How many mealworms can a blackbird pick up in one go?

The blackbirds make great efforts to pick up as many mealworms as they can cram into their beaks

You said you had mealworms!The heatwave breaking is a big relief. Every day, I'd refill water dishes all over the garden and see birds coming to drink and wash, spilling the water over the sides as they flap and splash. A rock, or something similar, placed in the water gives insects somewhere to stand at the water's edge and drink from there and bees, wasps and hoverflies make use of these tiny artificial beaches. The birds had been walking around with their beaks open, a strategy for losing heat, but seem more relaxed now the cooler weather has returned. 

At home, the robins seem to have finished collecting worms for their young ones, but the blackbirds (Turdus merula) are in full-on collecting mode, searching out grubs, spiders, worms and small slugs. Once again, they've started watching us through the windows and they will fly to the front step when the door is opened to remind us that we started this carry-on with handing out mealworms and can they have some, please.

On several occasions now we've had the birds approach for worms when they already have a beak full of squashed insects and then we watch as they try to cram in more. The robin isn't very good at it, though he has a much smaller beak than the blackbirds. If he's already got a nice fat spider, he can manage to pick up two mealworms, but that doesn't stop him trying to get more in and he chases them around for a while, pecking at them, before giving up and coming back a few minutes later. 

A magpie basks in the sunThe blackbirds, on the other hand seem almost to be in competition for how many worms they can pick up in one go. The record so far is 12. They aren't as confident as the robin, running back and forth in a jerky fashion, picking up a few worms each time. You can watch them doing it here. The robin is deliberate in his actions – peck, peck, peck, all done very quickly and smoothly and off he goes. 

Once the beak is full of worms, the bird then looks for its off-spring which will have been deposited somewhere safe. It might be in the pyracantha hedge, behind the woodshed, amongst plant pots or somewhere in next door's garden. The young bird might have stayed put or it might have wandered, so the parent has to find it. I watch as the male blackbird stands atop the woodshed. He looks from side to side and cocks his head as he listens, trying to locate one of his youngsters. After a minute or so, he somehow knows where they are and flies directly to them. I wonder how birds can hear so well when their ears are covered by feathers and go off to find out. 

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