Mainly confined to lowland heaths in southern England, the Dartford warbler is an elusive little resident breeder with distinctive plumage and physical characteristics.
The adult male is a richly coloured reddish brown breasted warbler with a red eye and bold red eye ring. Its rufous brown throat is patterned with pale buff coloured spots and its red brown underside morphs into mid brown with a dirty white belly. It has a brown grey back and long dark slender tail. The forehead is distinctive, pronounced and grey in colour. It has short, rounded grey wings, a short spiky bill with a yellowish base and pale legs and feet.
The female is not as bright as the male and lacks the red breast colouration and is overall a more greyish coloured bird. The juvenile is similar to the female but with even more grey hues.
Close up of a Dartford Warbler
In the 1960s the UK’s population of Dartford warblers was almost wiped out completely but has recovered to an estimated 3,200 breeding pairs today. It is, however, still classified as Amber within the UK conservation status list and is adversely affected by occasional severe British winters resulting in a high mortality rate.
A rather fast low reverberating almost scratchy warble interspersed with higher notes similar to ‘chirr – chirr – chirr’.
Its favoured diet is insects and spiders which it forages for in low undergrowth, but it will also select berries and seeds, particularly in the winter time.
Dartford warblers are UK breeding residents normally found in lowland areas of heather or gorse particularly around the south and south-west heathland areas of England.
Often difficult to spot as they forage amongst heather or low lying gorse; on a warm summer’s day you will find them sunbathing on a flowering gorse bush or quickly flitting about in flight between bushes. The shape and colouration, particularly of the male aids identification although it is easy to confuse it with the vagrant Subalpine Warbler, an extremely rare visitor to our shores from continental southern Europe and Africa.
Dartford warblers normally pair for life and a cup shaped nest is usually built by both birds close to the ground in either heather or gorse on gently sloping coastal heathland. The female lays up to three broods between April and July each brood consisting of between 3 to 5 eggs. The eggs are coloured very pale green or white with brown speckles. Eggs hatch after two weeks and the chicks fledge after a further fourteen days.
Dartford Warbler perched on a fence
As with most UK warblers, the average life span of the Dartford is up to five years.
This small but long tailed, large headed warbler, is a resident of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean where it is common, although is not present on the island of Menorca.
Not to be confused with the Great Reed Warbler, this relatively nondescript, solitary little bird is an annual visitor to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa, arriving in mid April and departing early in October.
This mainly plain, solitary, short billed, stocky little warbler is widespread throughout Europe and a long distance migrant to Africa, crossing the Sahara Desert without pause.
Until recently this small, solitary, old world leaf warbler was classified as being a member of the family Sylviidae, but following extensive research and reclassification, now falls within the family of Phylloscopidae.
Named after the 18th century Italian zoologist and Jesuit priest, Francisco Cetti this small plain looking bush warbler is frequently heard but difficult to spot.
Within its range and to differentiate it from other similar species, it is often referred to as an Eurasian Blackcap. This sexually dichromatic, stocky little warbler, is a member of the genus Sylvia and is sometimes nicknamed the Northern Nightingale due to its beautiful and frequent song.