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Reed Warbler { Birds of Europe}

Updated on October 1, 2015

Reed warbler



The Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus belongs to the order of birds known as the Passeriformes {perching birds} and the family Sylviidae within that order. The genus name of Acrocephalus derives from the Greek akros meaning pointed+ kephale =head. The specific name of Scirpaceus derives from Latin scripus meaning a reed+aceus=resembling..

Here in the UK they are placed on the Green list of conservation concern {no current concerns}. There is an estimated 130,000 pairs in summer. In Ireland it is Amber listed due to its small breeding population. {source BTO}.

The European population is regarded as being secure. The total population in Europe is estimated at being between 2.6 and 4.5 million pairs. Populations vary from country to country. here are some selected examples. The Austrian population is estimated between 20,000 and 40,000 Breeding Pairs {BP}. Belgium 3,500-7,000 BP. Croatia 5,000-10,000 BP. France 40,000-200,000 Bp. Germany 120,000 -250,000 BP.Russia 100,000-500,000 BP. Sweden 500,000-600,000 BP. and Ukraine 280,000-400,000 BP.

The species breeds in Europe,the near east and central Asia. They winter in tropical Africa.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Ceileiriche-cuile. The Welsh name is Telor y Cyrs, the Irish is Ceolaire giolcai and the Croatian name is trstenjak cvrkutic.

The Great Reed Warbler.


What are Acrocephalus warblers ?

The Acrocephalus warblers are small Passerine birds which are insectivorous and formerly classed as 'Old world' warblers, they are sometimes called Marsh and Reed warblers. They are rather drab brownish in their plumage colour and as the name suggests they are usually associated with marshes and wetlands. many species are migratory.

There are approximately forty eight species and include species such as the African Reed Warbler , Australian Reed Warbler and the Great Reed Warbler, which is placed in the family Acrocephalidae.

The Eurasian Reed warbler the subject of our review is an 'Old World' warbler of the genus Sylviidae formerly { Acrephalus }. It is a bird of reed beds.usually ones that have bushes in the vicinity. The sexes are identical. This species id often picked out by the cuckoo to raise her young. As always we will commence with a description of the species under review.

Reed warbler and habitat


Description of the Eurasian Reed Warbler

In many birds the eye colour changes with age.In the first year the Reed Warbler has a charcoal iris in the first year but an olive brown one as adults. The birds are five to six inches long {12-15 cm } and weigh 11-15 grams.

The upper parts generally are brownish washed with russet, but rather more reddish brown on the rump and slightly darker in the crown.. The wings and bill are brownish grey, the larger feathers being edged with the same colour, but slightly lighter. The lores are a light brownish ash colour and the sides of the head brownish grey. The throat and abdomen are white,and the upper breast suffused with a very light greyish buff, whereas the flanks are of a more russet buff and the under-tail coverts a whitish buff.

The under side of the tail and wings is greyish lavender, the shafts of the feathers being white.The iris is dark brown and the feathers around the eye whitish. The upper mandible is blackish brown and the lower flesh coloured, though somewhat darker nearer the tip. The mouth and tongue are orange yellow, the latter more red at the base,and the feet and toes a lavender flesh colour. Both sexes are alike.

Similar species- The sedge warbler** see video below.

** This species has already been reviewed in this series.

getting to grips with warblers. Courtesy of the BTO. Standard You Tube license

Eurasian Reed Warbler.

Derivative work Wikipedia.
Derivative work Wikipedia. | Source


British Warblers. Howard Courtesy of the BHL
British Warblers. Howard Courtesy of the BHL

General and Historical information

The home of this bird,is principally, among the common reed Arundo phragmites,which grows in such profusion on large pools,lakes and along the banks in the back waters of many rivers,in canals and in all marshy ground where there is sufficient depth of water. Owing to the fact that reeds grow in such dense masses the habits of these birds have always been hard to study. Even at the start of the season before the reeds have attained to any height, it is by no means easy to keep an individual in view.

They commence to sing on arrival to their chosen territory,and as they are the most persistent singers there is little difficulty in assuring oneself of their presence in any particular reed bed. This is especially the case before the females arrive, as they then sing almost incessantly throughout the first few hours of daylight,commencing at dawn and only lapsing into silence at short intervals. at this time they can be seen perched on some horizontal reed pouring out their peculiar metallic notes or simply preening their feathers,their attitude at such time is much like that of the Blackcap** when quietly reposing the back feathers being raised and the tail drooping,the breast feathers swollen out,giving them a somewhat similar rounded appearance.

The males more or less adhere to a certain territory, but it is hard to establish how much rivalry goes on to keep their chosen territory,although doubtless it occurs. Mr Howard was regarded as a specialist on the subject of warblers and their territorial disputes of this species wrote -" This particular bird owned a territory among some Willows and Alders adjoining a reed bed. The headquarters of his domain being a Salix bush overgrown with Honeysuckle,and not more than fourteen yards away of the main portion of the reed bed which was the territory of another pair."

" The later pair must have arrived some days before the former bird,because when I commenced to watch the two territories on May 22, they were already building a nest. Morning and morning the single male behaved in much the same manner,singing continuously while perched upon the sunny side of the bush which he had made his head quarters. If a single bird or one of the other pair attempted to intrude on his domain he fiercely attacked them, rapidly pursuing the trespasser some distance into the mass of reeds,and when a collision did occur the impact was considerable. If it was a pair that was intruding the attack was generally aimed at the male, but the female from the adjoining territory,while collecting food for her young was also attacked."

