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The Orphean warbler { Birds of Europe }

Updated on August 1, 2015

Orphean warbler

Taken at a bird ringing session in Jerusalem
Taken at a bird ringing session in Jerusalem | Source


The Orphean warbler also commonly referred to as the Western Orphean warbler belongs to the Order of birds known as the Passeriformes {perching birds}. They have been allocated the genus name of sylvia which derives from the Latin sylva meaning wood,and the specific name of hortensis from the Latin hortus meaning garden.

In the UK there are fewer than twenty records, thus the conservation status here,as not been assessed. In the UK it is classed as an accidental. In Europe 3 concern,most not in Europe;depleted. In Europe the breeding population is estimated to be between 170,000 and 480,000 breeding pairs {2004} with Europe forming 25-19% of the global range.

It breeds in southern Europe, north Africa, SW Asia and Arabia. Winters in tropical Africa and India. It is a bird of forests, open woodland and towns.

Courtesy of Peter Hines. Taken at Pembrokeshire South Wales {UK} Copyright belongs to peter Hines.

Description of the Orphean warbler

This is Europe's second largest warbler with a moderately long tail and wings. The bill is also relatively long and pointed. They weigh between 20-27 grams.

The adult male in spring has a crown of a blackish grey colour blending on the hind neck with the brownish grey colouring of the upper parts. The wings are dark brown, the primaries and outer secondarie's being narrowly and the inner most being broadly edged with the same colour as the back.

The tail feathers with the exception of the outer most, are dull blackish brown edges again with the same colour as the back. The under parts are white faintly washed buff on the breast and distinctly washed with greenish buff on the flanks,the abdomen proper is white.The under tail coverts are greyish,broadly edged in a whitish buff. The under side of the tail is greyish brown the shafts of the feathers being brown except the outer most ones which are white. The iris is bright sulphur yellow, the bill slate brown the legs and feet are dark grey.The bill is slate brown.

The female resembles the male , but the crown is not quite so dark and the outer edges of the flight feathers are more buffish brown.


From the Book British Warblers By Howard Courtesy of the BHL
From the Book British Warblers By Howard Courtesy of the BHL

General and historical information

+This species occurs in summer around the Mediterranean through western Europe and extends north west Africa. It is a rare vagrant to north and north west Europe. It is regarded as one of the largest species of the 'typical' warblers at 15-16 cm { six inches +} long,somewhat larger than the Blackcap** It was once allocated the scientific name of Sylvia orphea.

Mr Harting in his 'Hand Book of British Birds' states that a nest and four eggs 'believed' to belong to this species were taken in Notten Wood,near Wakefield { Yorkshire}, in June 1864. Mr Gould,on the authority of Mr. Howard says that the eggs are supposed to have been taken at East Grinstead.

However, it is to southern Europe that we must travel if the bird is to be encountered during the summer months. Degland and Gerbe,stated that there is an abundance in Provence and throughout the south east districts of France.Spain it seems has always been a hotspot for the species. One writer exclaims " The note of the bird is pleasing,but, hardly so as to entitle it to the name of Orphean warbler".

In India and more eastern localities the species Sylvia crassirostris { The Eastern Orphean Warbler}, occurs, but records reveal that the species under review occurred in southern India during cold weather.

Dr Jerden { Birds of India volume 2 page 208} states, " It is not rare in southern India during the cold weather. I have seen it at Trichinopoly Madras and Nellore, also at Jaulnah and Mhow,in central India,whence it appears to extend through the upper provinces, for Blythe has received it from Delhi. It does not extend far eastward for I did not see it at Sangor,and it is unknown in Bengal.

