Blackbird Singing In The Dead of Night?

20 June 2013

The lyrics of The Beatles’ Blackbird song used to puzzle to me. What blackbird sings in the dead of night?  In eastern North America I didn’t know of any blackbirds that did that.

My worldview was too small.  North American blackbirds are icterids: Red-winged, rusty, Brewer’s, tri-colored, yellow-headed.  In England blackbirds are in the thrush family, a single species Turdus merula very similar to the American robin.

The Eurasian blackbird rivals the wood thrush for virtuosity and grace notes with his own complex, varied and beautiful song.   His syrinx allows him to sing two songs simultaneously and even harmonize with himself.  Listen to one singing at 8:30pm in Norfolk, England.

In the video above a blackbird starts singing loudly on a perch, then drops to the ground to whisper-sing just like an American robin.  Also like our robin he sings at night.

The Beatles recorded Blackbird almost 50 years ago this month in June 1968.  Though a blackbird sings on the soundtrack the song is not really about a bird. According to Wikipedia, “Since composing “Blackbird” in 1968, McCartney has given various statements regarding both his inspiration for the song and its meaning. In one of these scenarios, he said he was inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird one morning in India. In others, he recalls writing it in Scotland as a response to racial tensions escalating in the United States during the spring of 1968.

Read more about the Blackbird song on Wikipedia. Click here to hear it.

(video from YouTube)

7 thoughts on “Blackbird Singing In The Dead of Night?

  1. Why do birds chirp at night? I thought they would be asleep when it’s in the dark wee hours. It surprises me when *I* am up way too late and the birds are either still chirping, or started early, or never stopped.

    1. Robins and mockingbirds are two North American species who sing at night. I know they have different sleep cycles than we do because they fly at night during migration. In the nesting season they sing when they’re awake and are unafraid to claim territory (which is what singing is about) even in the dark. I guess when one individual starts singing they all speak up so they’re not outdone by the guy who’s saying “Mine, Mine, Mine” all night.

    1. “Birdsong”, when I say that the blackbird is a thrush, I mean that it is in the true thrush family, Turdidae, as are many birds worldwide including the song thrush and the mistle thrush.

      Most birds in this family do not have “thrush” in their name. In North America our most famous thrush is the American robin.

      In the UK the thrush family contains chats and thrushes, listed here by the RSBP:

  2. I’m in South Australia and right now (10:29pm) I can hear three blackbirds singing their song loudly and proudly haha. At first I thought it was one very confused bird out the back, singing all night instead of in the morning (showing my obvious lack of bird knowledge here). But I went outside one night, I wanted to hear him better as I sat and listened to his beautiful song before going to bed myself… and I realized there were three of them taking turns to sing their songs. There was one up in the tree at the side of our house, one in the orchid over my back fence, and one in a property off to the right of him. So I was treated with three times the lullaby I had hoped for haha!

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