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Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

The blackcap's rich and varied song has earned it the name of ‘northern nightingale’.

Common name: blackcap

Scientific name: Sylvia atricapilla

Family: Sylviidae (warblers)

Appearance

Head: the male of this widespread species has a distinctive black ‘cap’ on its head. The female’s cap is a rusty brown.

Wings: roughly robin-sized, blackcaps have grey-brown wings.

Body: both males and females have grey and brown plumage.

Where to spot

Traditionally summer visitors, blackcaps typically arrived in March and April and migrated south in the autumn. However, the species is increasingly staying in the UK all year round, while some birds from central Europe have started flying to the UK for the winter rather than heading to Africa. Warmer winters caused by climate change and an increase in the number of people feeding birds are thought to have driven this change. 

Blackcaps are a woodland bird, but will enter gardens with plenty of trees and shrubs. They occur throughout the UK, with the exception of the Scottish highlands. It is often easier to hear the species' flute-like song than it is to see it.

Feeding

During the breeding season, blackcaps pick off insects from shrubs and trees; in autumn they feed on fruits such as berries and sometimes visit bird tables in winter.

Breeding

Normally, four to five eggs are laid from late April to June. Blackcaps usually only have one brood, the nest is typically built in the cover of a bush or hedge. The chicks will fledge 11-12 days after hatching and are assisted with feeding for a further two to three weeks.

Facts

  • The delightful fluting song of the blackcap has earned it the name 'northern nightingale'.
  • Around 1.1 million pairs of blackcaps are thought to live in the UK during the summer.
  • Juvenile males have a brown cap until they reach adulthood, when it turns to black.

Join Nature’s Calendar

We want to know when you first see a blackcap in spring or if you have seen them all winter. Information like this helps us to better understand the impact of climate and weather on wildlife. Let us know what's happening near you.

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