Family Old World Warblers and Parrotbills (Sylviidae)

Least Concern

Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)


French: Fauvette mélanocéphale German: Samtkopf-Grasmücke Spanish: Curruca cabecinegra

Motacilla melanocephala

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,

Sardinia, Italy


Geographical variation within each race largely clinal, becoming more complex in insular areas (especially Canary Is); race leucogastra sometimes synonymized with nominate, but detailed study#R suggests its revalidation, although this rejected by others#R#R; variation (in colour and size) within islands, however, noticeable and demands further work. Recently described race valverdei#R represents a new stage in variability of the species, probably related to particular ecological conditions in Sahara Desert. Proposed races pasiphae (described from Crete) and carmichaellowi (SE Italy) considered to fall within range of variation of nominate, and included within it. Race †norrisae extinct. Four extant subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. m. melanocephala (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – S Europe (around Mediterranean and its islands) E to Bulgaria, W Turkey, and NW Africa (except Western Sahara) E to N Libya. Winters S in Africa discontinuously to N Senegal in W and to N Sudan in E.
  • S. m. leucogastra (Ledru, 1810) – Canary Is.
  • S. m. valverdei J. Cabot & Urdiales, 2005 – S Morocco and Western Sahara (S to Tropic of Cancer).
  • S. m. momus (Hemprich & Ehrenberg, 1833) – Levant from W Syria and Lebanon S to extreme NE Egypt (N Sinai).
  • S. m. norrisae Nicoll, 1917 – N Egypt (Faiyum).
  • Descriptive notes

    13·5 cm; 12–25 g. Male nominate race breeding has glossy black head contrasting with white chin and throat; upperparts and upperwing-coverts dark ash-grey,... read more


    Song, from top of bush or in display-flight, a musical and varied rapid chatter 2–5 seconds... read more


    Probably one of the most generalist of Mediterranean warblers: present in all types of warm habitat... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet mainly arthropods; high amount of fruit, especially in autumn and winter, but also throughout year, probably related to local... read more


    Season chiefly Mar–Jun, some pairs earlier, in Feb, and one report from Morocco of adult still feeding fledged young in late Oct; 1... read more


    Partially migratory. Island and coastal populations mostly sedentary, but proportion of migrants... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Locally common to very common; in favourable habitats sometimes the most abundant avian species. Estimated European population of over 5,800,000... read more

    Recommended citation

    Aymí, R. & Gargallo, G. (2020). Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 29 February 2020).