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’.
Dartford Warbler song
David Bissett, XC483891. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/483891.
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.
12cm to 13cm
13cm to 18cm
9g to 12g
An elusive reedbed-dwelling songbird, the moustached warbler breeds in marshlands across southern Europe. Rare reports of breeding in the UK do exist, although no sightings of the species have been confirmed in Britain since the 1940s.
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.
Widespread across southern Europe and North Africa, Sardinian warblers are known for their chattering, fast-paced song, commonly heard throughout Mediterranean areas.
Yellow-browed warblers are rare winter visitors to the UK, with fewer than 30 birds arriving after their breeding season in Siberia has drawn to a close. A few hundred sightings of these tiny migrants are also recorded in passage each year, along the east coast of Scotland, and eastern and southern coasts of England.
Wood warblers are tuneful breeding visitors, arriving in British woodlands from April onwards. Well hidden in their preferred tree-filled landscapes, their bright yellow breast makes them easily distinguishable from other similar warbler species.
The diminutive Willow warbler is a small bird from the Leaf Warbler family Phylloscopidae which contains 80 species. Willow warblers are primarily insectivorous and are energetic, constantly moving birds that dart their tree and hedgerow habitats. They possess soft and subtle green plumage with a pale green-grey back, wings and tail with a pale grey stomach that has a slight yellow tinge.
Whitethroats are active warblers that can be seen and heard in hedgerows around Britain during spring and summer months, as they raise their young and busily forage for insects. Each autumn, they depart for wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, returning in April to breed once more.
Widespread and common breeding visitors to the UK, sedge warblers arrive on marshlands and reedbeds in April, and spend up to 6 months on British soil (or wetlands, to be more accurate), raising their young, before preparing for lengthy migrations to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.
Savi’s warblers are long-distance migratory songbirds, breeding across continental Europe and north-west Africa, and spending winters in West Africa. Extremely rare in the UK, with only around 5 breeding pairs a year, Savi’s warblers are mostly found in marshlands and habitats with dense reed cover.
A wetland songbird with a rather unremarkable appearance, the reed warbler is a spring visitor to the UK, raising young in wetland reedbeds across England and Wales before returning to African wintering grounds at the end of the summer.
Seen only very occasionally in the UK, the marsh warbler is a long-distance migrant, breeding across central and eastern Europe and spending winters in south-eastern Africa. Sightings in Britain are limited to coastal areas, where up to only around 8 pairs are recorded as breeding each year.
Smaller and less common than the closely related whitethroat, the Lesser Whitethroat, is a hard-to-spot breeding visitor to the UK, due to its unremarkable plumage and favoured habitats of dense hedgerow vegetation.
A well-camouflaged visitor to grasslands and reedbeds, grasshopper warblers arrive in Britain to breed each spring. You may stand a better chance of hearing one than actually getting a sighting, as their secretive nature of creeping through vegetation makes them almost impossible to spot.
Garden warblers are unobtrusive, inconspicuous songbirds that are most commonly found foraging in woodlands during spring and summer months, before heading south to wintering grounds in Africa each autumn.
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.
A particularly hard-to-spot bush warbler, the Cetti’s warbler bred in Britain for the first time in the 1970s and now is an established species, with an expanded breeding range in wetland reedbeds around the southern, eastern and south-western coasts of England, and the south and north coasts of Wales.
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.
Aquatic warblers are rare and temporary migrants to parts of southern England each autumn, en-route from their breeding grounds in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus to their winter territories in West Africa. Only around 40 sightings are reported each year, with the species classed as vulnerable and in decline.
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