The blackbird project

This morning as I walked the dogs through the cold and icy wind,  I stopped suddenly in my tracks.  There it was. The sound I had been waiting seven years to hear.

My heart sang.

Ears straining, I stopped dead still, holding my breath to hear better in the wind. Yes, again there it was. Closer this time.   In an instant I was back to my childhood and bubbling up, bubbling up, bubbling up inside me were memories of home and the apple tree in blossom and summer days in my mother’s garden filled with foxgloves and delphiniums and lupins.  And the song of blackbirds.  I have longed for that in my own garden.  I have wanted to wake in the morning to that song of home.

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Having started with a blank canvas here at our farm, we were in the early years a bit thin on birdlife as there was very little shelter.  It was literally a house in a gum studded paddock with a stand of pines off to the west and a handful of birches near the house, but little else.  So,  like a woman possessed, I planted, planted, planted.  Creating passages and glades, hedgerows and thickets, shade and cover. I called it The Blackbird Project.  Year after year,  I added layer upon layer of plantings and slowly the garden has thickened and trees have grown, and bit by bit we have seen new varieties of birds making our home theirs.  More and more each year. Always there were parrots, galahs and magpies, thrushes and miners –  but drawn in by the protective cover the little wrens and finches, honeyeaters and silvereyes, wagtails and robins have arrived one by one, then flock by flock until last summer the garden was filled with colour and movement and birdsong.   But not the one voice I have longed to hear.  Not one single blackbird.  I would drive to nearby Red Cow Farm to sit in Ally and Wayne’s beautiful garden, just to hear their blackbirds. “You don’t want them!” Wayne laughed one day when I told him of my quest.  “They scratch mulch from the borders all over the lawns and make an awful mess.”   But I did want them.  I really wanted them. Some very still mornings I could hear them a long way in the distance, across the paddocks in our neighbours old, established garden where a hundred years of shelter and protection had formed.  But our garden is a baby  and it has taken time for birds to trust they can nest in safety.  Now at last the blackbirds have decided our garden is good enough, sheltered enough, lovely enough and they are checking us out.  So I’m hoping to wake to their song all summer long. With The Blackbird Project now complete, will I stop madly planting and propagating and adding to the garden, I hear my husband ask?  I think not, she replies!

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Above:  A blackbird at Red Cow Farm.

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Above:  Our rose hedges provide excellent cover for nesting birds.

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Above:  In my mother’s garden I always loved the Blackbird’s call.

Some notes:

The Common Blackbird was introduced to Australia in Melbourne in the 1850s. The male is the ‘black’ bird, with deep orange to yellow bill, a narrow yellow eye-ring and dark legs. The female is a brown bird, with some streaks or mottling, and has a dark bill and legs. Immature birds are similar to the female with lighter underparts. It is not readily confused with other ‘black’ birds as it is much smaller than most Australian ‘black’ birds and has a distinctive yellow eye-ring. Originally confined to Melbourne and Adelaide, it has gradually expanded its range throughout south-eastern Australia, both on the coast and inland, as far north as Sydney, and including Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. It is most often found in urban areas and surrounding localities, but has successfully moved into bushland habitats. It is often seen in orchards, vineyards and gardens, as well as along roadsides and in parks. The Blackbird eats insects, earthworms, snails, spiders and a range of seeds and fruit. It mainly forages on the ground, probing and scratching at leaf litter, lawns and soil. It builds a cup-shaped nest of dried grass, bound with mud, and lined with fine grasses usually placed in a tree, shrub or low bush, but they will also use tree hollows.

  • The blackbird is a great generalist, able to exploit many different habitats from urban areas to wetlands and woodlands.
  • Unlike the male, the female blackbird is not in fact black, but brown with mottling on the breast.
  • Blackbirds typically remain with the same mate until one of the pair dies.
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7 comments

  1. Such a charming post Maureen and like you, I adore Blackbirds. They are abundant here in Boussac and I marvel at their courage in the cold spring and commitment to singing all day at the start of their season. I love the photo of your rose hedge … I would love to see your garden!

  2. Hi Maureen, Dale said to tell you, you are nuts – this as we sit and watch the blackbirds toss all the mulch onto the lawns …. leave their calling cards all over the table on the deck and dig up the mossy bits of lawn …. Blackbirds nesting caused the city of Dunedin to almost come to a stand still on Thursday, they nested in the traffic lights and blocked the colour …. front page news in the ODT – no front page wars and famine and earthquakes for us …. just Blackbirds. I am coming to see you ….

    1. Hi Wendy. Ha ha ha. That is funny. I know I may live to regret The Blackbird Project, but as I sit and write this I can hear Mr Blackbird out in my garden and I LOVE it. It reminds me of home … and now every day it will also make me think of you in your beautiful, romantic garden, raking up the mulch from the lawns!

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