The jaunty Dartford warbler

The jaunty Dartford warbler


Posted 22nd May 2018


Be sure to keep your ears peeled for the Dartford warbler

The bird is named after Dartford in Kent - it was here that it was first spotted as a breeding bird in 1773. A bird of lowland heathland in the south east of England and south Wales, the perky little character is slate-grey above and a deep wine-red below. Its long tail is typically held cocked at a jaunty angle while it sings its scratchy, rambling song from a perch on the top of a gorse bush.

The tightly packed, spikey shrub is a favourite for many reasons – it provides the perfect platform to sing from and is a safe nesting place. It also offers the ideal hunting spot for a bird which picks spiders and caterpillars off from their hiding places.

Unusually for a warbler, this is a resident bird - this means it stays put during the winter months instead of migrating to warmer climes. However, this isn’t always a good strategy, with many birds dying during the hard winters we have had in recent years.

How to do it

Start by finding your heathland. The best day will be warm and still, as little birds tend to stay hidden if it's windy. As well as listening for their rattling song, you should also pay attention to the other birds you see. Dartford warblers have a habit of following stonechats around, so if you see one perched up, check the bushes in the nearby vicinity. You can also find them quietly picking off insects in the surrounding area.

If you can't get to the special places listed below...

Try looking for a close relative of the Dartford warbler, the whitethroat. This has a similar liking for gorse bushes, as well as hawthorn hedges and other spiny bushes - the whitethroat can be found across the country, so you shouldn't have to go too far to find one.

Special spots

Greenham Common was once a famous sight which was the focus of nightly news reports. Now, it's replaced its missiles with wildlife, and is a peaceful nature reserve in the Berkshire countryside, making it a haven for heathland and ancient woodland. Dartford warblers can be seen singing from the gorsy heath around the former nuclear bunkers.

Channel Islands, Alderney

Devon, Bovey Heathfield

Devon, Chudleigh Knighton Heath

Dorset, Higher Hyde Heath

Dorset, Lytchett Bay

Dorset, Tadnoll and Winfrith

Dorset, Upton Heath 

Norfolk, Roydon Common and Grimston Warren

Suffolk, Blaxhall Common

Surrey, Brentmoor Heath 

Surrey, Chobham Common 

Surrey, Wisley and Ockham Commons

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of © Amy Lewis





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