The Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca is a summer visitor to the
Here in Breckland, the Lesser Whitethroat is a reasonably common species where it breeds in tall, overgrown, and generally tree-lined hedgerows. Unlike its conspicuous relative, the Whitethroat Sylvia communis, a species which sings from a high exposed perch and also during a display flight, the Lesser Whitethroat is a much more of an unobtrusive species, preferring to sing from cover, however, with patience, this bird may creep along a small branch or twig to give some rewarding views.
As a helping guide to those who wish to watch Lesser Whitethroats in Breckland, two reliable sites include Fairstead Lane, Little Cressingham, and Priory Road, Great Cressingham. Listen for the rattle-like song of this species in the tall, tree-lined hedgerows, stop, and watch, as the bird may appear to show itself to you.
The Lesser Whitethroat is about 1.5 centimeters smaller than the Whitethroat and with practice, observing these two species will soon show the obvious differences between their plumages. The Lesser Whitethroat is a very attractive Warbler being smaller and more compact that Whitethroat. The head and ear coverts are grey, although the ear-coverts tend to be darker, this in turn contrasts strongly with the white throat. Some birds have a white loral stripe, this may extend around the eye to form a white eye-ring. The mantle is grey-brown and the wings are a uniform darkish brown, this feature is worth considering if the observer has difficulty separating Lesser Whitethroat from Whitethroat which has a rusty panel on the brown wings. The tail of Lesser Whitethroat has white edges, the underparts are an off-white, and the legs are grey.Unlike the Whitethroat which has a harsh scratchy song delivered often from a conspicuous perch, the song of the Lesser Whitethroat is generally given from within cover and is delivered in two parts. The song starts with a quiet warble, generally only heard when close to the bird, this is followed by a highly distinctive rattle which can be heard at range. My interpretation of the rattle song is “chikka-chikka-chikka-chikka-chikka”, although other observers may have their own way of interpreting the song as does the text in some field guides.
The breeding habitat of the Lesser Whitethroat differs from Whitethroat in being more arboreal in nature. This species prefers tall overgrown hedgerows with mature trees whereas the Whitethroat has a preference for scrubby habitats and hedgerows. The nest is a fine construction of twigs, grasses, hair, and plant down, and is usually quite low down in a dense bush or shrub. 4 to 6 young are raised by both parents and the young are able to leave the nest as soon as they are able to flutter.
I often say that the Lesser Whitethroat is my favourite Warbler species, but then again, I generally say that about whichever species I am watching or studying at that time. Maybe it is because this Warbler is at the extreme of its north-west range inLesser Whitethroat arrivals in spring generally goes unseen as this occurs during the hours of darkness, however, autumn migration can be fascinating to watch as passage birds in good numbers can occur in the right habitats.
Europe, or perhaps it is the migration
behaviour of the species, or is it because I marvel at what these delicate
birds endure, as do other species, in order to visit us to breed. Whatever the reason, I never tire of watching
these birds and the first arrivals in spring always brings a smile to my face.
Within the Breckland area, one of my favourite birding localities in autumn is at Houghton-on-the-Hill, this locality has an elevated position and it is possible to enjoy spectacular visible migration here, additionally, the habitat is such that a number of species occur in good numbers to rest and feed whilst on passage.
Lesser Whitethroat at Houghton-on-the-Hill August '12 (Paul Newport)
During the summer months, Warbler species diet consists of insects, however, during autumn, their diet, including that of Lesser Whitethroat, turns to berries, this diet increases weight and energy levels in readiness for their long journey back to their wintering grounds in
Africa. I find that Elderberries are a favoured food
source, therefore, knowing where a good supply of these fruits exists helps
with observing these and other migrants.
MigrationBird passage and migration has always fascinated me and I always marvel at how a creature weighing no more than a few grams, is able to undertake a passage of thousands of miles, encountering man-made and natural obstacles, and breed with us which in itself is fraught with danger.
Lesser Whitethroats winter in North East Africa (Ethiopia, Chad, and Sudan), their passage into Europe takes a very defined route in that they travel from North East Africa, around the eastern Mediterranean, either following coastal routes or taking the small hop from North Africa into Cyprus, crossing over to Turkey, and then north-west through Europe before arriving with us in mid-April. This route is so precise that this species does not occur in south west
During September and occasionally through to mid-October, Lesser Whitethroats begin their migration out of the UK, their route is the reverse of the spring passage in that they follow a south-east heading to the eastern Mediterranean and into north-east Africa. Once again, the