The Different Whitethroat

By Ron Knight (Flickr: Lesser Whitethroat) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ron Knight via Wikimedia Commons

I guess Lesser Whitethroats don’t mind being called ‘lesser’ but I’m going to stick up for them – they are different, not lesser.

They are, one has to concede, more petite than the Common Whitethroat (that’s not a very flattering name either is it?) but I like to think of them as different.

The Lesser Whitethroat’s most interesting difference, to me, is its migration route. This bird heads off to Italy and the Po Valley in autumn and takes a very easterly route to its east African wintering grounds. It’s quite unlike other UK migrants that actually end up in similar wintering grounds.

In Eilat this March, the Lesser Whitethroat was probably the commonest warbler that we saw – there were loads and loads of them.

My first UK Lesser Whitehroat this year was at my local patch of Stanwick Lakes where a bird was singing its rattling song over and over again. That’s what often happens when birds arrive on their breeding grounds but this bird was singing from a very unlikely patch of habitat for it to be its home for the summer – I’ve never before seen or heard a Lesser Whitethroat at this particular area of my patch. And the next day it appeared to have gone – judging by the silence anyway. So I am pretty sure it was a bird which sang a lot (why exactly?) and then moved on. Did it move on about a mile to the railway line bushes where I more often hear Lessers singing? Or is it now a hundred miles north of here? Or what? Birds are brilliant – and Lessers, or Differents, are no less brilliant than Commons.



8 Replies to “The Different Whitethroat”

  1. Mark – when I was in Jordan two springs ago their dry tutting eminated from every bush. I wonder why their migration route from northeast Africa to Europe is so different to others? Interestingly, the rattle of the song is largely omitted in the eastern part of their range.

    1. ”Interestingly, the rattle of the song is largely omitted in the eastern part of their range.”
      Like that. Birds messing around with their songs. Perhaps the beginnings of a different race?

      1. I think it’s purely behavioural. Blackcaps omit or shorten parts of their song in Southern Europe or during the midday heat.

        1. Thanks. Which fits in with what behavioural ecologists are interested in re bird song these days: time/energy budgets, optimal behaviour and trade-offs.
          Can’t find the reference, but even further east (southern asia way) there’s
          a Coal Tit (?I remember) that has a rather different song to our European one. It was found to be a different species and yet it looks the same. Another Willow/ Marsh tit story but more subtle than that.

  2. 8.00am just finishing our Otmoor hedgerow survey. A couple of lesser whitethroats heard.

  3. The Lesser Whitethroat, it’s long gone from round here despite a remaining habitat availability. Ditto, Nightingale, Yellowhammer, Turtle Dove, Linnet, Willow tit, wood warbler, wood lark and probably others. My data gathers dust because it’s the same miserable story everywhere and it’s well documented too.
    The Greater Countryside is primarily about the everyday and ordinary. All the above spp. used to be familiar, living in ordinary, scruffy, un-surveyed, unlabelled, unscheduled places.

    Well it’s very good your patch is of a different type compared to here in W. Sx., (an exception?) and is still able to do those commonplace things — to a greater rather than lesser extent.

  4. In Browning’s ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’, the Camberwell – born poet was familiar enough with whitethroats to include them in the second stanza: And after April, when May follows, And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
    He presumably thought his readers would know them too.

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