Championed by Amy Robjohns
Go to any wetland in the south of England and there is a high chance of hearing the Cetti’s warbler. Its loud, metallic call is distinctive and unlike any other. The call is easy to remember: it’s as if they’re calling out their name; letting you know they’re here. Seeing a Cetti’s warbler, however, is much more of a challenge, which is one reason why they should be a top British species – one of these “must see” birds. It tends to skulk close to the ground in reedbeds or wet scrub habitats which is why they are rarely seen. You get immense satisfaction when, after waiting and trying for minutes or hours or maybe days, you finally catch a glimpse of the bird you’re after.
Cetti’s warblers are small chestnut-brown birds with a pale supercilium (the stripe above the eye), about the size of a robin, and pale underneath. What makes them unique among British passerines is the fact that they only have 10 tail feathers (all others have 12), and lay bright red eggs. Furthermore, they are the one of the only warblers found in Britain that don’t migrate.
Originally found in Mediterranean, they began rapidly spreading northward until first appearing in the UK at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire in 1961, while the first breeding record of Cetti’s warbler in the UK was in Kent in the 1970s. The fact that they were first found in Titchfield Haven, is what makes them special to me as this is a reserve I have visited numerous times, being local, and is probably the reason why I am a birder and a bird ringer! After hearing the birds on many occasions, I was delighted to see one at a ringing demonstration. I’ve since ringed several, and that joy is still just as fresh.
The fact that Cetti’s warblers have been successfully surviving in the UK as resident species is impressive but it is perhaps also a reminder of how mild the winters have been over the past few decades, bar a few extreme exceptions. Climate change is definitely one of the biggest problems and challenges for the 21st century and beyond. Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and rising temperatures are likely to have a large impact on our wildlife.
So maybe the Cetti’s warbler is here to give us a message. It might be warning us about the impacts of climate change – telling us to make the most of British species before they shift northward or disappear completely, and telling us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that the impact will be lessened. But perhaps, the Cetti’s warbler is also giving out a glimmer of hope and a taste of what is to come. Whatever your verdict is, a Cetti’s warbler is a top bird and one worth trying to find!