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Spectacled Warbler { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 9, 2015

Spectacled warbler sub species orbitalis

The photograph was taken in Gran Canaria
The photograph was taken in Gran Canaria | Source


This article is another in the series looking at the birds of Europe here we review the Spectacled warbler through the eyes of past ornithologists with up to date conservation concerns and their distribution. The Spectacled warbler Sylvia conspicillata, belongs to the Passeriformes {perching birds} and is placed in the Family Sylviidae. They are a bird of least concern as far as conservation is concerned. For those that are not familiar this charming little bird an apt place to begin would be with a description.

Description of the Spectacled warbler

Adult male--- The crown and sides of the head to below the eye is slate grey becoming blackish on the lores { between the head and the nostrils of the bird } and at the base of the bill across the forehead. The back is a brownish-ash colour becoming ash-grey on the rump and upper tail coverts. the quills are dark brown The primary feathers are narrowly, and the secondaries broadly margined with rufous.

The outer rectrix { which help the bird to brake and steer in flight, from the Latin for 'helmsman' }is on each side white with a brown shaft, the rest of the tail blackish brown, the central feathers browner and the second and third tipped with white. The chin and sides of the upper throat are pure white. the throat otherwise is an ashy-blue grey, becoming reddish at the breast. The lower breast, flanks and under-tail coverts are a pale rufous with a rosy tinge, the center of the abdomen pure white. The bill is a dark horn colour, yellowish at the base. The iris is brown edge of the eyelid red. The feet are yellowish brown. The total length is 8.25 inches.

The female differs in having the upper parts duller, the entire crown pale ashy colour with brown tips to the feathers. The side of the head and lores being rather greyer and darker. The chin and upper throat pure white. The rest of the under parts are white slightly washed with pale rosy, rufous on the breasts and flanks.



What is a warbler ?

In bird parlance, Warbler is a word chiefly applied, to birds of numerous species, of small old world singing birds belonging to the Family Syviidae. Many of these are noted songsters of which there are some very well known species which includes the Reed warbler Sedge warbler and the Willow warbler.

It also includes any American warbler of the genus Opornis, for example the Connecticut warbler Opornis agilis. Any of the numerous American warblers of the genus Dendroica. Among the most common warblers in the Eastern States are the yellow warbler, the Black throated warbler and the Yellow rumped warbler.

the Lesser Whitethroat

Dresser for that in many rests the Spectacled warbler resembled the lesser whitethroat
Dresser for that in many rests the Spectacled warbler resembled the lesser whitethroat

History of the Spectacled warbler.

This beautiful little warbler was stated by Temminck { a Dutch Zoologist who produced an inspirational work on the birds of Europe 1815 } , in his first edition, to belong exclusively to Sardinia { the second largest island in the Mediterranean sea after Sicily }. However, by 1875 it was known to occur in Sicily, Spain, in the States of the Church { territories in the Italian Peninsula which existed until 1870} and by Count Muhle in Greece. it was also included in Captain Loche's Catalogue , by whom it was stated to occur in the province of Algeria.

M.O. Salvin , in the ' Ibis', for July 1859, mentions its occurrence in the Salt Lake Districts of the eastern Atlas of Africa where it is found abundantly in the low shrubs of the uncultivated parts of that region. This warbler was also discovered by Marmora { an Italian soldier and naturalist} in Sardinia in 1819, and maned by him as Sylvia conspicillata, from the black 'spectacle'-looking mark between the eyes of the male bird.

Salvadori in his ' Fauna d' Italia', states " This species resembles a good deal Sylcia cinera, so much so that Gloger calls it a simple variety of the bird. However, it is much smaller and is distinguished by the hazel coloured margins on the secondary feathers and the larger wing coverts, also by the deeper ashy tinge on the head, the flesh colour of the under parts being much brighter and by the different geographical distribution"

Dresser, on the other hand thought the bird, in many respects, reminded him of the Lesser Whitethroat. Dr.Rey said " It is a conspicuous scrub-hunting bird frequenting dry and more open ground than the Whitethroat, being seen among the cactus bushes. A sure place to find them is the Cartican Hills"

Mr A Brooke, writes in the ' Ibis' 1873 as follows--" It is, I think, the most shy of all the warblers. During the months of April and May, the male bird may generally be seen perched on the highest twig of Cistus forty to fifty yards off. But the moment one tries to approach any nearer, it flies low over the ground, alighting again in a similar situation, and this is repeated time and again in a most tantalizing manner. I do not think all, if any of these warblers migrate in winter, as I have seen many in March as at any other time of the year. excepting during the spring, they are very hard to see, always keeping in the thick cover, and unless come across unawares, they creep away through the twigs, close along the ground, without showing themselves"

Illustration of the Spectacled Warbler

From The History of the Birds of Europe { not observed in the British isles} 1800s
From The History of the Birds of Europe { not observed in the British isles} 1800s

Nest and eggs of the Spectacled Warbler

The bird builds its nest during March in low bushes, about a foot from the ground. The nest is in the form of a blunt cone and tolerably thick and compact. It is constructed of dry grass stems, coarse plant stalks and much down of seeds and sometimes spiders webs. The interior cavity is lined with small roots and horse hair. The outer wall and the internal cavity is built with special care.

The delicate eggs number four, rarely five may be produced. The ground colour is a pale greenish grey, with fine spots, grey-greenish some times thicker towards the base.

Mr. Savile Reid, in his notes of this little bird at Gibralter---" Not uncommon at the foot of the hills in the neighbourhood. In the movements they resemble, S.melanocephala, being exceedingly lively and restless. Their song is very short and sweet, resembling somewhat that of the Goldfinch. It is uttered from the top of a small shrub or bunch of heather. I found a nest of five eggs about the fourth week of May. They were of a white, freckled all over with greenish blotches."

" My horse nearly trod on the nest,which was in a little bush close to the ground, built completely of dry grass, and down from flower seeds, lined with hair and fine roots. I visited the spot many times again, but to my great disappointment could never find it again, so to another well hidden and so similar was one bush to another on the scrub covered plain "

The young birds are able to fly by the middle of May { they may be found with young in June}. These young birds have a much broader rufous edges to the feathers than the older birds.


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi deb glad to have introduced you to this species as you have introduced me to many species from your part of the world. Best wishes to you.


      Hi Eddy, Thank you for visiting and for leaving your kind comments, they are appreciated. Best wishes to you

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What a delightful little bird, though very shy and wary.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      I love anything to do with nature and this gem is indeed a treat. Thanks for sharing and have a great day.