" The days past by ,sometimes peacefully,sometimes the reverse until the jealous defence of his territory seemed to be a waste of time and energy,as it appeared improbable that a female would arrive so late in the season. In this ,however, I was wrong,for on June 20, a female appeared on the scene and nesting operations forthwith commenced. His behaviour now differed from what it was previously and his head quarters were of secondary importance,and he now followed the female submissively."

" It was an interesting fact,and not a little curious, that on the day that the female arrived,the young of the adjoining pair finally left the nest. Why should this male for 28 days have remained in this small plot of ground ?. Why should he,day after day, have been found in the same bush and upon the almost identical branch pouring out his song ?. Ans above all why should he have resented the approach of other members of his own species,and have attacked them so viciously.?.

Singing reed warbler, Courtesy of zeeox Standard YouTube License

Nest of the Reed warbler


Illustration pair of Reed warblers

British Birds with their Nest and Eggs. Butler 1898. Courtesy of the BHL
British Birds with their Nest and Eggs. Butler 1898. Courtesy of the BHL

Breeding Nest and Eggs.

When the nest is built and the parents are incubating or tending to their young,their habits are a little easier to study, for they are not so shy and retiring,like so many other species. I allude again to the writings of Mr. Howard, who made the following observations.

" When nesting they rapidly over come diffidence they may at first show when a human being is near the nest. It is even possible to cut away the reeds immediately surrounding the nest so as an uninterrupted view of their actions may be obtained,without any way exacting their wariness or hindering in the least a proper carrying out of their parental duties"

It is generally late April or May when the birds arrive. The nest when built among the common reed is suspended from the stems varying in number from three to seven. However, it is sometimes placed in a young Alder tree not more than five feet in height,or even among the branches of a Willow.The latter location is rarely used if the reeds, or rather territory including reeds are unavailable.

The nest is a delicate structure composed principally of the seed heads of the common reed. The foundation is formed of the leaves of various rushes woven together with moss and wool,and the interior of seed heads and small stems of rushes, the lining being entirely the former. The external part is much the same as the foundation,wool and moss being interwoven. the most interesting part of the nest is its depth.The reason for this is thought to be to protect the eggs from rolling out when the winds bend the reeds over. The nest is located not near the top of the reeds but lower down generally about three or four feet above the water.

Another reason for the depth of this wonderful structure is to keep the chicks warm as they are born naked and helpless. Studies suggest if the nest was shallower both young and eggs could well be thrown out by strong winds,and if the nest was any deeper the young would not receive the warmth they require from the feathers of the parent bird,another example of Nature's perfection.

The female will deposit four eggs and the task of incubation,which lasts for twelve days or so, is undertaken by both parents. Once the eggs have hatched the parents tend to become much more anxious, betraying their uneasiness in their movements. Of the two the male is the more nervous approaching the nest with great wariness. The male is gainfully employed procuring food for his young and his mate during the early stages of the chicks lives.

The young birds leave the nest in a further twelve to thirteen days. The stronger individuals begin to make excursions from the nest,climbing about the surrounding reeds, only to return shortly, until all of them are capable of leaving their maternal home.At this stage in their development they are unable to fly properly but they travel quickly through the reeds by hopping from one reed stem to another.

The young tend to scatter and the parents have to find both food and the individuals themselves. This is achieved by low call notes which the parents recognize. This continues until the young are capable of procuring food for themselves and become independent.

As previously mentioned this species is often sought out by the Cuckoo to raise her own young.

Eurasian Reed warbler feeding a cuckoo chick.


Young Reed warbler

Originally posted to Flickr  uploaded to commons via Vhorvat
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to commons via Vhorvat | Source

Chicks and young plumage

Young birds have spots on their tongues {as many species do} presumably to guide the feeding parent. The nestling's have the upper parts a rich brownish buff, the wings slaty brown and the larger feathers being margined with the same colour as the back,and the throat and upper breast the same hue as the upper parts.

The flanks are buff,the abdomen whitish buff,the under tail coverts light buff with a slight tinge of russet the tail slaty brown. The iris is dark greyish brown and the eyelid a slaty ash colour. The upper mandible is greyish lavender and the lower light lavender flesh. The colour of the mouth is similar to that of the adult. The legs are a light lead colour and the claws are olive grey.

Young Reed Warbler



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, Thank you for your kind comments,much appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      Hi Deb,yes nature is a remarkable thing. The little mother will continue to feed the 'monster' for as long as it begs for it. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are gorgeous birds. It is amazing how large that cuckoo chick is in comparison!

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 

      3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      You have done such an amazing job on this hub. The small the bird, the more amazing they are to me. I also was reminded of the lazy cuckoo bird that let other birds do all the work to raise their chicks. They are like some people! LOL

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, You are very kind and encouraging as always. Thank you so much and for your much appreciated votes. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Extraordinary! Birds are fine fine feathery creatures and this one is no exception. I enjoy reading and learning about the different species. Voted up, interesting and useful and beautiful.


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