" It frequents groves,gardens,hedges,single trees and even low bushes on the plains. It is very active and restless,incessantly moving about from branch to branch, clinging to the twigs feeding on various insects,grubs and caterpillars,and also flower buds. It is sometimes seen alone,at other times two or three together"

Captain Beavan also writes { Ibis,1868, page 73} " I procured my first specimen of this bird at Kashurghur,Maunbhoom, in March 1864,and it was the only one I observed in that district. However, I found it tolerably common at Umballah in October 1866, where it frequents the Babool-trees { Acacia species}, creeping about very silently, and when disturbed, trying to sneak away in the thickest parts"

In its habits the Orphean Warbler appears to have much in common with the Blackcap. According to Dresser " From what I saw of it in Spain it appears,like the Blackcap, to frequent small bushy localities,groves and gardens. I most frequently saw it in the Royal gardens near Madrid,and Colonel Irby, informs me that near Gibralter they breed numerously, not only hiding in bushes, but also in fir trees at some altitude from the ground."

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

The Eastern Orphean warbler

Taken at Sultanpur Bird sanctuary in India
Taken at Sultanpur Bird sanctuary in India | Source

Diet and habitat of the Western Orphean Warbler

The diet consists of small insects, caterpillars and small beetles. It will also take berries and fruit in the autumn and in former times at this time of the year it was considered to be a delicacy for the table in France.

They forage in shrubs and trees and plucks the invertebrates including spiders from the foliage and branches and more rarely from the ground,or, even snatched out of the air whilst in flight.

Whilst wintering in Africa the Orphean warbler inhabits arid Savannah where there is little tree cover but scrubby vegetation. In India and Pakistan there are records of it being in semi-desert,stony county and other places with sparse vegetation.

Courtesy of megabrock161 {You Tube} orphean warbler Hartlepool Headland May 29th 2012 Copyright belongs to megabrock161

Nest and eggs.

The nest of this species,according to Dresser, is much like that of the Blackcap, but differs in being more compact and thicker, the position in the branch of the tree selected is usually similar. this seems to be borne out by Dr.T Kriiper 1861, who relates " The nest is composed of coarse bents {grasses} and plant stems, and lined with finer bents, intermixed with plant cotton, it is not loosely constructed tolerably stronger and thickly built,sometimes spiders webs are incorporated in the construction.

The female is the one that undertakes the main period of incubation, the male being content to sing at a considerable distance from the nest. It generally perches to sing its ditty at the top of a tree.

The eggs although of the general character vary in size and in the distribution of their markings. They are generally white in colour but may be tinged with faint sea green or blue. They are spotted and blotched with purplish grey underlying shell markings and blackish or dark reddish brown overlying surface spots. It is not infrequent to find one egg of the clutch to be larger than the others. The incubation period is between 12-14 days.The breeding season commences from Mid April and and lasts until July the nest is constructed by both birds.

The chicks are fed by both parents until they are large enough to fledge.

Eggs of Sylvia hortensis


Current threats

The primary threat to this warbler is due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to intensive agriculture. As a result the Orphean warbler's range appears to have contracted in recent decades.

Climate change may also be having an effect on this and many other species. In some regions and particularly in some areas of Italy where they have also suffered from habitat deterioration.

Wildfires may also have a short term adverse effect upon the population numbers of this warbler.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, you are very welcome. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Warblers are such stunning and animated birds. Thanks for introducing me to yet another winged wonder.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello my friend, all warblers are similar in behaviour and characteristics wherever they occur. Thank you for you kind comments which are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      A very fun and educational hub. This warbler looks more like the ones here. Certainly the same behavior. Thanks

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      5 years ago from Norfolk


      You are very welcome - I hope you have a great week-end:)


    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, glad you enjoyed this one as well. I can thank you for the suggestion of adding videos where possible which is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      hello Devika it is a pleasure to share my knowledge with people especially some one such as yourself who appreciates nature. Thank you for your kind comments and all the votes,you are very encouraging. Best wishes to you..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You always teach me more about nature and I so enjoy learning from all aspects. A well-laid out hub to the point and very interesting about this bird. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      5 years ago from Norfolk

      What a gorgeous little bird. I love the images and it is very nice to see the addition of a few videos which show the behavior of the little bird.


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