New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2006) 30(2): 285- 291

The role of blackbirds (Turdus merula) in weed invasion in New Zealand

Forum Article
Peter A. Williams  
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson, New Zealand

The naturalised European blackbird (Turdus merula) is the most widely distributed avian seed disperser in New Zealand. Together with the native silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) they are the major seed dispersers over large areas of New Zealand. I review the international literature on aspects of the ecology and behaviour of blackbirds relevant to their potential for dispersing weeds in New Zealand. Blackbirds eat a wide range of native and exotic fruit including many naturalised species. Their habitat preferences and behaviour result in germinable seeds being deposited in a range of sites, particularly in shrubby habitats, where seedling establishment is likely. Most seeds will be deposited within 50 m but some may be carried a kilometre or more to develop new invasive loci. Blackbirds therefore probably make a major contribution to the development of novel plant communities of naturalised woody weeds. These communities provide fruit more suited to non- endemic native birds and naturalised birds, than to endemic birds. The relative contribution of blackbirds and silvereyes to seed dispersal of native and exotic species requires investigation. The outcome may suggest potential for managing blackbirds as a vector of weed invasions.