blackcap defined in 1930 yearblackcap - Blackcap;
blackcap - Head above the eyes jet - black, in the female chocolate- brown; upper parts, wings, and tail ash- grey slightly tinged with olive; throat and breast ash-grey; belly and under wing-coverts white. Length, five and a half inches.
This brilliant songster arrives in this country about the middle of April, in some years considerably earlier. It is found throughout England and Wales, and extends its range to Scotland and Ireland, only in lesser numbers. Though widely distributed it is rare, except in some districts in the southern and western counties of England. A person familiar with the ornithological literature of this country, but having little personal knowledge of the birds, who should go out to make acquaintance with the blackcap, would be surprised at its rarity. After much seeking, he would probably come to the conclusion that, speaking of warblers only, there are at least half a hundred willow-wrens, and perhaps twenty whitethroats, to one blackcap. Another curious point about the blackcap is that it appears to be almost unknown to the country people. It is a rare thing to find a rustic, man or boy, who knows it by that or any other name, though he may be quite familiar with the redstart and whitethroat. On these last two points I find that my experience coincides with that of John Burroughs, the American writer on bird life, in the accounts of his observations on British song-birds. There is a third point on which I also agree with him; this, however, is not a question of fact, but of opinion or of individual taste, and refers to the merit of the blackcap as a singer. His is a song which has always been very highly esteemed, and it has often been described as scarcely inferior to that of the nightingale. Gilbert "White of Selborne described it as ' a full, deep, sweet, loud, wild pipe; yet that strain is of short continuance, and his motions are desultory; but when that bird sits calmly and engages in song in earnest, he pours forth very sweet, but inward, melody, and expresses great variety of soft and gentle modulations, superior, perhaps, to those of any of our warblers, the nightingale excepted.' After reading such a description it is a disappointment to hear the song. Nevertheless, it is very beautiful, and given out with immense energy, as the bird sits on a spray with throat puffed out, and moves its head, sometimes its whole body, vigorously from side to side. The song is a clear warble composed of about a dozen notes, rapidly enunciated, loud, free, of that sweet, pure quality characteristic of the melody of our best warblers. The strain is short, and repeated from time to time, the intervals often being filled by lower notes, sweet and varied - the ' inward melody ' which White describes. Burroughs's description of the song is as follows: ' While sitting here I saw, and for the first time heard, the black- capped warbler. I recognised the note at once by its brightness and strength, and a faint suggestion in it of the nightingale's; but it was disappointing: I had expected in it a nearer approach to its great rival.... It is a ringing, animated strain, but as a whole seemed to me crude, not smoothly and finely modulated. I could name several of our own birds that surpass it in pure music. Like its congeners, the garden warbler and the whitethroat, it sings with great emphasis and strength, but its song is silvern, not golden.' This account of the blackcap's song is interesting as coming from a foreigner who has paid great attention to the bird music of his own country, and it is on the whole a very good description; but I should not say that the blackcap's strain is crude, however wild and irregular it may be; nor that there is in it even a faint suggestion of the nightingale's.
In its active, restless habits this warbler resembles the other members of its group; but it exceeds them all in shyness. When approached it becomes silent, and conceals itself in the interior of the thicket. It frequents woods and orchards; also hedges and commons where large masses of furze and bramble are found, especially in the vicinity of trees. The nest is made of dry grass, lined with hair or fibrous roots, and is placed in the forked branches of a thick bush, three or four feet above the ground. The eggs, of which five or six are laid, are of a light reddish colour, mottled and blotched with darker red and reddish brown. They vary greatly, both in the depth of colour of the mottlings and in the pale ground-tints.
The blackcap lives on insects, which it often captures on the wing, and on fruits, and is fond of raspberries and currants. Its autumn migration is in September.
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