Lesser Whitethroat

PNHS members have been involved in studying the Lesser Whitethroat since 1983. It is a relatively common breeding bird in England but the further north and west you go in the UK it becomes more scarce. It is a very rare breeding species in Renfrewshire, which lies at the north-west extremity of its breeding distribution in Europe.

After many years study, PNHS member, Tom Byars found that habitat plays an important role in the birds’ breeding distribution. Lesser Whitethroats require a particular type of hawthorn scrub which has a mature open canopy of around 3-4m in height and an impenetrable understorey of bramble, dogrose and gorse at around 1-2m in height, where the birds can nest securely. 

Photograph of a small bird with grey head and wings and white breast, perched on a leafy branch
Male Lesser Whitethroat foraging in Hawthorn

Lesser Whitethroats occupied territories in Brownside Braes, Paisley, on a regular basis from 1984 until 2003. Alarmingly, breeding ceased abruptly in June 2004 and things looked rather bleak.  In September 2008 the PNHS received a grant for £3000 from the Renfrewshire Environmental Trust (RET) to enable work on a long term project, involving various groups and services to implement a maintenance programme at Brownside Braes.  Existing scrub was enhanced and new scrubland created with Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Bramble, Dogrose and Gorse planted in designated grassland sites.

Every Spring members try to locate singing Lesser Whitethroats and map out all known territories within the park boundary. This survey is not only exclusive to Lesser Whitethroats as other important Local Biodiversity Action Plan species are also recorded singing, and breeding populations estimated.  Members of the society also provide help in planting scrub species in the project area.

Research papers

Tom Byars has carried out intensive research on the Lesser Whitethroat in south-west Scotland since 1983.  These are papers and reports he has written on his research. 

Lesser Whitethroat

The breeding distribution and habitat requirements of the Lesser Whitethroat in Strathclyde

The status and distribution of the Lesser Whitethroat in Clyde and Ayrshire from 1983 to 2005,Scottish Birds, 2010

Feeding studies of the Lesser Whitethroat in Strathclyde

Sandwich Tern mimicry in a singing Whitethroat

Observations on Lesser Whitethroat singing and roosting behaviour in Ayrshire during May 2010, Scottish Birds, 2011

A Lesser Whitethroat brood of six young, Scottish Birds, 2014

Secondary nest usage by a pair of Lesser Whitethroats

Lesser Whitethroats in Ayrshire: does emergent scrub provide a new breeding habitat?, Scottish Birds, 2021

Lesser Whitethroat holding territory in mixed woodland, Scottish Birds, 42:1, 2022

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