(Luscinia svecica)

The Bluethroat is a striking, beautiful species of bird whose main focal point is its clear, bright-blue bib, which is underscored by two stripes; one rust-coloured, the other black. As is typical among birds, it is male Bluethroats that display more extravagant plumage than their female counterparts, whose throats do not feature this blue patch. Upperparts on both males and females are grey, while the underparts are white. And, both birds have a habit of fanning their tails, exposing a chestnut-coloured patch near the tip of the tail.

Look closely and you may observe a slight difference between subspecies of Luscinia svecica; it is subtle and hardly noticeable, but one features a red throat spot, while the other a white throat spot. This is the main difference between White-spotted bluethroats and Red-spotted bluethroats. The clue to their names is, of course, this difference, and you can see an example in the comparison below.

In size they are similar to Robins, around 13 – 14 cm in length, albeit they have evolved somewhat longer and slimmer legs than Erithacus rubecula; and they have a tendency to defend their territories quite aggressively with an emphatic song, and often do so in mid-flight.

The fanned tailed of a Bluethroat

The fanned tail of a Bluethroat

Passage migration

In the UK, there are neither resident nor wintering Bluethroats; they are passage migrants only and number between 85 – 600 visiting pairs in total. The best time to observe them is is during their passage, which occurs between May and early-June, and again between August and October.

On passage they visit only coastal areas of the UK, appearing in Lothian in Scotland, all the way down to Kent and west towards the tip of Cornwall. They have a preference for areas of thick vegetation, as well as patches of open ground. In fact, should you view one on open ground, you might notice it hopping across the ground and flitting in and out among bushes; a famously shy behaviour.

The Bluethroat is classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List

In terms of nesting and breeding, Bluethroats produce approximately 1 – 2 broods per year, but no more, each of which consists of between 5 – 7 eggs whose young, once hatched, take around 15 days fully to fledge. The nest is made primarily of moss, twigs, grass and is lined with animal hair and plant down.

The total global population of Bluethroats varies wildly, yet is estimated to be in the region of 545,126 – 1,376,505 breeding pairs; a huge population when compared with those few that visit the UK on passage.

Bluethroats are classified as part of the chat group, a collection of insectivorous birds, according to Wikipedia, considered to be “Old World flycatchers”. They will also consume berries and caterpillars; it is unlikely, though not impossible, to view one in your garden.

What is the difference between the two main subspecies of Bluethroat that visit the UK?

There are two key subspecies of Bluethroat that visit the UK on passage migration. The first is the less numerous White-spotted bluethroat; the other is the more numerous Red-spotted bluethroat. Both birds can be distinguished by their throat spots, whose colour determines the name. Take a look below and you’ll notice the chestnut-coloured throat spot on the Red-potted bluethroat, and the white spot on the other bird.

Red spotted Bluethroat

Red-spotted Bluethroat – Luscinia svecica svecica

White spotted Bluethroat

White-spotted Bluethroat – Luscinia svecica cyanecula

White-spotted bluethroat Red-spotted bluethroat
Arrives UK Early-April Mid-April / May
Leaves UK August - October August - October
Habitat Water, reedbeds, bushy marshes Water, reedbeds, bushy marshes
Characteristics White throat spot Chestnut throat spot
Diet Insects, caterpillars, berries Insects, caterpillars, berries

Try the interactive Bluethroat

Attract Bluethroats with the following food

Premium sunflower hearts

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This hugely popular bird seed mix has been at the forefront of GardenBird for many years. A top seller, the inspiration came from a missing link in the bird food chain – a blend focused on oil-rich ingredients.

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Ultiva® High Protein Insect Mix

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