Blackbird juvenile

Young and white blackbirds

Think you know blackbirds? Here's a rogues gallery of funny-looking things which might confuse the unwary.

Young blackbirds

Young blackbirds (sometimes called juveniles) can be confused with thrushes or even robins, due to their speckly brown feathers. They're often a rich, reddish brown colour, especially on their breasts.

You'll often see them following their parents around, pestering for food. Baby blackbirds usually leave the nest before they can actually fly, and hop and scramble their way around trees and bushes. They can be vulnerable from predators at this time, but you should resist the temptation to make a 'rescue' - the parent birds can do a much better job than we ever can.

If you look in a book, you might be fooled into thinking that birds change from one plumage into another overnight. It's not that simple.

Here's a photo of a young male blackbird. He's getting rid of the first set of feathers he grew while in the nest, with the much darker, dull-black ones coming through from underneath. He's at that awkward, 'teenage' in-between stage, but it's a great chance for us to see how birds replace their feathers.

The process when old feathers are replaced by new is called moulting. Adult birds do it too, often growing their new feathers after the breeding season when they've been rushing around for months to feed and care for their young.

Juvenile blackbird

White blackbirds

Some birds grow funny-coloured feathers where they're not meant to.

Here's a male blackbird that's a great example.

This condition is called partial albinism, and it's usually inherited but can be caused by other factors. Some birds have just one or two white feathers, while others can be white all over or with big white blotches. Blackbirds seem to be some of the birds most commonly affected, but that might be because they're common garden birds where it's easy to spot the white feathers.

Some birds have just one or two white feathers, while others can be white all over or covered with big white blotches.

Birds with white patches might be vulnerable to attack from predators, as they stand out from the crowd. These individuals with strange coloration can also be shunned by their own kind.  They even get picked on by other birds which seem to know they're not the same! Though it's often male blackbirds which are seen with partial albinism, females are sometimes affected, too.

We get quite a lot of emails from people saying: 'I've got a funny-looking bird in my garden. It's shaped like a blackbird, it behaves like a blackbird and it's got a yellow beak, but it's got white bits on it so it can't be one. What is it?'

Often, the answer is 'it's a blackbird' - those white feathers can be very confusing.

Partial albino blackbird