Urban Birds: The Mulch Mover

Discover Your Patch: Adelaide Nature Notes by Dr Sandra Taylor

Metropolitan Adelaide, like other Australian cities, is a multicultural haven for birds. In addition to the more than 200 native bird species that can still be found in the region, Metropolitan Adelaide is also home to many alien and exotic bird species. The alien species are birds that have spread to Metropolitan Adelaide from elsewhere in Australia since European settlement due to the creation of new habitats by urbanisation. The exotic species are birds that have been introduced to Australia from overseas.

Male Blackbird

Figure A: Male Blackbird by Ry Beaver

An exotic species that has become one of the 30 most common birds inhabiting Adelaide’s urban parks and gardens is the Common Blackbird (Turdus merula). Early settlers deliberately released Blackbirds imported from Europe at several locations in south-eastern Australia during the 1850s and 1860s, hoping they would help to control agricultural pests. Initially, these introductions were only successful in establishing Blackbird populations in Melbourne and Adelaide, but the species has since spread throughout south-eastern Australia, as far north as Sydney and as far south as Tasmania, via the Bass Strait Islands.

The male (Figure A) is the ‘black bird’ for which the species is named. He is coal black, with a deep orange to yellow bill, a narrow yellow eye-ring and dark legs. She is sooty brown, with a dull yellowish-brown bill, a pale throat and a weakly mottled breast (Figure B). Both sexes are small birds measuring about 26 cm in length from bill tip to the end of the long tail.

Blackbirds feed largely on the ground, foraging in litter for worms, snails, insects and spiders. They can be mistaken for rats as they make a quick run through the undergrowth, followed by an abrupt stop to toss litter aside with rapid bill flicks. This method of feeding does not endear the Blackbird to water-wise gardeners who find their mulch repeatedly scattered across lawns and paths.

Female Blackbird

Figure B: Female Blackbird by Museums Victoria

During the Spring nesting season, males and females engage in fierce territorial battles with rival Blackbirds, sometimes locking claws and wrestling on the ground. Because of their territoriality, if you have Blackbirds in your garden, they are likely to be a mated pairs, with one pair patrolling your front garden and a second pair claiming your backyard.

Citizen Scientists have made significant contributions to our knowledge of urban birds by participating in the annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count. In 2016, South Australians reported sightings of 76,677 individual birds, with Blackbirds being recorded more frequently than during previous counts. In 2017, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count will be held from 23 till 29 October during National Bird Week. If you would like to record the birds in your garden, you can register online to participate in the count. The online Birds in Backyards Bird Finder is a useful aid for identifying common urban birds, if you feel the need to practice before the count.


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