Lesser whitethroats are smaller than their cousins the whitethroat, with shorter tails and plain wing edges. They have greyish brown upperparts and head and white/cream underparts and, unsurprisingly, a white throat. The most distinguishing feature is their black/grey cheeks which give them a Zorro-style mask, which suits their secretive nature well!
Average Length: 13 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 18 cm
During the breeding season, their diet is made up of insects and other invertebrates. Before their migration, they change their diet to berries to build up fat stores for the long flight ahead.
How and what to feed: An insect-friendly garden will attract these birds however they will visit feeders and feed on fat balls. Planting small fruit trees and shrubs will attract these birds in the late summer months.
This bird begins breeding almost as soon as it arrives in the UK when it builds a deep cup-shaped nest out of grasses and small twigs lined with hair. The nests are usually found in thorny shrubs but can be built in trees. The first clutch of 4-5 eggs is laid in mid-May and incubated for around 12 days by the male and female. After hatching they remain in the nest for another 11-12 days before fledging. The adults will often produce two broods if the conditions and food supply are right.
The limited population change since 1967 suggests that this bird is not facing many current threats in the UK. In Western Europe, the intensification and expansion of modern farming techniques leading to habitat and food loss have led to declines in this population. These techniques include the use of pesticides which impact the insect populations on which this bird relies. As with other warblers that over-winter in Africa, droughts and reduced food availability in these regions caused by climate change may reduce their winter and migratory survival.
Creating insect-friendly gardens by planting wildflowers and avoiding harsh chemicals.
Petition local areas to protect scrub and reedbed habitats.
Provide clean water throughout the breeding season to help these birds during the warm summer months.
The lesser whitethroat is rather slow to set off from the UK, hanging around until September. When they do set off, they take a scenic route and stop off for a brief break in Italy.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Curruca curruca. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/lesser-whitethroat-curruca-curruca. Accessed: 10/09/2023.
Brauze, T. (2012). Tree-stand age preferences of breeding Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca in a forest in Central Poland. Bird Study, 59(3), 376–379. https://doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2012.665831
British trust for ornithology (2023) Lesser whitethroat | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/lesser-whitethroat. Accessed: 10/09/2023.
RSPB (2023) Lesser whitethroat bird facts: Sylvia Curruca, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/lesser-whitethroat/. Accessed: 10/09/2023.
Ozarowska, A. (2015). Contrasting fattening strategies in related migratory species: The blackcap, garden warbler, common whitethroat and lesser whitethroat. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 52(1–2), 115–127. https://doi.org/10.5735/086.052.0210
Zduniak, P., & Yosef, R. (2011). Crossing the desert barrier: Migration ecology of the Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) at Eilat, Israel. Journal of arid environments. 77: 32-38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2011.09.002