Blackbird catching Newts

blackbirdblackbirdOver the past couple of days we’ve seen a female blackbird resting in the middle of the blanket of duckweed that covers most of our pond. She’s not bathing or struggling to get out. This evening I realise what she’s up to.

blackbirdShe grabs a newt from just below the water surface in front of her and immediately flies to an open grassy patch at the edge of the pond to peck at it. I don’t see whether she eats it there and then or whether she takes it off to feed to her young.

blackbird blackbirdI’ve seen her stalking along the edge of the pond on the look out, I now realise, for any unwary newt that might surface. Our resident newts are smooth newts. Unlike the great-crested newts they don’t have special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but would this female blackbird care if they did? I think not.

newtI’ve seen her once before with a successful catch which she took to the raised bed behind the pond. I could see her prey was a long and flexible creature but at the time I couldn’t positively identify it.

Pond Pyramid

pond food chainblackbirdThis female blackbird is at the top of a pond food chain, at the apex of a food pyramid, but she’s not the top predator around here; she runs the risk of being incorporated into the food chain of one of the local sparrowhawks or domestic cats. tadpoles

The newts are predators in their own right; I’ve watched them eating newly emerged frog tadpoles. The tadpoles, at this early stage of their lives, are eating the algae that grows on the clump of frogspawn.

From thin air, just add water . . .

pigeonI find it amazing that you can start with sunlight, water and carbon dioxide and in a few links along the food chain end up with a blackbird.

wood pigeon
wood pigeon

Although my aim is to build a little eco-system in the back garden, I do think that I ought to tweak the chances of survival for the newts by clearing some of the duckweed so that the blackbird can’t sit in wait at the centre of the pond.

Update

pond rakingTwo days later, on Saturday, Barbara spotted the blackbird catching a newts again, five in total. I spent five minutes raking the duckweed to the edges of the pond which should make it impossible for the blackbird to perch in the middle of the pond and give some additional cover to the newts when she is stalking around the margins.

4 Replies to “Blackbird catching Newts”

  1. I’ve just witnessed for the first time a blackbird snatching a newt from the pond. I had no idea they would do this & so found your site while looking for confirmation. This one just stood in the shallow water on the sill although I didn’t actually see it catch the newt, it then flew a few feet away & proceeded to bash the poor thing to death until our dog caused the bird to scurry under bushes. Fascinating !

    1. I’m still waiting to see a newt in our pond since the female blackbird raised her first brood. Hope they’ll come back. Hope yours doesn’t decimate the newt population!

  2. Blackbirds do this in my pond as well! It is males collecting food for youngsters and is pretty grim to watch them flogging a poor newt to death. Mine are palmate newts, but I had a great crested male for the first time this year – hope he kept his head down! I too raked out a lot of duckweed, but it wasn’t totally the answer. I then had another problem of a seagull having its morning bathe in one of my ponds. I decided to cover the ponds over and made spider web arrangements of garden canes. These have stopped the seagull immediately, and the blackbirds don’t like it much either. They can still manage to get to the water but the canes upset their agility and they have pretty well stopped newt fishing. I have witnessed the deaths of about 15 newts, so goodness knows how many die before I am up in the morning. Next year I will have the ponds covered before the blackbirds get started on this behaviour.

    1. If only wildlife would behave itself! We resorted to the spider’s web of garden canes – Andy Goldsworthy would have been impressed – when we had early morning raids from a pair of mallards intent on trashing the pond. Unfortunately we set it at just above water level so the blackbird found it perfect for stalking newts.

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