Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 72–78 | Cite as

Reproductive ecology of blackbirds (Turdus merula maximus) in a high-altitude location, Tibet

Original Article


Reproductive data of high-altitude blackbirds (Turdus merula maximus) were collected at an alpine environment covered with scrub vegetation in Lhasa mountains, Tibet. The blackbird nests were found from 3,800 to 4,500 m at a breeding density of 0.07 pairs/ha. Egg-laying occurred from early May to late July, with a peak (73.0% of all nesting attempts) between mid-May and mid-June. Most (79.5%) of the nests were sited in six different plant species with Cotoneaster microphyllus being most preferred. A few (20.5%) nests were against rocky walls. Bushes used for nest sites were significantly higher. Compared with lowland blackbirds, montane blackbirds experienced a shorter breeding season (2.5 months), laid smaller clutches (2–4 eggs, averaging 2.86), but larger eggs (mean volume index 16,348), produced only one brood per year, had a slightly shorter incubation period (12–13 days), but a longer nestling period (16–18 days), and enjoyed a higher breeding success (59.0%). In the alpine environment where climate is harsh and food supply poor, the strategy of increased egg size with decreased clutch size suggests that the high-altitude blackbirds improve their breeding success by investing more reproductive energy in fewer offspring in response to the constraints of time and resources. However, the environmental constraints on reproduction result in a low annual reproductive output.


Alpine scrub vegetation Breeding parameters High-altitude environment Tibetan plateau 



I wish to thank the Buddhists in Xiongse nunnery for accommodation, my student, G.H. Gong, for field assistance, and C.F. Mason of Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, for improving the English of the original manuscript. This work was conducted in the Field Research Station for Tibetan Wildlife, jointly administered by Wuhan University and Tibet University. Financial support was provided by National Sciences Foundation of China (Grants 30270216 and 30370241).


  1. Badyaev AV (1997) Avian life history variation along altitudinal gradients: an example with cardueline finches. Oecologia 111:365–374Google Scholar
  2. Bernardo J (1996) The particular maternal effect of propagule size, especially egg size: patterns, models, quality of evidence and interpretations. Am Zool 36:216–236Google Scholar
  3. Blackburn T (1991) An interspecific relationship between egg size and clutch size in birds. Auk 108:973–977Google Scholar
  4. Chamberlain DE, Hatchwell BJ, Perrins CM (1999) Importance of feeding ecology to the reproductive success of blackbirds Turdus merula nesting in rural habitats. Ibis 141:415–427Google Scholar
  5. Cody ML (1966) A general theory of clutch size. Evolution 20:174–184Google Scholar
  6. Cramp S (1988) Birds of the Western Palearctic, vol 5. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Cresswell W (1997) Nest predation: the relative effects of nest characteristics, clutch size and parental behaviour. Anim Behav 53:93–103Google Scholar
  8. Desrochers A, Magrath RD (1993) Age-specific fecundity in European blackbirds (Turdus merula): individual and population trends. Auk 110:255–263Google Scholar
  9. Hatchwell BJ, Chamberlain DE, Perrins CM (1996a) The demography of blackbirds Turdus merula in rural habitats: is farmland a sub-optimal habitat? J Appl Ecol 33:1114–1124Google Scholar
  10. Hatchwell BJ, Chamberlain DE, Perrins CM (1996b) The reproductive success of blackbirds Turdus merula in relation to habitat structure and choice of nest site. Ibis 138:256–262Google Scholar
  11. Jaarvinen A (1989) Clutch-size variation in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Ibis 131:572–577Google Scholar
  12. Kentish BJ, Dann P, Lowe KW (1995) Breeding biology of the common blackbird Turdus merula in Australia. Emu 95:233–244Google Scholar
  13. Krementz DG, Handford P (1984) Does avian clutch size increase with altitude? Oikos 43:256–259Google Scholar
  14. Lack D (1954) The natural regulation of animal numbers. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  15. Lu X (2001) A survey report for important bird area in Tibet. Unpublished report, Birdlife International, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Ludvig E, Vanicsek L, Toeroek J, Csoergoe T (1995) Seasonal variation of clutch size in the European blackbird Turdus merula: a new ultimate explanation. J Anim Ecol 64:85–94Google Scholar
  17. Magrath RD (1989) Hatching asynchrony and reproductive success in the blackbird. Nature 339:536–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Magrath RD (1991) Nestling weight and juvenile survival in the blackbird, Turdus merula. J Anim Ecol 60:335–351Google Scholar
  19. Magrath RD (1992) The effect of egg mass on the growth and survival of blackbirds: a field experiment. J Zool 227:639–653Google Scholar
  20. Martin TE (1992) Interaction of nest predation and food limitation in reproductive strategies. Curr Ornithol 9:163–197Google Scholar
  21. Martin TE (1995) Avian life history evolution in relation to nest sites, nest predation and food. Ecol Monogr 65:101–127Google Scholar
  22. Morrison ML, Marcot BG, Mannan RW (1992) Wildlife-habitat relationship. University of Wisconsin Press, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  23. Partridge L, Harvey PH (1988) The ecological context of life history evolution. Science 241:1449–1455Google Scholar
  24. Pianka ER (1970) On r- and k-selection. Am Nat 104:592–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ricklefs RE (1976) Growth rates of birds in the humid New World Tropics. Ibis 118:179–207Google Scholar
  26. Schnack S (1991) The breeding biology and nestling diet of the blackbird Turdus merula L. and the song thrush Turdus philomelos C.L. Brehm in Vienna and in an adjacent wood. Acta Ornithol 26:85–106Google Scholar
  27. Scientific Expedition to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of Chinese Academy of Sciences (1981) Insects of Tibet. Science Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  28. Slagsvold T (1989) On the evolution of clutch size and nest size in passerine birds. Oecologia 79:300–305Google Scholar
  29. Snow DW (1958) The breeding of the Blackbird Turdus merula at Oxford. Ibis 100:1–30Google Scholar
  30. Török J, Ludvig E (1985) Seasonal changes in foraging strategies of nesting blackbirds. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 22:329–333Google Scholar
  31. Venables LS, Venables UM (1952) The blackbird in Setlland. Ibis 94:636–653Google Scholar
  32. Wu ZK, Li ZM (1984) A study on breeding ecology of the blackbirds Turdus merula in Guizhou. Zool Res Sin 5:283–288Google Scholar
  33. Zheng ZX, Li DH, Wang ZX, Wang ZY, Jiang ZH, Lu TC (1983) The avifauna of Tibet. Science Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  34. Zheng ZX, Long ZY, Lu TC (1995) Fauna Sinica. Aves, vol 10, Passeriformes Muscicapidae I. Turdinae. Science Press, Beijing, pp 189–194Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyCollege of Life Sciences, Wuhan UniversityWuhanChina

Personalised recommendations