Green Warbler at the JBO

Elon Gur 19/06/2018 00:00

It's the month of June in Jerusalem.  Spring migration has already ended, local species are busy nesting and young are fledging and leaving the nest. The chances of something new and exciting to appear at the ringing session was slim to none.

Yitzhak asked me to replace him as ringer that morning (June 10th) and I agreed.  There would be no surprises, but it would be nice to spend a summer morning in the bird hide watching birds at close range bathing and playing in the pool.  As expected, the ringing session started slowly until Moshe, one of our volunteers, returned from the nets and announced that he had a small leaf warbler. That was interesting, what's a leaf warbler doing in here in June?



Green Warbler at the JBO      Photo: Amir Balaban


At first glance at the hand, the warbler did not look very different from a Willow Warbler. However, at second glance you could not help noticing that most of the bird's greater wing coverts were pale-tipped - wingbar! By now the field guides had been opened and with a much more scrutinized look, we noticed the prominent supercillium that extended well long behind the eye.


I decided to photograph the bird and send it to our ringing station manager, Gidon Perlman. Shortly after, Amir Balaban arrived, confirmed the identification and broadcasted the news. The excitement was great. But I could not help but feel bad for Yitzhak - why today, of all days, did he ask me to replace him? But in the end it was okay, he also managed to run over just in time to see the bird, the first recorded Green Warbler for the JBO and Jerusalem, and only the eighth for Israel.



        Photo: Amir Balaban


The Green Warbler, Phylloscopus nitidus, breeds in high mountains in northern Turkey, the Caucasus and northern Iran (BirdLife International, 2018), not too far north of Israel. Its breeding habitat includes broad-leaved forests of mainly oak, beech and juniper, accompanied by undergrowth or of coniferous trees accompanied by deciduous trees. Post-breeding it heads directly east from its breeding grounds to winter in southeastern India and Sri Lanka. Israel is not on its migration route, which is why it’s so rare here. This is a typical leaf warbler - small and active. Its upperparts have a rather bright yellowish-green hue, and the face and upper breast are bright yellow. Its bill is relatively long and heavy, and has an extensive pale base to the lower mandible. In fresh plumage another wingbar, formed by narrow pale tips to medium wing coverts is often observed.



The JBO team     Photo: Amir Balaban


Green Warbler belongs to the Greenish Warbler (P. trochiloides) ‘super-group’. Research on the taxonomy of this group is ongoing, and gets updated every few years (Collinson, Knox, Parkin, & Sangster, 2003; Helbig, Seibold, Martens, & Wink, 1995; Irwin, Bensch, & Price, 2001). Species in this group have rather subtle morphological differences, but their vocalisations are very different from one another, they differ significantly in their genetics, and their breeding areas are geographically segregated. The depth of these differences is only for the brave and anyone who is interested in learning more should watch Dr. Per Elström's lecture.

The closest species to Green Warbler is the Greenish Warbler, which has not yet been observed in Israel. Greenish Warbler differs morphologically in its colder tones on the upper parts and lacks the bright yellow face and breast. These colour variations helped to confirm the identification of the bird at JBO.



Chilling in the Jerusalem Bird Observatory      Photo: Amir Balaban


Green Warbler is a rare vagrant to Western Europe, recorded in e.g. Britain, France, Germany and Sweden. This is the second June record in Israel – all other six records were in autumn. The sixth observation of the Green warbler in Israel, which was captured at Ashdod in 2011 by Yoav Perlman, was also in early June, similar date to the bird of the JBO. So if you see a leaf warbler in June, look for its wingbar.



Summary of Green Warbler records in Israel:


1. 1987- Eilat, October (H. Shirihai), ringed

2. 2004, Sirin Heights, August (Z. Labinger), observed

3. 2008, Sde Boker, May (D. Burns), ringed

4. 2009, Netiv HaLamed Heh, October, (R. Haran), ringed

5. 2010, Eilat, November (R. Shaish), observed

6. 2011, Ashdod, June (Y. Perlman), ringed

7. 2014, Yeruham, October (Y. Tzvik), ringed

8. 2018, Jerusalem, June (E. Gur), ringed  




BirdLife International. (2018). Species factsheet: Phylloscopus nitidus. Retrieved June 22, 2018, from


Collinson, M., Knox, A. G., Parkin, D. T., & Sangster, G. (2003). Specific status of taxa within the Greenish Warbler complex. British Birds, 96, 327–331.


Helbig, A. J., Seibold, I., Martens, J., & Wink, M. (1995). Genetic differentiation and phylogenetic relationships of Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli and Green Warbler P. nitidus. Journal of Avian Biology. doi:10.2307/3677063


Irwin, D. E., Bensch, S., & Price, T. D. (2001). Speciation in a ring. Nature, 409, 333–337. doi:10.1038/35053059

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