Sylvia communis

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.


Whitethroat, also known as the Common and Greater Whitethroat

Whitethroat male singing in the bushes

Whitethroat male singing in the bushes

Female Whitethroats have brown heads

Female Whitethroats have brown heads

Common Whitethroat in flight

Common Whitethroat in flight

Appearance & Identification

What do Whitethroats look like?

As you might expect, a white throat is one of the key distinguishing features of a whitethroat. Male whitethroats have a grey head, grey-brown back and wings, and a pinkish-off-white breast, belly and underparts.

Their eyes are olive-brown, surrounded by a thin white eye-ring, and their bill is yellowish, tinged with grey.

In female whitethroats, the white throat patch is smaller and less prominent, and their head is brown instead of grey. Females have grey-brown legs, in contrast to those of the male, which are a yellowish brown.

<p><strong>Male Whitethroat</strong></p>

Male Whitethroat

<p><strong>Female Whitethroat</strong></p>

Female Whitethroat

Juvenile whitethroats have buff-brown upperparts. Their chin and throat are off-white, and their underparts are a dull buff shade, with some sandy edges to wing feathers.

A similar species, the lesser whitethroat, is smaller and has dark patches on its cheeks.

How big are Whitethroats?

Whitethroats are active birds, with large heads and long flicking tails. They are around the same size as house sparrows and great tits. There isn’t any noticeable difference in size between male and female whitethroats.

  • Length: 14 cm to 17 cm (5.5 in to 6.7 in)
  • Weight: 12 g to 18 g (0.4 oz to 0.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 18.5 cm to 23 cm (7.3 in to 9 in)
Greater Whitethroat perched in a tree

Greater Whitethroat perched in a tree

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Whitethroat make?

Whitethroats are classed as warblers, and naturally have a wide and diverse range of calls and songs. A common song is a rapid-fire, scratchy warbling song, with alternating high and low notes. Calls include a harsh, buzzing churring alarm call, and a “wheet-wheet-wheet” contact call.


What do Whitethroats eat?

Whitethroats’ diets change throughout the year, with insects and invertebrates being of most importance during the spring and summer, and the focus shifting to berries during the autumn and winter.

Insects, particularly beetles, bugs and caterpillars, are the main element of a breeding whitethroat’s diet, while during migration and into winter months berries, in particular redcurrants, blackcurrants, sandalwood, and buckthorn, form an important share of their food intake.

What do Whitethroat chicks eat?

Young Whitethroat chicks are fed on insects and invertebrates, with parent birds selecting softer prey to feed to their offspring. The early diet of young whitethroats contains spiders, larvae and caterpillars. As they become more independent, beetles and bugs are also introduced.

Whitethroat with a caterpillar in its beak, ready to feed hungry chicks

Whitethroat with a caterpillar in its beak, ready to feed hungry chicks

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Whitethroat?

Open countryside at lower altitudes is the preferred habitat of whitethroats. Scrubland bushes and hedgerows provide ideal nest cover and foraging opportunities. Woodlands, dense tree cover of more than 3m to 4m (10 ft to 13 ft) in height, and busy residential areas are avoided.

What is the range of a Whitethroat?

Whitethroats breed across northern Europe, with Ireland and Britain forming the western extreme of their range, which stretches as far as southern Norway, Sweden and Finland in the north, western Russia and into central Asia in the east, and south as far as northern Spain, Italy and across Greece and Turkey.

Winters are spent in West and Central Africa, from Senegal in the west, to Sudan in the east, and as far south as South Africa.

Where do Whitethroats live?

Whitethroats generally avoid both mountainous and urban areas, but can be seen in open countryside and hedgerows along railway lines, footpaths and bramble patches. They are most common in central, southern and eastern parts of England.

Across their wider range, the largest populations of breeding whitethroats are found in Switzerland and Ukraine, with much of western and central Europe recording slight declines in numbers.

In winter, the Sahel region of Africa is the final destination of most of Europe’s breeding whitethroats, and environmental conditions such as desertification have caused changes to the population and settlement patterns of the species.

Whitethroat (male) in its natural habitat

Whitethroat (male) in its natural habitat

How rare are Whitethroats?

During the spring and summer, whitethroats are relatively widespread across Britain, with over 1.1 million breeding pairs arriving from wintering grounds in the Sahel, just south of the Sahara Desert in central Africa.

