The Eurasian Blackcap

05 October 2016

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The Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla is a passage migrant and a winter visitor and takes its name from the male’s distinctive black cap, which contrasts with the rest of its greyish plumage. The female and the juvenile blackcap resemble each other, and are distinguished by a chestnut cap and browner body than the male. Τhis difference in colour makes them look quite different than the male, so much so that sometimes they can be mistaken for different species.

Both sexes have a relatively long, square-ended tail, long, pointed wings, and a greyish beak and legs. Small in size but with a stocky build, its body length ranges from 13.5 to 15 cm. The Blackcap mainly breeds from mid-April to August and it lays two to seven eggs. The nest is a finely structured cup with rather thin walls and bottom, consisting of grasses and some twigs and rootlets and lined with finer grass and roots. Nests are normally built low in broadleaf deciduous vegetation, especially in dense foliage shrubs or bushes or the branches of small trees.

Because of their lovely, fluting song, blackcaps are also known as ‘northern nightingales’. Their song is melodious consisting of varied, warbling phrases, usually starting with a chattering, harsher segment and finishing with characteristic lightly melancholic notes, resembling the sound of a flute. As with other Sylvia warblers, the Blackcap has a drawn-out subsong of mimicry and squeaky, rasping sounds.

The Blackcap mainly feeds on insects during the breeding season and fruit during the rest of the year. Blackcaps eat a wide variety of insects and other invertebrates, including mayflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, moths, beetles, spiders, woodlice, snails and earthworms.

Blackcaps migrate through Cyprus in their thousands every spring and autumn and they are also a common winter visitor and can be found in gardens and wooded areas, though not in the mountains.

Sadly, not everyone in Cyprus enjoys the birds that pass through our island during migration for their beauty and their lovely song or understands why it is important to protect them. Even though the Blackcap is listed as a protected and nonā€game species in Cyprus, this bird is the main target for bird trappers who still illegally use limesticks or mist nests to catch thousands of birds as they pass through Cyprus during their migratory journey in order to be sold as expensive delicacies.

Throughout mainland Europe, the arrival of the Blackcap is eagerly awaited as one of the signs of spring, yet many do not complete their annual journeys but instead die a slow and painful death here in Cyprus. Even though Ambelopouli is the local name of the Blackcap, this term does not only refer to the blackcaps as a single species but it is a more generic term that includes more than 20 different songbird species that are caught on limesticks and mist nets.

According to the latest European Red List Assessment, the Blackcap has an extremely large range and healthy population, and hence is considered secure. However, the scientific review on illegal bird killing across the Mediterranean region, which was published by BirdLife International in August 2015, estimated that 1.8 million Blackcaps are being illegally trapped and killed each year.

Female Blackcap
Female Blackcap
Female Blackcap
Female Blackcap

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