Dartford warbler

©Richard Steel/2020VISION

Dartford warbler

Scientific name: Sylvia undata
The small, brown dartford warbler is most easily spotted when warbling its scratchy song from the top of a gorse stem. It lives on lowland heathland in the south of England, where it nests on the ground.

Species information


Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 16cm
Weight: 10g
Average lifespan: Up to 5 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). LProtected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. isted as Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When to see

January to December


The dartford warbler is dependent on mature, dry heath habitats in the UK, and particularly on gorse that is in good condition for surviving cold, harsh winters. It only eats insects and does not migrate for the winter, which means it is vulnerable to cold weather and prolonged snow cover. It is a ground-nesting bird, preferring to breed under the protective cover of dense heather or compact gorse.
It makes a grassy, cup-shaped nest, in which it lays three to five eggs. It can have up to three broods from April to July.

How to identify

The dartford warbler is a small, dark brown bird, with a long tail, a distinctive red eye-ring and a cherry-red breast. It is most often spotted warbling its rattly and scratchy song from the top of a gorse stem. At other times, its muted tones allows it to blend in with the woody heather and gorse.


A resident of lowland heaths south of the Thames and spreading west to Dorset. Also found at the coast in Suffolk, and on Exmoor and the Quantocks.

Did you know?

When the UK's breeding population of dartford warblers crashed in the 1960s, only 10 pairs remained. Today, there are about 3,200 pairs nesting on our lowland heaths.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working to restore and protect our heathlands by ensuring breeding birds are not disturbed, promoting good management, clearing encroaching scrub and implementing beneficial grazing regimes. This work is vital if these habitats are to survive; you can help by supporting your local Wildlife Trust and becoming a member or volunteer. Don't forget to keep dogs on leads in areas where ground-nesting birds are breeding.