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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Sylvia communis vs Sylvia conspicillata (1 Viewer)


Sergio López Martín
Hello everyone. This summer I have posted several threads asking for help with a Sylvia communis/conspicillata bird. I still haven't seen any S. conspicillata bird (at least that's what I think), so I have no experience on telling these two species apart.

Therefore, I am creating this thread asking for tips to distinguish these species. I have some bird guides (such as Lars Svensson's one), but when comparing the drawings in these books with images on the Internet I feel a little confused. I would really appreciate if you could post images from the Internet to compare individuals of the same type (same sex, age, etc.) of both species. By looking at these images and the differences you tell me to look at in each photo, I hope to be able to identify birds of both species without any problem!

Thanks in advance!

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Here are my own thoughts on this, others will have other thoughts and suggestions:

I think this a an excellent idea but I would start by adding a proviso - it is important imo to learn to identify birds in the field as well as from photos - otherwise you are relying on a photo being clear and unambiguous which we know from ID threads, is not always a luxury afforded to us, so may miss out on being able to ‘tick’ the bird you actually saw which would be a shame.

While excellent digital images have been a game changer for identifying confusion species, it can’t replace real live experience in my humble opinion. I find that establishing a bird’s identity in the field is more often than not, more than just plumage consideration but also a combination of behaviour, habitat, vocals, body shape, flight pattern and size comparisons. All of which are in some way obscured in photo-imagery due to being reduced to a 2-dimensional stilled format even in the best of images. For example, Forsman’s photographic guide to Flight Identification of Raptors is one of the best examples of how digital photography can help us learn but even that is not a replacement for field experience. More often than not, for those of us who are not very competent photographers, when we get home and look at our photographic efforts, only part of the bird is visible in a shot or the photo simply isn’t good enough to see all the important features clearly to be barely any use to identify the species let alone good enough for an online teaching aid..

Having said that, I think you have a great idea but for copy right reasons, it would need the permission of the photographer to upload images here, so you would have to rely on members own images. I don’t have any personally that would be much help otherwise I would be more than glad too - most of my old birding images are stored on CDs and I no longer have the means to upload them. . I expect there will be someone though who is willing to talk you through their images.

This site may be helpful


In the meantime I would just add getting more field experience of even just Common Whitethroats so you can know enough to know when the sylviid flitting around in the shrubs in front of you isn't one!

It would also be of great benefit to find a local more experienced birder who can take you to reliable site for Spectacled Warbler and point out the salient identifying criteria while you watch the bird.

I also would suggest to watch loads of videos if you can (as well as looking at online images) as video’s teach you about movement and jizz and flight style which you will help you recognise a species a lot quicker if you come across it in the field.

Also familiarise yourself with calls and songs, especially helpful for sylviids lurking in bushes. I have the Sunbird app ‘Bird Songs of Europe’ which is excellent, has sonagrams of every call and song on the app and for most species it has songs, subsongs, calls and fledgling calls


You will often find videos on youtube or twitter or birding news sites.

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Well-known tool
It's definitely that dreaded do I take a picture or do I watch the bird question. Taking the pictures doesn't help 'you' watch and identify the birds in the long term.

You see something you are not sure of why not? As Deb says its the jizz or a call or something that has made you think 'that's something different'. If you don't have the grounding in the common birds you end up chasing your tail. I was always a spotter - I would find birds for someone else to identify - and ultimately had to spend a long time then learning about my own id's (which is never ending by the way), when I didn't have the safety blanket. Again as Deb says it's a multitude of things - the call, the movement etc.

With all that said the digital image can nail the id, gives a firm record, in most cases, and doesn't lie. The fear is that the bird will disappear or will keep on flying and therefore there is the pressure in the moment. I have a number of brief sightings and glimpses of birds that I will never reconcile and niggle away - I didn't have the time to get a photo or a voice recording or even an extended view. If you have the grounding in the common you will generally have a hunch about the id. You lose valuable watching time trying to get a photo because its not in focus or its moved behind something - you may have clinched an id feature in the time you're playing with the camera.

As for your specific birds get out in spring and find a territory of one or each if you can. Then go back and watch over the season. You don't have to spend long each visit and you will become accustomed to the behaviour and habits. Then try and find the female, try and see the young, watch the territorial call. Try and form your own opinions - you generally pick up a Whitethroat here or in this tree or feeding there, maybe it's feeding more in the tops of the bushes or trees and Speccy is lower and slightly different habitat. The books give you a steer but if you can find that out for yourself, or confirm what you read, then it will stick...

We had an area with Ortolans here that stayed for about three weeks. Eachtime I passed the area I would stop and try and find them. By the end of their stay I would stop for 5 minutes listen for the contact call, maybe spot them, and leave satisfied they were still there. If they came back I would probably initially struggle but if I saw them then the call then reinforces the id.

Valery used to post on the id forums a lot here. His philosophy for id'ing birds was their structure and very little to do with colours or plumage details. So again with your birds what are the structural differences? Whitethroat can be like 20% bigger for one but its generally a bulkier bird - and the length of the wings make it 'feel' even bigger. Think of Crag Martin and House Martin - in theory similar size birds but the light fluttering flight of the dainty House Martin against the more powerful flight of the stocky Crag Martin sets them apart on both jizz and structure....

Soon you'll be saying I'm going to get a nice picture of that Speccy rather than I need any old shot because I don't know which one it is.
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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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