At a glance

The blackcap is a large, robust warbler with long wings and a short tail. It looks similar to the marsh tit and willow tit but can be distinguished from them by the lack of a black bib. It is a common visitor to gardens, particularly in winter where it will eat nuts and fat. They are preyed on by sparrowhawks, and jays, magpies, and squirrels will take their eggs and young. They are occasionally hosts of the cuckoo, but the eggs are often rejected as they have adapted well to spotting intruders’ eggs.

Key facts

Scientific name: Sylvia atricapilla
Status: Resident breeding species and summer visitor

Breeding birds: 1,200,000 territories

Wintering birds: 3,000

Conservation status: Green

Family: Typical warblers

Length: 18 cm
Wingspan: 20 – 23 cm
Weight: 16 – 25 g

What do blackcaps look like?

Adult male blackcaps have grey-brown upperparts with slightly darker wings and tail. The underparts are pale grey. The head is pale grey with a glossy black cap. The thin, straight bill is dark grey with a black upper ridge and tip. The eyes are dark brown with a dark grey eye-ring and white underneath, and the legs and feet are grey.

Females are similar but upperparts are olive-brown, and the underparts are pale buff. The cap is reddish-brown, and the eye-ring is reddish brown above and white below.

Juvenile blackcaps resemble the female but the crown is duller and the eyes are dark grey.

How do blackcaps breed?

Blackcaps breed from mid-April to August and produced 2 broods a year. The nest is situated in low vegetation in dense foliage such as a shrub, bush, brambles, or a small tree. Both male and female build the nest which is a loose cup-shaped structure made from twigs, grass, and rootlets, and lined with finer grass and hair.

Blackcaps lay 4-6 smooth, glossy, pale buff eggs, with darker brown markings which are incubated by both parents for 11-12 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and they fledge at 10-14 days after hatching although their parents care for them for a further 2 or 3 weeks.

What do blackcaps eat?

During breeding season blackcaps will eat mainly insects which they pick from leaves and twigs. At other times they will eat fruit and berries. During winter they will venture into gardens to eat from bird tables, in particular suet, fruit and bread.

Female Blackcap

Where can I see blackcaps ?

Blackcaps can be found in woodlands, parks and gardens with plenty of trees and shrubs. Breeding birds arrive in April and May and leave in September and October. Some European blackcaps winter in the UK, mainly in England.

What do blackcaps sound like?

Francesco Sottile/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Blackcaps are sometimes referred to as northern nightingales because of their lovely song.

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3 Responses

  1. I think we have seen a female blackcap in our garden backing onto woodland and farmland in Herefordshire. But ours looked like a slightly bigger bird and has darker markings around its eye. Happy with Jay Robins Crows Jackdaw Pigeons and magpies in the same garden space.

  2. you have just solved a riddle for me. I have had a little bird in my garden and no book could identify it but i now think it was a female blackcap. I didn’t realise they had brown caps as they are called black caps but the bird I saw looked like the picture you have put here.

    Thankyou so very much

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