Orphean warbler -- 西歌林莺 (Sylvia hortensis)

Adult male Orphean warbler
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Orphean warbler fact file

Orphean warbler description

GenusSylvia (1)

Europe’s second largest warbler (2), the orphean warbler has a moderately long tail and wings, a long, pointed bill and dark grey legs (3). The male orphean warbler has a uniformly dark head which fades to much lighter, medium-grey upperparts and wings. The wings may be tinged with brown and the contrasting underparts are largely white, taking on an interesting pinkish flush during the mating season. The orphean warbler also has a black eye ring, although this can be rather tricky to spot against the dark feathers of its head (2) (4).

Female orphean warblers, although similar in appearance to the males, can be distinguished by the paler, dark grey head feathers which fade more gradually into the plumage of the upperparts. The eye ring is also easier to spot, consisting largely of white and grey feathers (4).

Juvenile orphean warblers are much browner that the females and lack the adult’s dark cap (4).

Fauvette orphée.
Length: 15 cm (2)
Wingspan: 20 - 25 cm (2)
20 - 27 g (2)

Orphean warbler biology

Foraging in shrubs and tree tops, the orphean warbler feeds on insects and other arthropods, such as spiders and ticks. These invertebrates are plucked from branches and leaves, or more rarely found on the ground or snatched out of the air whilst in flight (2) (3) (4). In the autumn months, when insect food sources are decreasing, the orphean warbler takes berries, seeds and sometimes even nectar from flowers (3).

The orphean warbler’s breeding season lasts from mid-April to July. During this time, a nest is constructed by both sexes (3) in the fork of a branch or carefully balanced on a branch up to 3.5 metres off the ground (4). The nest is made from grass and other plant materials, and sometimes also spiders’ webs (3), and is lined with finer grasses and hair (2).

The orphean warbler lays four to five eggs, which are a white-blueish, occasionally with darker speckles (2). The chicks, which hatch after 12 to 14 days, are fed by both parents until they are able to leave the nest. No-one knows how long the orphean warbler lives for in the wild, but the oldest specimen in captivity reached 14 years (3).


Orphean warbler range

A Mediterranean bird, the orphean warbler’s breeding range extends from Spain through to Turkey (2). It migrates south for winter, to sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent (2) (5), with the southernmost records being from northern Nigeria (4). The orphean warbler is also occasionally sighted in north-west Europe, as far north as England (2).


Orphean warbler habitat

In Europe, the orphean warbler favours open or semi-open woodland with variable bushy cover. This can include marquis with plants such as cork oak (Quercus suber) (3), or orange and olive groves and gardens (2). The specific vegetation can be varied, but a few tall trees or bushes (one to three metres tall) are an essential component of the habitat (4). In Europe, this bird is typically found below 800 metres, but in Western Asia it can be found between 2,000 and 3,000 metres (3).

While wintering in Africa, the orphean warbler inhabits semi-arid savannah with sparse tree cover and scrubby vegetation (3). In India and Pakistan it has been recorded in semi-desert, stony country and ravines with sparse vegetation (4).


Orphean warbler status

The orphean warbler is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Orphean warbler threats

The primary threats to the orphean warbler are habitat loss and deterioration due to agricultural intensification and human disturbance (3). As a result, the orphean warbler’s range appears to have contracted and fragmented in recent decades (4).

Climate change may also be affecting the orphean warbler, based on the decline of populations in some areas of Italy where there has been no associated habitat deterioration (4).

Wild fires also have an adverse effect upon orphean warbler populations in the short term, but surprisingly may have a positive effect in the long term (over one to four years) by opening up forested areas and improving the territory for the warbler (3).


Orphean warbler conservation

There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the orphean warbler. However, its range does include several national parks, such as Cap de Creus National Park in Spain, which offers its habitat some protection (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms and spiders.
Scrubland vegetation of the Mediterranean region, composed primarily of leathery, broad-leaved evergreen shrubs or small trees.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. Sterry, P., Cleave, A., Clements, A. and Goodfellow, P. (1997) AA Illustrated Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. Automobile Association, UK.
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Christie, D. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. Shirihai, H., Gargallo, G., Helbig, A.J., Harris, A. and Cottridge, D. (2001) Sylvia Warblers: Identification, Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the Genus Sylvia. Christopher Helm, London.
  5. Elphick, J. (2007) The Atlas of Bird Migration. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Image credit

Adult male Orphean warbler  
Adult male Orphean warbler

© Roger Tidman / www.flpa-images.co.uk

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