Over 110 species of bird have been recorded at Hartlebury Common and the adjoining Hillditch Pool & Coppice. The diverse mix of habitats make it an important local site for birdlife, in particular some of our declining arable birds such as Yellowhammer and Linnet. Both species breed in good numbers on the reserve. In summertime the common plays host to large numbers of warblers that visit to breed with Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Common Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Willow Warblers all present. Another summer visitor that may be encountered is Spotted Flycatcher which breeds near the oak woodland at the southeast corner of the site and one of our most recognizable summer visitors the Cuckoo can be heard on the common annually. The short lawns between the heaths are favoured feeding areas of two of the commons more colourful resident species the Green Woodpecker and the Jay. One of our most easily recognized raptors, the Kestrel, can often be seen hovering over the heath land as it looks for prey. A visit to the nearby Hillditch Pool will occasionally give views of a Kingfisher as it passes through following the course of Titton Brook.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
The Blackcap is a migrant warbler that breeds on the Common during the Spring/Summer period after arriving from its wintering grounds in the Mediterranean and West Africa. They are a small bird (similar size to a chaffinch) which is mostly grey in colour except for the colour of its cap which is black in males and chestnut brown in females. The Blackcap has a beautiful fluting warbling song which you can hear at the below link: Blackcap Song
Over recent years there has been an increase in numbers of overwintering Blackcaps in the UK that visit from a different population from Germany and Northeast Europe. It is entirely possible that you may now encounter one during the Winter months.
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
The Chiffchaff is a small olive- brown warbler which often flits through shrubs and trees, with a distinctive tail- wagging movement. It is one of the first Spring migrants to return back to the Common when it returns in March from its wintering grounds in Africa. They are present on the Common until September/October.
The Chiffchaff is very similar looking to its relative the Willow Warbler but a Chiffchaffs’ legs are dark grey/black where as a Willow Warbler tends to have paler legs. But it is better to separate these two species by their song. The Chiffchaffs song is a series of repetitive chiff chaff chiff chaff notes and it is from this the bird gets its name. An example of its song can be heard by clicking on the following link:
Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
Common Whitethroat is another summer migrant warbler that comes to the Common to breed in good numbers each Spring and returns to its West African wintering grounds in the Autumn. It is a medium sized warbler that has a grey head, brown back, buff underparts and a pure white throat. Its scratchy warbling song can often be heard as it perches up prominently to sing from the scrub and hedgerows. A Common Whitethroat’s song can be heard at the following link:
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
The Kestrel is a familiar sight over the Common as one can often be seen hovering as it looks for its prey. Whilst doing so it will keep its head perfectly still as it pin points the location of its next meal which usually consists of small mammals. Kestrels can be seen on Hartlebury Common all year round.
The male kestrel has a grey head with a rufous brown back and creamy underparts that are streaked black where as the female looks similar but for its head which is not grey but the same colour as its back. An example of a Kestrels call can be heard at the following link:
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
Lesser Whitethroat is the scarcer of the summer visiting Whitethroats that you may see. Only one or two of these migrant warblers arrive on the Common in Spring. It looks very similar to its more frequently seen relative the Common Whitethroat but has a duller grey/brown back and darker grey patches on its cheeks. The best way to tell the two species apart though is by call and the Lesser Whitethroats call is unmistakable with its melodic rattling warble that is sometimes described as sounding like a baby’s rattle. Lesser Whitethroats tend to perch out much less frequently than Common Whitethroats when singing and can be an elusive and seldom seen species as they skulk in the vegetation. A Lesser Whitethroats song can be heard at the following link:
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Spotted Flycatcher is one of the last Spring migrants to arrive, usually in early May. They breed on the Common most years and favour the mature Oak woodland on the south east side. On first glance Spotted Flycatchers look quite dull grey- brown birds but on closer look you will see streaking on its head and faint grey streaking on its white chest. It’s their behaviour though that is a pleasure to watch, as they regularly flit out from a high perch to catch flying insects before returning to the same spot. Its call is a very unassuming tseep sound that can take a bit of practice to pick up. A Spotted Flycatcher call can be heard at the following page:
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Hartlebury Common is one of the best places in Worcestershire to see (or hear) a Willow Warbler. It is a summer visitor from Southern Africa and can be seen from April to September.
Willow Warbler can be difficult to separate from its close relative the Chiffchaff, as they look very similar. It is best identified by its spiralling, warbling song which is completely different to that of Chiffchaff. Listen to the songs and see key identification features for both here on the British Trust for Ornithology website.
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)
The Yellowhammer is one of the UK’s iconic arable birds but sadly this colourful Bunting is in serious national decline and is now a Red- listed species. Thankfully Hartlebury Common retains a good breeding population of these birds. Yellowhammers are not a migrant species but do move away from the Common during the winter months when they flock together with other buntings and finches to feed in stubble fields and farm land.
Male Yellowhammers have bright yellow heads and underparts with a brown back, streaked with black and a forked tail. Females have the same features but tend to be duller and much less vivid yellow colour. The Yellowhammer has an unforgettable song which is made up of a number of quick notes followed, quite often, by a drawn wheeze sound. These sequence of notes has been likened to the expression “a little bit of bread and no cheese”. To hear a Yellowhammer’s song click on the following link: Yellowhammer Song