This week we look at the Whitethroat Sylvia communis, a migratory warbler that has just started arriving in this country from sub-Saharan Africa. My first sighting this year of one of these charming summer birds was only the other day at Ardingly reservoir, just south-east of my home town. It was a blazing blue-sky spring day and as I walked around the edge of the reservoir I heard a scratchy song emanate from within a bramble patch. It was a short, fast, high-pitched jumble of sweet notes; rather like a marker-pen on a white-board. At first I could not see the composer of this long-awaited song, but with some patience I eventually espied the male Whitethroat as he hopped up onto the twig of a sapling. I could now enjoy his butterscotch-coloured wings, his smart grey cap and dazzling white bib as he warbled in the sun.

  • The Common Whitethroat has 1.1 million pairs in the UK and is green-listed, it can be found across Britain apart from mountainous regions and urbanity, it also has a global breeding range covering all Europe and far east into central Asia.
  • It has old country names of ‘nettle-creeper’ due to its habits, and ‘singing skyrocket’ in reference to its display flight. Communis simply means common.
  • The males arrive back from their wintering grounds before the females in order to set up territories, he will build multiple ‘cock-nests’ of which one will be chosen by the female and completed.
  • There can be confusion with the Lesser Whitethroat, but this species lacks the buff wings, has a darker grey head and quite a different song, it is also much more secretive, less common and smaller in size.
  • In 1969 3/4 of the UK Whitethroat population failed to appear in spring, this was quite a shock at the time and it took a while for the species to regain its numbers. Research later identified that the cause was major droughts in the Sahel region of Africa, just south of the Sahara, which had deprived the birds of insect food prior to migration.
  • The species success may be attributed to its unspecific habitat requirements; it can be found nesting in any scrub or bramble thickets on heaths, coastal land, farmland hedgerows, downland, even brownfield. It will also eat a wide range of invertebrates and fruit in the autumn.