1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blackbird

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BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula), the name commonly given to a well-known British bird of the Turdidae family, for which the ancient name was ousel (q.v.), Anglo-Saxon ósle, equivalent of the German Amsel, a form of the word found in several old English books. The plumage of the male is of a uniform black colour, that of the female various shades of brown, while the bill of the male, especially during the breeding season, is of a bright gamboge yellow. The blackbird is of a shy and restless disposition, courting concealment, and rarely seen in flocks, or otherwise than singly or in pairs, and taking flight when startled with a sharp shrill cry. It builds its nest in March, or early in April, in thick bushes or in ivy-clad trees, and usually rears at least two broods each season. The nest is a neat structure of coarse grass and moss, mixed with earth, and plastered internally with mud, and here the female lays from four to six eggs of a blue colour speckled with brown. The blackbird feeds chiefly on fruits, worms, the larvae of insects and snails, extracting the last from their shells by dexterously chipping them on stones; and though it is generally regarded as an enemy of the garden, it is probable that the amount of damage by it to the fruit is largely compensated for by its undoubted services as a vermin-killer. The notes of the blackbird are rich and full, but monotonous as compared with those of the song-thrush. Like many other singing birds it is, in the wild state, a mocking-bird, having been heard to imitate the song of the nightingale, the crowing of a cock, and even the cackling of a hen. In confinement it can be taught to whistle a variety of tunes, and even to imitate the human voice.

The blackbird is found in every country of Europe, even breeding—although rarely—beyond the arctic circle, and in eastern Asia as well as in North Africa and the Atlantic islands. In most parts of its range it is migratory, and in Britain every autumn its numbers receive considerable accession from passing visitors. Allied species inhabit most parts of the world, excepting Africa south of the Sahara, New Zealand and Australia proper, and North America. In some of these the legs as well as the bill are yellow or orange; and in a few both sexes are glossy black. The ring-ousel, Turdus torquatus, has a dark bill and conspicuous white gorget, whence its name. It is rarer and more local than the common blackbird, and occurs in England only as a temporary spring and autumn visitor.