WHITETHROAT (Curruca communis)


This widespread summer visitor arrives in April and can be seen in grassland, hedgerows, and scrubby areas across the UK and Ireland, only absent in urban and mountainous regions. Its scratchy song can be heard in a variety of landscapes and thankfully the male does have a whitethroat, making it slightly easier to identify. Large-scale declines in the 1960s, from which the populations are still recovering, mean this bird is amber-listed.

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Alert Status:

Amber -63% decrease ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 1.1 million (updated 2016)

Listen to Whitethroat song:


Their whitethroat, which is more clear on males, is a distinguishing feature of this rather drab bird. They have brown upperparts, wings, and tail and a grey head, which again is more clear on the males. Their underside is a pale buff colour. In eastern regions of England, they may be confused for lesser whitethroats but common whitethroats are larger with longer tails and rusty brown edges on their wings.

Average Length: 14 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 20 cm

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Whitethroat diet

Whitethroats primarily eat invertebrates such as caterpillars and beetles, especially during the breeding season. Outside of the breeding season, as invertebrate numbers decrease, they will supplement their diet with berries. They may visit your garden to feed on mealworms or if you have an insect-friendly garden.

Whitethroat breeding and nesting information

Whitethroats begin breeding in April, Males arrive 10 days earlier than females and build a nest in shrubs, quite close to the ground. The female then chooses a mate based on their construction skills. 4-5 eggs are laid in the nest and incubated for 12 days by both the male and the female. The chicks are then fed for another 14 days before they first leave the nest but may remain reliant on their parents for a short period. Their breeding season ends in July and some pairs will produce a second brood in this time.

Threats to whitethroats

The whitethroat is recovering in the UK but still faces threats that may be important in the future. The biggest declines in Whitethroat populations have been caused by droughts in their wintering grounds. Future climate-driven droughts could cause another large-scale decline in the population. Loss of suitable habitat may also be limiting the recovery and potentially driving declines in this species. Agricultural intensification and loss of hedgerows have decreased the available suitable habitat and decreased food supply through the use of pesticides.

How you can help

Provide clean water and mealworms during the breeding season.

Create an insect-friendly garden by allowing areas to grow long and avoiding harsh chemicals.

Petition the government to take urgent action on climate change to mitigate the impacts of droughts.  

Fascinating Fact

A drought in their wintering grounds in the late 1960s led to a 90% decrease in the UK population, from which it is still recovering.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Curruca communis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/common-whitethroat-curruca-communis. Accessed: 12/10/2023.  

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Whitethroat | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/whitethroat. Accessed: 12/10/2023.

Johnston, A., Robinson, R. A., Gargallo, G., Julliard, R., van der Jeugd, H., & Baillie, S. R. (2016). Survival of Afro-Palaearctic passerine migrants in western Europe and the impacts of seasonal weather variables. Ibis, 158(3), 465–480. https://doi.org/10.1111/IBI.12366  

Stoate, C., Morris, R. M., & Wilson, J. D. (2001). Cultural ecology of Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) habitat management by farmers: Field-boundary vegetation in lowland England. Journal of Environmental Management, 62(4), 329–341. https://doi.org/10.1006/JEMA.2001.0456  

Stoate, C., & Szczur, J. (2001). Whitethroat Sylvia communis and yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella nesting success and breeding distribution in relation to field boundary vegetation. Bird Study, 48(2), 229–235. https://doi.org/10.1080/00063650109461222  

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