They are common visitors during the breeding season, but it is unlikely that you’ll spot one after late September, as migration south begins from August onwards.

Where can you see Whitethroats in the UK?

During spring and summer, whitethroats are widespread across the UK and are only really absent from the highest terrain, including the Pennines, Cairngorms and Snowdonia.

Whitethroats breed as far north as Shetland, but are most numerous in southern, central and eastern England, where they can be seen between April and September each year.

Close up of a female Whitethroat perched on a branch

Close up of a female Whitethroat perched on a branch

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Whitethroats live?

On average, whitethroats enjoy a lifespan of around 2 years, breeding for the first time at one year of age. A ringed whitethroat was recorded as having reached 7 years and 9 months in 2011.

What are the predators of Whitethroats?

Birds of prey, particularly tawny owls and sparrowhawks, are among the main predators of whitethroats, as well as carrion crows. Predatory mammals also pose a threat, including martens, weasels, stoats and foxes.

Are Whitethroats protected?

Whitethroats are included in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which protects wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales against being intentionally killed, injured or captured.

Their eggs and nest sites are also protected against by law, meaning they cannot be destroyed or damaged.

Are Whitethroats endangered?

In their wider range, whitethroats have a secure and stable population and are rated as a species of least concern by the IUCN. In Britain, they are categorised as Amber on the Birds of Conservation Concern species list.

The inclusion of whitethroats as a species of moderate concern reflects a decline in breeding in the UK of 63 per cent between 1967 and 2020.

On average, Whitethroats usually live for around 2 years in the wild

On average, Whitethroats usually live for around 2 years in the wild

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Whitethroats nest?

Perfecting the ideal nest is of great importance to breeding whitethroats. Males build several nests in a territory which are then examined by the female for suitability, before she ultimately chooses the one that she thinks will stand up to the task of raising young.

Occasionally none of the male’s efforts will impress, and a female will take over, constructing a new nest in a different location.

Nests are constructed low down in bushes, particularly brambles, or concealed deep into long grassy thickets. Deep cup-shaped nests are crafted from grass, leaves, moss, hair and spiders’ webs.

What do Whitethroat eggs look like?

A typical whitethroat clutch contains 4 to 5 smooth, glossy pale green-blue eggs, which are marked with dark olive-brown speckles. Eggs measure 18 mm by 14 mm (0.7 in by 0.6 in) and weigh around 1.8 g (0.06 oz).

Incubation is shared between both males and females, with young hatching after between 11 and 13 days. Whitethroats raise either up to two broods each season, with the earliest eggs laid in May.

Do Whitethroats mate for life?

Whitethroats are typically a monogamous species, although males may occasionally breed with a second mate in a separate territory. It’s uncertain whether the pair bonds continue from one season to the next.

Males return to breeding grounds ahead of females, and do exhibit strong loyalty to territories they have successfully bred on in previous years.

<p><strong>Whitethroat gathering nesting materials</strong></p>

Whitethroat gathering nesting materials

<p><strong>The nest of a Whitethroat, with five unhatched eggs inside</strong></p>

The nest of a Whitethroat, with five unhatched eggs inside


Are Whitethroats aggressive?

Whitethroats are curious and inquisitive birds that actively explore their surroundings – when they come across a threat or an intruder to their territory, their response is usually an aggressive churring call. Aggression is also observed during courtship and the breeding season.

Where do Whitethroats sleep at night?

Whitethroats are observed to be one of the earliest species to roost each evening, settling into their bramble thickets or thorny hedgerows close to dusk, and not surfacing until after many of their neighbouring birds have already awoken to join in with the dawn chorus.

Close up of a Whitethroat

Close up of a Whitethroat


Do Whitethroats migrate?

Whitethroats are a fully migratory species – no whitethroats are native to Britain, and they arrive here in spring to breed, before returning to their winter territories in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.


Do Whitethroats breed in the UK?

Whitethroats are summer visitors to the UK, arriving ahead of the breeding season in mid-April, raising their young and then departing for wintering grounds in Africa by October.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Sylvia communis

Other names:

Common whitethroat, Greater whitethroat



Conservation status:




14cm to 17cm


18.5cm to 23cm


12g to 18g

Similar birds to a Whitethroat

Other birds in the Warblers family

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