Dartford warbler

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Dartford warbler
Dartford Warbler Provencegrasmücke (Sylvia undata) by J. Dietrich.jpg
Female in Spain
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Sylviidae
Genus: Sylvia
Species: S. undata
Binomial name
Sylvia undata
(Boddaert, 1783)

The Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) is a typical warbler from the warmer parts of western Europe and northwestern Africa. Its breeding range lies west of a line from southern England to the heel of Italy (southern Apulia). The Dartford warbler is usually resident all year in its breeding range, but there is some limited migration.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The Dartford warbler was first described by the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant from two specimens that were shot in April 1773 on Bexley Heath near Dartford in Kent.[2][3][4] The species was assigned the binomial name of Motacilla undata by the Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert in 1783 based on a coloured plate in Edmé-Louis Daubenton's Planches enluminées d'histoire naturelle.[5][6]

The type locality of the Dartford warbler is Provence in France. This species probably forms a superspecies with Tristram's warbler and this in turn seems close to Marmora's warbler and the Balearic warbler.[7] Altogether, this group of typical warblers bears a resemblance to the wrentit, the only species of Sylviidae from the Americas. However the wrentit is less closely related to the genus Sylvia than to the parrotbills.[8] Its visual similarity to the Dartford warbler group is an example of convergent evolution.

Three subspecies are recognised:[9][10]

  • S. u. dartfordiensis Latham, 1787 – south England and north-west France
  • S. u. toni Hartert, 1909 – north-west Africa
  • S. u. undata (Boddaert, 1783) – Iberian Peninsula and south France


The Dartford warbler is a small (13 cm (5.1 in)) passerine bird, distinguished by its long tail compared with that of other warblers. Its plumage comprises unobtrusive and muted tones, which blend in with the dry dead plants, old wood or sunny greyish wood found in its preferred habitats.

Like many typical warblers, the Dartford warbler has distinct male and female plumages. The male has a grey back and head, reddish underparts, and a red eye. The reddish throat is spotted with white. The sides are a dull greyish tone, being more clear about the abdomen. In some populations males have bluish-grey or brownish-grey backs and heads. The female is paler below, especially on the throat, and a browner grey above. The female's throat also has white spots, although they are smaller and less marked than in the male. Juvenile birds are similar to females.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The species is naturally rare. The largest European populations of Sylvia undata are in the Iberian peninsula, others in much of France, in Italy and southern England and south Wales. In Africa it can be found only in small areas in the north, wintering in northern Morocco and northern Algeria.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Eggs at the Muséum de Toulouse


This small warbler breeds in heathlands, sometimes near coasts, with gorse bushes for nesting. The nest is built in low shrub, and 3–6 eggs are laid.


It inhabits open fields with degraded scrub brush and is common in heather. In winter it may visit urban areas, but always finds shrubs in these areas. Nests in bushes with thorns and near the ground. These warblers are mostly insectivore, feeding caterpillars, butterfliess, beetles and spiders. The song of the Dartford warbler is a distinctive rattling warble.

Status and conservation[edit]

Dartford warblers are named for Dartford Heath in north west Kent, where the population became extinct in the early 20th century. They almost died out in the United Kingdom in the severe winter of 1962/1963 when the national population dropped to just 10 pairs. However, this species can recover well in good quality habitat, thanks to repeated nesting and a high survival rate for the young. Indeed they recovered in some areas of the UK, but numbers are once again on the decline in other regions of that country, as well as elsewhere.

Formerly classified as a 'Species of Least Concern' by the IUCN,[11] it was suspected to be rarer than generally assumed. Following the investigation of the apparent decline this was confirmed, and the Dartford warbler was consequently relisted to Near Threatened status in 2008.[12]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Sylvia undata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Bibby, C.F.; Tubbs, C.R. (1975). "Status, habitats and conservation of the Dartford Warbler in England" (PDF). British Birds 68 (5): 177–195. 
  3. ^ Pennant, Thomas (1776). British Zoology, Volume 1 (4th ed.). Warrington, United Kingdom: Printed by William Eyres, for Benjamin White. p. 389. 
  4. ^ Latham, John (1783). A General Synopsis of Birds, Volume 2. London: Printed for Benj. White. p. 435. 
  5. ^ Boddaert, Pieter (1783). Table des planches enluminéez d'histoire naturelle de M. D'Aubenton : avec les denominations de M.M. de Buffon, Brisson, Edwards, Linnaeus et Latham, precedé d'une notice des principaux ouvrages zoologiques enluminés (in French). Utrecht. p. 40 Number 655. 
  6. ^ Daubenton, Edme-Louis (1765–1783). Planches enluminées d'histoire naturelle, Volume 7. Plate 655, Le Pitte-chou de provence. 
  7. ^ Helbig (2001), Jønsson & Fjeldså (2006)
  8. ^ Cibois (2003), Pasquet (2006)
  9. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Sylviid babblers, parrotbills & white-eyes". World Bird List Version 5.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Aymí, R.; Gargallo, G. "Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)". In del Hoyo, J; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 29 May 2015. (subscription required)
  11. ^ BLI (2004)
  12. ^ BLI (2008)


External links[edit]