Country diary: blackbird song bookends the day | Country diary

Sandy, Bedfordshire: From dawn to dusk, the male sings to warn off all who listen

When a blackbird sings in the golden hour before dusk I am thrown back to feel the aching frustration of early childhood. As a wee boy in Cambuslang, I was sent up to bed while it was still light. Confined to my room, I half believed the bird outside my window was singing for me. Even now, I catch a yearning in its voice that reminds me of the self-pitying child lamenting the curtailment of playtime.

This is nonsense, of course. I doubt there is anything elegiac or mournful in this blackbird’s last post from the topmost tip of the high spruce tree. He is the territory-proclaiming bookend at both ends of the day. I heard him before I was awake, and he is heralding the night.

For this bird, height comes before a fall. He picked an upright that can’t quite carry his weight. It bends, he sways. He lifts his wings a little to steady himself and flicks them again. His body rocks, his tail balances, almost. Nevertheless, his throat rises above any physical discomfort down below, maintaining the melody, the far-carrying sounds that warn off all who listen.

It is a feat of great vocal dexterity, two tympanic membranes working simultaneously to produce notes that can be sustained for half a second. And a blackbird rarely forgets. Every spring, it adds to its repertoire and, judging by its range, I would say this male has a few years under its wing.

Eventually, the bough buckles once too often and the blackbird is sprung off to seek another perch. He won’t try for the even higher limes, the pinnacles of the neighbourhood, for two carrion crows sit dominant, black against a blackening sky.

My own world is bounded by fences, for I have already taken my permitted walk of the day. But I am liberated by curiosity. The bare patch of earth at the pond’s edge has grown no bigger and the scatter of damp soil tossed out from a plantless trough has not been added to for about a week. This male’s female, having lined the bowl of her nest with a plaster of mud, must now be incubating. And so the male sings: my patch, my mate, my babies.


Derek Niemann

The GuardianTramp

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