranean coast since the 1980s. The adult male blackbird is all black with a yellow bill and eye-ring, while the female and young birds are dark brown. Adults have an aver

Photo: Maha Khalil

Photo: Maha Khalil

age length of 24 cm.

Blackbirds usually inhabit woodlands, gardens and plantations, and are quite common in Europe – more so than in the Middle East where they are found only in Turkey and countries of the east Mediterranean. The female lays bluish eggs with brown spots in a carefully prepared nest, and both partners care for the young. Blackbirds are monogamous and partners stay together usually their entire lives – the range of their life spans being 2-4 years.

Blackbirds are often seen on the ground as well as in the trees. In fact, it was on the ground that I saw my first blackbird and was able to photograph it. I was in the North Coast last June when I noticed an unfamiliar black bird in the backyard one afternoon. The (to me) mystery bird returned the next afternoon at almost exactly the same time. Determined to find out what it was, I waited for it every afternoon, sitting on the back porch with my camera and binoculars, silent and motionless, having asked family members to stay clear of the backyard for an hour! The bird kept following its daily habit and touched down in the garden every afternoon. I noticed that it always arrived when a certain amount

Photo: Maha Khalil

Photo: Maha Khalil

of sun was left in the garden, and I managed to take two photographs of it which I deeply treasure. I flipped through my Birds of Egypt book and reached the conclusion that my mystery bird must be a blackbird.

Just as my handy guide said blackbirds behave, my bird ran on the ground in short bursts, stopping to look for food – worms usually favoured. I was very excited because I had just found out recently that blackbirds have one of the most beautiful fluty birdsongs ever. I finally found out who the musicians responsible for the daily flute concerto I heard on my vacation were. The trees were full of them! The blackbird’s song is special because it is one of the very few birdsongs that actually compose varying and melodic musical tones rather than just repeating certain vocalizations.

Sadly, however, when I returned in early July to the same place, the flutes were silent and my daily visitor showed himself no more. It is true that blackbirds sing less in July, but since I did not even see any birds except the ridiculously common (though very cute) House Sparrow, my guess is that the start of the vacation season which is always accompanied by heavy spraying of powerful pesticides, has had a hand in driving the blackbirds away – hopefully not killing them… If you listen carefully – and if you are lucky – you may hear a blackbird on campus in the spring. It has been heard several times on Main Campus.

 

Sources:

Cottridge, David and Porter, Richard. Birds of Egypt and the Middle East. Cairo; The American University in Cairo Press.

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