Mainly confined to lowland heaths in southern England, the Dartford warbler is an elusive little resident breeder with distinctive plumage and physical characteristics.
12cm to 13cm
13cm to 18cm
9g to 12g
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.
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