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European Blackbird separable from Chinese? (1 Viewer)

earlytorise

Well-known member
I live in Hong Kong, where Chinese Blackbird (Turdus mandarinus) is a common winter visitor and rare summer breeder.

In the unlikely event that an adult European Blackbird (Turdus merula) appeared in Hong Kong, would you be able to identify it by photos alone? I've long wondered about it and would welcome a concrete answer.

The only source I could find is the following article, which gives several ID criteria but I don't know how much evidence there is to support them


and when I look through photos of the two species on eBird, the only feature I can see to be definitve is that Chinese Blackbird sometimes shows bare parts behind and in front of the eye though they are sometimes not discernible in photos either, whereas they are not present on European Blackbirds.

Some male Chinese Blackbirds are duller and show a pale-ish throat, but others seem to have the same coloration as male European Blackbirds, so a glossy-black individual could be of either species.

Chinese Blackbird does appear bigger and bulkier than European Blackbird, on average, but apparent bulk is affected by posture and therefore variable even on a single bird.

Thanks and cheers
 
Last edited:

johnallcock

Well-known member
They are very similar, and would be fairly difficult from photos, but on good photos should be identifiable.

Eurasian is smaller and slimmer with a longer tail, smaller head and smaller bill. Chinese is quite a large, bulky bird, with relatively shorter tail, larger head and a large, bill with curved culmen.

Adult male Eurasian should be glossy black with orange-yellow bill and eyering. On Chinese the plumage is usually duller (very dark brown-black rather than pure black) and the bill and eyering are less orange-toned and less contrasting. Female and first winter Chinese can be very similar to adult males, with very dark blackish-brown plumage and yellowish bill and eyering. Female/first winter Eurasian are paler and browner, and would perhaps be more obvious in HK than an adult male. The bare skin behind the eye is surprisingly obvious on most birds with a good view, making the eye-ring appear less rounded, which should be apparent on a good photo.

The real giveaway would be call - the calls of the two species are completely different. Blackbirds are usually quite vocal and if you saw a bird that you thought was Eurasian in HK, then listening for (and ideally recording) the call would be much more useful than trying to get a photograph.

It's also worth watching behaviour in the field if you find a candidate. Eurasian (at least in Western Europe) is a bolder bird that often forages on open grass. Chinese is shyer, more often foraging under cover of trees or feeding on berries in treetops. In flight, Chinese has shorter, less pointed wings and a more 'relaxed' flight style, usually at treetop height.

There are a couple of other species to consider - Tibetan and Indian Blackbirds are very similar (and not always split) but should be unlikely in HK. Grey-winged Blackbird is a plausible vagrant here that could be an ID challenge if you can't see the wing pattern, but should be obvious if you can see the wings.
 

earlytorise

Well-known member
They are very similar, and would be fairly difficult from photos, but on good photos should be identifiable.

Eurasian is smaller and slimmer with a longer tail, smaller head and smaller bill. Chinese is quite a large, bulky bird, with relatively shorter tail, larger head and a large, bill with curved culmen.

Adult male Eurasian should be glossy black with orange-yellow bill and eyering. On Chinese the plumage is usually duller (very dark brown-black rather than pure black) and the bill and eyering are less orange-toned and less contrasting. Female and first winter Chinese can be very similar to adult males, with very dark blackish-brown plumage and yellowish bill and eyering. Female/first winter Eurasian are paler and browner, and would perhaps be more obvious in HK than an adult male. The bare skin behind the eye is surprisingly obvious on most birds with a good view, making the eye-ring appear less rounded, which should be apparent on a good photo.

The real giveaway would be call - the calls of the two species are completely different. Blackbirds are usually quite vocal and if you saw a bird that you thought was Eurasian in HK, then listening for (and ideally recording) the call would be much more useful than trying to get a photograph.

It's also worth watching behaviour in the field if you find a candidate. Eurasian (at least in Western Europe) is a bolder bird that often forages on open grass. Chinese is shyer, more often foraging under cover of trees or feeding on berries in treetops. In flight, Chinese has shorter, less pointed wings and a more 'relaxed' flight style, usually at treetop height.

There are a couple of other species to consider - Tibetan and Indian Blackbirds are very similar (and not always split) but should be unlikely in HK. Grey-winged Blackbird is a plausible vagrant here that could be an ID challenge if you can't see the wing pattern, but should be obvious if you can see the wings.
Thanks John!
 

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