Skip to main content
Quick facts

Common name: whitethroat, common whitethroat

Scientific name: Sylvia communis

Family: Sylviidae

Habitat: scrub, farmland, wetland

Diet: insects and invertebrates, fruit

Predators: birds of prey, predatory mammals

Origin: native

What do whitethroats look like?

As the name suggests, a clear white throat is the key distinguishing feature of this otherwise grey-brown bird. Males have a grey head and a more prominent throat patch than females, which have a brownish head. 

Whitethroats are roughly the size of a great tit and have a long, flicking tail. Not to be confused with the lesser whitethroat, which is smaller, much less common and has dark cheek feathers.

Whitethroat perched.

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

What do whitethroats eat?

Insects and invertebrates are the main food source for whitethroats. It will forage in low vegetation, snatching any bugs, beetles and other minibeasts it comes across. Berries and other soft fruit may also be taken if available.

Did you know?

Whitethroats typically live for just two years, but the oldest bird recorded in the UK was nearly eight years old.

How do whitethroats breed?

A nest is constructed within the cover of bushes, shrubs and other lower vegetation. Typically, four to five eggs are laid between May and July. The chicks will hatch after around two weeks and first leave the nest after roughly 14 days.

Whitethroat on branch.

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Do whitethroats migrate?

Whitethroats are summer migrants to the UK, flying all the way from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to breed here. The first birds tend to arrive in April, with the last leaving by early October.

It's possible that the behaviour of migratory birds like whitethroats is being affected by climate change. You can help us monitor this impact by recording when you first see a whitethroat on our Nature's Calendar website.

Did you know?

A drought in the western Sahel region of Africa in 1968 caused a 90% drop in the number of whitethroats breeding in the UK. Numbers are yet to fully recover from this crash according to the British Trust for Ornithology.

Where do whitethroats live?

Whitethroats are typically found in open habitats with plenty of low vegetation like scrubs, bushes and brambles. They are common in hedgerows and may occasionally nest in woodland edges. The species occurs throughout the UK.

Whitethroat side profile.

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Signs and spotting tips

Look out for whitethroats in suitable habitat from mid-April onwards. Males often perch conspicuously on the top of a bush while singing. The song has a distinctive 'scratchy' sound. 

Whitethroat song

Audio: Andrew Harrop / xeno-canto.org

Threats and conservation

Around 1.1 million pairs of whitethroats are thought to breed in the UK each summer. Numbers have been growing in recent decades, with a 30% rise estimated between 1995 and 2015.