With their beautiful song, glossy black plumage and striking yellow beaks we all love a blackbird, they a welcome sight in any garden. Providing their favourite foods is probably the best way of making sure they visit you. So what do blackbirds eat? What’s their natural diet, what bird foods do they enjoy and are there any food you should avoid offering them? Let’s take a look.
What do Blackbirds Eat?
Before we get into the diet, let’s get to know the Blackbird a bit first.
Blackbirds, like robins, are a member of the thrush family. The makes are a distinctive black, with a yellow beak and yellow rimmed eyes. The females and juveniles are actually brown.
They like to live in woodland and dense undergrowth,
They are a bigger bird, weighing in at around 4 oz, with a wingspan of over a foot.
There are estimated to be around 9 million blackbirds in the UK. They went through a rough patch in the 1970s and 80s when their numbers declined, but they are now doing well. As with many of our native birds, their revival has been helped by an increase in garden feeding.
As well as our native, nesting birds we play host to Scandinavian Blackbirds during the winter, who fly home again to breed in the spring.
In the UK the blackbird breeding season lasts from April to July, and during this time they may have up to 3 clutches of chicks.
Blackbirds live an average of 3 years, but the oldest one of record was 14.
The Natural Diet
Blackbirds are omnivores. So they eat a wide range of different foods varying their diet with the seasons.
The spring and summer diet focuses on:
- Insects like beetles and caterpillars.
In autumn and winter, the ground will often be too hard to gather earthworms, and there are few insects about. So the Blackbird switches his diet to:
Their natural diet has been depleted by many of the same human influences that are harming our hedgehogs: intensive farming, pesticides and insecticides, loss of woodland and hedgerows. This is why garden bird feeding is now so important for blackbirds.
How Do Blackbirds Feed?
Blackbirds hunt and forage on the ground, especially in woodland and undergrowth. Though they will come out to your lawn, you are likely to see them flitting back to the safety of the hedge and borders quite regularly.
They sift through fallen leaves and soil for the insects they love using mainly their sight and hearing to track down dinner. They can see the tail of an earthworm sticking out of the ground, and scientists believe that they can even hear worms moving under the surface.
In the autumn and winter blackbirds will be tempted into the bushes for berries and seeds, but you will rarely see them in treetops.
What Don’t Blackbirds Eat?
Although blackbirds are omnivores, there are some foods which do not form a part of their natural diet.
Blackbirds are soft billed birds. So their beaks are not hard enough to deal with grain, nut, or seeds with thick husks.
Snails are a favourite food, but their beaks aren’t strong enough to crack the shell. So they crack snails open on stones, like thrushes who are also soft billed.
What to Feed Blackbirds?
Blackbirds are not a particularly timid bird, they are become comfortable around humans and will happily feed in your garden.
There are a whole host of foods you can offer them:
Food to Buy for Blackbirds.
Mealworms are probably top of the list. The closest thing we have to actual earthworms.
Fat balls and suet products. These are soft enough for their beaks and provide vital energy, especially in winter.
Good Quality Bird Feed Mix. It must be a high-quality mix for blackbirds, they won’t get much out of cheap mixes with many husks or hard grains.
A specialist soft bill feed mix.
Sunflower Hearts – no husks, please.
Kitchen Scraps for Blackbirds.
There are so many things in our kitchens that blackbirds love. Ours get a few raisins soaked in warm water twice a day, and they will also eat all the cut-up pears we give them. You could try:
- Porridge Oats – uncooked
- Dried fruit – soaked in water.
- Fresh fruit cut into small pieces including apples, pears, grapes and bananas – yes really, they love a soft banana.
- A little grated cheese.
- Meaty dog food. This is a great one for anyone too squeamish to deal with mealworms. While blackbirds prefer to feed their young a natural diet, mainly worms and insects, they will supplement dog food if you offer it.
We have a full guide on kitchen scraps for bird feeding here.
How to Feed
Blackbirds are not built to feed clinging to tree trunks and branches, so you will rarely see them on hanging feeders.
Offer food for your blackbirds on the bird table, on a ground feeder or directly on the ground. If you want to avoid pigeons getting too much of it, then toss the food under the hedge or in your borders. The blackbirds will be quite happy foraging for it there.
What Not To Feed Blackbirds
Although Blackbirds are omnivores and eat a wide range of foods, there are some things we should not offer them.
- Soft fats – like margarine, butter or cooking fats may get onto the feathers and interfere with insulation and waterproofing.
- Milk – birds are lactose intolerant, and milk gives them the trots.
- Salt – salt is bad for birds, avoid crumbs from salty snacks.
- Bread – birds will eat bread, but it has little nutritional value, so they fill up on it and then don’t go foraging for the foods they need to nourish them.
Check out our guide on what not to feed garden birds here.
Make your Garden a Blackbird Larder
As well as providing food for blackbirds on your bird table there are lots of things you can do to make your garden a natural restaurant for blackbirds and other wildlife.
Invite in the insects with a wildflower meadow. This could be a large part of your lawn or a container on your patio. Either way, adding some native wildflowers to your garden will bring in a wealth of insects for the blackbirds to eat.
Lay on an earthworm banquet. Keep a section of your lawn mown short to allow the blackbirds easy access to their favourite food. Watering the lawn during dry spells will help to bring the worms to the surface.
Berry Nice! Consider planting some trees and bushes that have berries for the blackbirds to feast on in winter. Here’s our guide to the best shrubs for berries.
Keep it messy. The insects and bugs that blackbirds love to eat live in undergrowth and leaf litter. So try not to be too tidy, leave some leaf litter under your hedges, make a small log pile for bugs and don’t cut back your borders too hard.
Always add water. If you are feeding birds, you should always offer clean, fresh water too. A birdbath or saucer of water is good. But going a step further and making a wildlife pond will give the birds somewhere to drink and bathe and attract a whole new range of invertebrates to your garden too.
When to Feed Blackbirds
It’s important to feed blackbirds all year round.
Extra food in winter helps keep up their strength in the cold weather and easy access food on your bird table make life easier for exhausted parents during the nesting season.
But even in the height of summer a hot dry spell can mean worms become scarce and hard to find.
So the extra food you offer will be appreciated in every season.
Blackbirds – Not Fussy Eaters.
Blackbirds are doing well in the UK despite the damage done to their food sources by intensive farming, pesticides and habitat loss. The food we offer in our gardens plays a big part in their success.
It’s essential we keep up the good work, so it’s good to know that blackbirds are anything but fussy eaters and there are a whole range of foods we can offer which will enhance their chances of surviving and thriving, and keep them coming back to our gardens.
We hope you’ve found this article useful and interesting. Do you have a suggestion or question? We would love to hear it. Leave us a comment below.