Sylvia atricapilla (Linnaeus, 1758) BC BLACA 12770
Family: Passeriformes > Sylviidae

This melodic warbler is widely distributed across Britain & Ireland through the breeding season, and increasingly in winter too.

Blackcap breeding numbers have steadily increased in the UK since the late-1970s, and have also expanded their breeding range throughout northern Scotland and the island of Ireland during this time. They are now absent only on the highest Scottish peaks and farthest flung islands.

In autumn, these breeding birds depart for southern Europe and are replaced by Blackcaps from central Europe. BTO research has helped show how garden bird feeding led to the evolution of this new migratory route and wintering strategy. Although widespread in winter, Blackcaps tend to be absent from the uplands at this time of year.

Blackcaps have a greyish overall appearance. The eponymous black cap is only found in the males; females and juveniles have a brown cap instead. The song is very similar to that of the Garden Warbler, but can be distinguished with practice. Blackcaps are found in parks, deciduous woodland and scrub, as well as at garden feeding stations.

Exploring the trends for Blackcap

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Blackcap population is changing.

trends explorer


Blackcap identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Blackcap.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Blackcap, provided by xeno-canto contributors.



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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Blackcap abundance in the UK has increased consistently since the late 1970s, a trend common to all habitats and evident from both the CBC/BBS and the CES indices. An extraordinary acceleration of the upward trend occurred from 2008 to 2013. Overall increase has occurred despite a reduction in habitat quality for Blackcap, and other species dependent on the understorey, brought about by deer browsing in young woodland (Holt et al. 2012d). The BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that increase occurred widely throughout the UK range over that period. An even more rapid increase in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, where much new ground has been colonised (Balmer et al. 2013), is indicated by the most recent BBS trends. There has been an increase across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).

Exploring the trends for Blackcap

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Blackcap population is changing.

trends explorer


Breeding Blackcaps are widely distributed throughout Britain and Ireland, with highest densities in lowland areas in southern Britain and in pockets throughout Ireland. Wintering numbers have increased steeply since the 1990s, with numbers peaking in gardens in late January or February.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats


There have been extensive gains in the Blackcap's breeding range since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas; the range has expanded in Ireland by a staggering 241%, and in Britain by 51%, with most of the British gains being in Scotland.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Blackcap is a scarce winter visitor and common summer visitor, with a rapid arrival of birds in April when Blackcap song can be heard in many wooded habitats.

Weekly occurence of Blackcap from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Blackcap ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Blackcap, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Blackcap

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Blackcap population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Blackcap

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Blackcap population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Ceann-dubh
Welsh: Telor Penddu
Catalan: tallarol de casquet
Czech: penice cernohlavá
Danish: Munk
Dutch: Zwartkop
Estonian: mustpea-põõsalind
Finnish: mustapääkerttu
French: Fauvette à tête noire
German: Mönchsgrasmücke
Hungarian: barátposzáta
Icelandic: Hettusöngvari
Irish: Caipín Dubh
Italian: Capinera
Latvian: melngalvas kaukis
Lithuanian: juodagalve devynbalse
Norwegian: Munk
Polish: kapturka
Portuguese: toutinegra-de-barrete
Slovak: penica ciernohlavá
Slovenian: crnoglavka
Spanish: Curruca capirotada
Swedish: svarthätta
Folkname: Haychat, Mock Nightingale


Interpretation and scientific publications about Blackcap from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The causes of the increase in this species remain unknown.

Further information on causes of change

According to CES, productivity has fluctuated markedly, obscuring any long-term trend in CES or NRS data. Survival rates have been stable. Using data from France, Julliard (2004) found that population growth rate was under the additive influence of survival and recruitment.

Analysis of phenological data has found that this species advanced its arrival date in the UK, between the 1960s and 2000s, by 18 days ( Newson et al. 2016). This is in line with the trend towards earlier laying, amounting to an advance of almost two weeks since 1968, which may be a response to recent climate change (Crick & Sparks 1999, Croxton et al. 2006). The more rapid increase in Scotland indicated by BBS suggests that climatic warming may be allowing this species to extend its range northwards (Hewson et al. 2007).

Information about conservation actions

The population of this species has increased consistently since the 1970s, hence it is not a species of concern and no conservation actions are currently required.

Conservation actions benefiting other woodland species may also help Blackcap further, particularly those which enhance understorey vegetation and in particular the scrub layer, for example the control of deer numbers to reduce grazing.


Peer-reviewed papers
Male Blackcap. Benjamin Van Doren

Human activity shapes the wintering ecology of a migratory bird

Feeding garden birds changes Blackcap migration patterns

2021 | Van Doren, B.M., Conway, G.J., Phillips, R.J., Evans, G.C., Roberts, G.C.M., Liedvogel, M. & Sheldon, B.C.Global Change Biology

New research using data from BTO's Ringing Scheme and Garden BirdWatch shows how we are shaping the natural world through actions in our own back gardens.

Peer-reviewed papers

Is supplementary feeding in gardens a driver of evolutionary change in a migratory bird species?

Garden bird feeding and a changing climate are driving evolutionary change in Blackcaps

2015 | Plummer, K.E., Siriwardena, G.M., Conway, G.J., Risely, K. & Toms, M.P.Global Change Biology

New research using data from Garden BirdWatch has revealed that bird food provided in British gardens has helped Blackcaps to rapidly evolve a successful new migration route. This is the first time that garden bird feeding has been shown to affect large-scale bird distributions.

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