Garden warbler: the bird profiles

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

What does a garden warbler look like? What does the small songbird eat? And when is the garden warbler’s breeding season? Read on to find out all of this and more.

Garden warbler on tree branch
The garden warbler is a rare sight in gardens [Photo: fernando sanchez/ Shutterstock.com]

Despite its name, the garden warbler (Sylvia borin) is very rarely seen in home gardens. And, like most warblers, it is a rather shy bird that usually hides in dense vegetation and is only noticeable by its pleasantly fluting song. In this species fact sheet, you will learn how to identify a garden warbler if you come across one, where the songbirds spend the winter, and everything else you need to know about this small songbird.

Garden warbler: key facts

SizeAbout 13-14 cm
WeightAbout 16-22 g
Breeding seasonMay-July
LifespanUp to 14 years
HabitatSparse woodland and semi-open environments
DietInsects
ThreatsLoss of habitat and food sources

How to identify the garden warbler

The garden warbler is the plainest of our native warbler species. Its most distinctive feature is that it has none! Its overall plumage is a plain grey-brown, with a little lighter breast and belly. In comparison with other warbler species, it has neither the contrasting plumage of the lesser whitethroat, nor the black head feathers of the blackcap, nor the reddish-brown wing patches of the common whitethroat. By process of elimination, however, the garden warbler’s lack of distinctive features allows us to distinguish it from other warbler species.

Plain grey brown garden warbler
The garden warbler is a rather plain looking bird species [Photo: Nick Vorobey/ Shutterstock.com]

Male and female garden warblers are visually indistinguishable from each other and it is also very difficult to distinguish them from their grown-up offspring.

What does the garden warbler’s song sound like?

The garden warbler’s song is a sweet, fluting verse. However, much like its plumage, the garden warbler’s call has no real features or structure. The song ripples along like a gentle stream and is like a more subtle version of the blackcap’s song.

Garden warbler bird singing
Garden warblers like to call out from dense vegetation [Photo: Erni/ Shutterstock.com]

What do garden warbler eggs look like?

Garden warbler eggs are about two centimetres in size and have a dirty white base colour with dark spots. They are laid in a cup-shaped nest made of small twigs, blades of grass and other plant materials.

Nest of five garden warbler eggs
Garden warbler eggs are covered in dark spots [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/ Shutterstock.com]

Garden warbler habitat

Garden warblers prefer to live in undisturbed, sparse woodland or semi-open landscapes with dense vegetation. But they also feel at home in parks, gardens and cemeteries with plenty of undergrowth.

Where does the garden warbler build its nest?

The garden warbler builds its nest just a few metres above the ground in dense vegetation. Hedges, bushes and shrubs are often used as breeding sites.

Garden warbler nest in thick undergrowth
The garden warbler builds its nest in dense vegetation [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/ Shutterstock.com]

When is the garden warbler’s breeding season?

The breeding season of the garden warbler is from May to July. After laying the eggs, the clutch is incubated for 12 days. The juvenile garden warblers hatch naked and featherless, making them so-called nestling birds that are completely dependent on the care of their parents. Females and males share the task of caring for and feeding their offspring intensively for about two weeks until they are big enough to fly the nest.

Nest of garden warbler chicks
Newly hatched garden warblers are naked and blind [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/ Shutterstock.com]

Where does the garden warbler spend the winter?

The garden warbler is a long-distance migratory bird. It mainly spends its winters south of the Sahara, in the tropical areas of Africa. It is one of the last migratory birds to arrive and so, it is not seen back here again until the end of April or even in May.

How to support the garden warbler in your garden

There are a few things to keep in mind to help make the garden warblers to feel at home in your garden. Basically, the small songbirds are quite shy and prefer undisturbed corners with dense vegetation. Read on to find out how to create suitable nesting sites and provide plenty of food.

What do garden warblers eat?

Garden warblers are almost exclusively insectivorous. Insects, spiders and other invertebrates are at the top of their menu. Occasionally, however, they also eat fruits and berries. So, while traditional bird food in the form of seeds and grains will not attract these birds, you can still help them by designing an insect-friendly garden.

How can you help with nesting?

Classic nesting boxes used by cavity-nesting bird species are not suitable for garden warblers. They prefer open, free-standing nests. Nevertheless, you can help these songbirds by offering wild, dense bushes or hedges in which they can hide their nests from cats and other predators. For example, wild roses and other thorny shrubs offer particularly effective protection.

Rose bush for garden warbler nest
Thorn-covered shrubs offer good protection from predators [Photo: patjo/ Shutterstock.com]

What else can you do to help the garden warbler?

Although bird-friendly gardens are of course helpful, they are not the garden warbler’s primary habitat. Like many other wild birds, the warblers depend on suitable structures in our landscape, which have been lost with increased monocultural systems. Only large-scale changes in our land use and a return to nature and insect friendly agriculture can stop the decline of wild bird populations. Those who stand up for these goals are also standing up for the little garden warbler.

Another plainly coloured songbird that travels long distances to escape the cold winters is the common chiffchaff. Get to know this garden bird a little better in our in-depth article.

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