The bluethroat is a small bird which in December 2004 made its way into the UK news headlines and into nature's history books.
Naming the Bluethroat
The bluethroat Luscinia svecica is also known as the red-spotted bluethroat and the white-spotted bluethroat, and was formerly known as the blue-throated robin. It is generally referred to as a relative of the robin1, partly due to its similar size and appearance, and its coloured throat. However, that is where the similarities end. As the bluethroat shares part of its scientific name, Luscinia, with the nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, this clearly makes it more closely related to the nightingale than to the robin.
Identifying a Bluethroat
The adult bluethroat is approximately 14cm2 from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail, and has a wingspan of 20-22cm3. Both males and females have similar basic plumage, with a plain brown upper part and creamy white underparts. They both have a distinctive black tail and red side-patches. The identifying factor between males and females is that the male has a blue throat with a central spot in the blue, which can be either white or red. The blue is bordered underneath with bands of black, white and red. The female, on the other hand, has a white throat bordered with black, white and red. Juvenile plumage is initially the same as the females, with the blue throat of the males growing through after a short time.
Bluethroats are migratory birds; they commonly spend the winter months in the remote forests of Asia and Scandinavia. The appearance of a few of these stunning and rare birds on the British coasts each spring may be due to them straying from the flock and flying a little too far west. The sighting of a bluethroat is much sought after by many bird-watchers.
Habitat and Breeding
The bluethroat is a very shy, secretive bird. It prefers damp forest or marshy wetland, but it can also be found in stony bushy areas. Its preferred food consists of berries, insects and caterpillars.
Bluethroats become even more secretive during the breeding season, when the male's blue throat becomes a much brighter blue, and his song is louder in order to attract females. A cup-shaped nest is built, near ground level, in thick bushy areas of marshy wetland. Clutches of between four and six eggs are laid, with an incubation period of 13-14 days. The chicks fledge4 at around 14 days. Observations have been made of both parents caring for the chicks.
Into the UK News and Nature's History Books
Various UK news media reported at the beginning of December 2004 that a bluethroat had been spotted at the RSPB Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. This is believed to be the first time this rare, migratory bird has wintered in the UK.
A Species and Habitats Officer for RSPB Scotland said, 'To find one on our reserve in May or June would have been thrilling enough; but this bird has decided to over-winter here, which is quite unique.'