Sylviidae – Sylviid Babblers, Parrotbills & Fulvettas

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata ©Andy Bright Website

Sylviidae is a family of passerine birds that was part of an assemblage known as the Old World warblers. The family was a wastebin taxon with over 400 species of bird in over 70 genera. The family was poorly defined with many characteristics shared with other families. Advances in classification, particularly helped with molecular data, have led to the splitting out of several new families from within this group. Today the smaller family Sylviidae includes the typical warblers in the genus Sylvia, the parrotbills of Asia (formerly a separate family Paradoxornithidae), a number of babblers formerly placed within the family Timaliidae (which is being split) and the wrentit, an unusual[peacock term] North American bird that has been a longstanding taxonomic mystery.

There is now evidence that these Sylvia ‘warblers’ are more closely related to babblers Timaliidae, and thus these birds are better referred to as Sylvia babblers, or just sylvids.

Sylviids are small to medium-sized passerine birds. The bill is generally thin and pointed with bristles at the base. Sylviids have a slender shape and an inconspicuous and mostly plain plumage. The wings have ten primaries, which are rounded and short in non-migratory species.

Most species occur in Asia, and to a lesser extent in Africa. A few range into Europe; one species, the wrentit, occurs on the west coast of North America.

The species in this group are:

Fire-tailed Myzornis Myzornis pyrrhoura

Abyssinian Catbird Parophasma galinieri

African Hill Babbler Pseudoalcippe abyssinica
Ruwenzori Hill Babbler Pseudoalcippe atriceps

Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler Horizorhinus dohrni

Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus

Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula
Hume’s Whitethroat Sylvia althaea
Western Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis
Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris
Arabian Warbler Sylvia leucomelaena
Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana
African Desert Warbler Sylvia deserti
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
Marmora’s Warbler Sylvia sarda
Balearic Warbler Sylvia balearica
Tristram’s Warbler Sylvia deserticola
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans
Moltoni’s Warbler Sylvia subalpina
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Menetries’s Warbler Sylvia mystacea
Rüppell’s Warbler Sylvia ruppeli
Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax
Yemen Warbler Sylvia buryi
Brown Parisoma Sylvia lugens
Banded Parisoma Sylvia boehmi
Chestnut-vented Warbler Sylvia subcoerulea
Layard’s Warbler Sylvia layardi

Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis

Rufous-tailed Babbler Moupinia poecilotis

White-browed Fulvetta Fulvetta vinipectus
Chinese Fulvetta Fulvetta striaticollis
Spectacled Fulvetta Fulvetta ruficapilla
Indochinese Fulvetta Fulvetta danisi
Brown-throated Fulvetta Fulvetta ludlowi
Grey-hooded Fulvetta Fulvetta cinereiceps
Manipur Fulvetta Fulvetta manipurensis
Taiwan Fulvetta Fulvetta formosana

Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense
Jerdon’s Babbler Chrysomma altirostre

Beijing Babbler Rhopophilus pekinensis
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris

Wrentit Chamaea fasciata

Great Parrotbill Conostoma aemodium

Three-toed Parrotbill Cholornis paradoxus
Brown Parrotbill Cholornis unicolor

Spectacled Parrotbill Sinosuthora conspicillata
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana
Ashy-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora alphonsiana
Brown-winged Parrotbill Sinosuthora brunnea
Grey-hooded Parrotbill Sinosuthora zappeyi
Przevalski’s Parrotbill Sinosuthora przewalskii

Fulvous Parrotbill Suthora fulvifrons
Black-throated Parrotbill Suthora nipalensis
Golden Parrotbill Suthora verreauxi

Short-tailed Parrotbill Neosuthora davidiana

Pale-billed Parrotbill Chleuasicus atrosuperciliaris

White-breasted Parrotbill Psittiparus ruficeps
Rufous-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus bakeri
Grey-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus gularis
Black-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus margaritae

Black-breasted Parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris
Spot-breasted Parrotbill Paradoxornis guttaticollis
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei

Species Links
  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Motacilla undata Boddaert, 1783, Provence, France.Apparently more closely related genetically to S. deserticola than to either S. sarda or S. balearica, although more similar in appearance to last two. Forms a clade with these three species, all four being part of a larger group that also includes S. conspicillata, S. cantillans, S. melanocephala, S. mystacea, S. rueppelli, and S. melanothorax. Geographical variation rather limited and partially clinal; nominate race intergrades widely with dartfordiensis in SW France and NW Iberia and with toni in S Iberia. Proposed races corsa (from Corsica) and naevalbens (SE Italy) fall within range of variation of nominate and thus are synonymized with it; similarly, aremoricus (from NW France) is synonymized with dartfordiensis, and tingitana (from Morocco) with toni. Three subspecies recognized.
  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata

    Species Account
    The Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) is a typical warbler from the warmer parts of western Europe and northwestern Africa. It is a small warbler with a long thin tail and a thin pointed bill. The adult male has grey-brown upperparts and is dull reddish-brown below except for the centre of the belly which has a dirty white patch. It has light speckles on the throat and a red eye-ring. The sexes are similar but the adult female is usually less grey above and paler below.
  • Whitethroat Sylvia communis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Whitethroat Sylvia communis

    RSPB Species Account
    Whitethroat populations crashed in the late 1960s because of drought in their wintering grounds (Winstanley et al. 1974) and have since remained stable, although there is some evidence of recovery in farmland…
  • Whitethroat Sylvia communis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Whitethroat Sylvia communis

    Species Account
    The common whitethroat (Sylvia communis) is a common and widespread typical warbler which breeds throughout Europe and across much of temperate western Asia. This small passerine bird is strongly migratory, and winters in tropical Africa, Arabia, and Pakistan.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 70

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