REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)


This plain brown warbler blends in well with its favoured reedbed habitats, its distinctive chattering call is often the first indication of its presence. A summer visitor to the UK, the reed warbler is most common in east England but has recently colonised southern Scotland and east areas of the island of Ireland. They can be seen from April to September before they return to their wintering grounds in Africa.

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Alert Status:

Green - 35% increase ↑

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 130,000

Listen to reed warbler song:


Reed warblers are a non-descript warbler. They have warm brown upperparts and tails, with darker brown feathers on the wing. Their underparts are a buff/white colour with a clearly paler throat. The head is the same warm brown as the back with a pale white eye stripe and the bill is dark grey on top and a pale yellow below.

Average Length: 13 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 17-21 cm

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Reed Warbler diet

Reed warblers mainly eat invertebrates such as spiders and snails but will supplement their diet in autumn with berries.

Reed Warbler breeding and nesting information

Most breeding populations are found in east England but recently populations have colonised Scotland and the island of Ireland. They begin breeding in May and form monogamous pairs. The female builds a deep cup-shaped nest woven from reed stems, lined with softer material and suspended on upright reeds and vegetation. Around 4 eggs are laid and incubated for 12 days by both parents. The hatchlings remain in the nest for another 11-12 days before fledging. Reed warblers are commonly parasitised by cuckoos which lay eggs in their nest. They will often produce two broods before the breeding season ends in July.

Threats to reed warblers

Reed warblers are doing well in the UK but in other areas, they have decreased due to the loss of reedbed habitats. Reedbed fires in the UK, such as Wirrel marshland and Dee estuary, could potentially drive decreases in their populations. Climate change has been shown to cause earlier breeding in reed warblers, which currently increases their productivity, but if their breeding season advances too far, they may breed before their chosen insect prey has come out for the spring. As with other migratory birds, climate-driven droughts in their winter grounds around Africa drive decreases in food and available habitat. Effective management of reedbed and wetland habitats has been shown to improve the survival of these populations.

How you can help

Visit and donate to reedbed reserves such as Leighton moss and Tay reedbeds to help fund conservation actions for this species.

Be very careful not to disturb the fragile reedbed habitats when visiting, and do not light fires near these sites.

Petitioning local areas to protect wetland and reedbed habitats.

Fascinating Fact

The reed warbler's scientific name is pretty descriptive with scirpaceus meaning ‘reed’ in Latin.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Downloaded from Accessed: 21/09/2023.

British trust for ornithology (no date) Reed warbler | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 21/09/2023.

Chernetsov, N., Pakhomov, A., Kobylkov, D., Kishkinev, D., Holland, R. A., & Mouritsen, H. (2017). Migratory Eurasian Reed Warblers Can Use Magnetic Declination to Solve the Longitude Problem. Current Biology, 27(17), 2647-2651.e2.

Halupka, L., Dyrcz, A., & Borowiec, M. (2008). Climate change affects breeding of reed warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Journal of Avian Biology, 39(1), 95–100.

Lindholm, A. K., & Thomas, R. J. (1999). Differences between populations of reed warblers in defences against brood parasitism. Behaviour. 137(1):25-42.  

Pearce-Higgins, J. W., & Crick, H. Q. P. (2019). One-third of English breeding bird species show evidence of population responses to climatic variables over 50 years. Bird Study, 66(2), 159–172.

RSPB (no date) Reed warbler bird facts: Acrocephalus scirpaceus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 21/09/2023.

Thaxter, C. B., Redfern, C. P. F., & Bevan, R. M. (2006). Survival rates of adult Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus at a northern and southern site in England. Ringing and Migration, 23(2), 65–79.

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