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Temporal range: Pleistocene–Recent
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Infraorder: Passerida
Superfamily: Sylvioidea

Sylviidae sensu lato (many)

The "Old World Warblers" or Sylvioidea is the name used to describe a large group of birds formerly grouped together in the bird family Sylviidae. The family held over 400 species in over 70 genera, and were the source of much taxonomic confusion. Two families were split out initially, the cisticolas into Cisticolidae and the kinglets into Regulidae. In the past ten years they have been the subject of much research and many species are now placed into other families, including the Acrocephalidae, Cettiidae, Phylloscopidae, and Megaluridae. In addition some species have been moved into existing families or have not yet had their placement fully resolved. A smaller family of warblers, together with some babblers formerly placed in the family Timaliidae and the parrotbills, are retained in a much smaller family Sylviidae.


Most Old World Warblers are of generally undistinguished appearance, though some Asian species are boldly marked. The sexes are often identical, but may be clearly distinct, notably in the genus Sylvia. They are of small to medium size, varying from 9 to 16 centimetres in length, with a small, finely pointed bill. Almost all species are primarily insectivorous, although some will also eat fruit, nectar, or tiny seeds.[1]

The majority of species are monogamous and build simple, cup-shaped nests in dense vegetation. They lay between two and six eggs per clutch, depending on species. Both parents typically help in raising the young, which are able to fly at around two weeks of age.[1]


In the late 20th century, the Sylviidae were thought to unite nearly 300 small insectivorous bird species in nearly 50 genera. They had themselves been split out of the Muscicapidae. The latter family had for most of its existence served as perhaps the ultimate wastebin taxon on the history of ornithology.[citation needed] By the early 20th century, about every insectivorous Old World "songster" known to science had at one point been placed therein, and most continued to be so.

Only after the mid-20th century did the dismantling of the "pan-Muscicapidae" begin in earnest. However, the Sylviidae remained a huge family, with few clear patterns of relationships recognisable. Though by no means as diverse as the Timaliidae (Old World babblers) (another "wastebin taxon" containing more thrush-like forms), the frontiers between the former "pan-Muscicapidae" were much blurred. The largely southern warbler family Cisticolidae was traditionally included in the Sylviidae. The kinglets, a small genus in a monotypic family Regulidae, were also frequently placed in this family. The American Ornithologists' Union includes the gnatcatchers, as subfamily Polioptilinae, in the Sylviidae.[2]

Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) united the "Old World warblers" with the babblers and other taxa in a superfamily Sylvioidea as a result of DNA-DNA hybridisation studies. This demonstrated that the Muscicapidae as initially defined were a form taxon which collected entirely unrelated songbirds. Consequently, the monophyly of the individual "songster" lineages themselves was increasingly being questioned.

More recently, analysis of DNA sequence data has provided information on the Sylvioidea. Usually, the scope of the clade was vastly underestimated and only one or two specimens were sampled for each presumed "family". Minor or little-known groups such as the parrotbills were left out entirely (e.g. Ericson & Johansson 2003, Barker et al. 2004). These could only confirm that the Cisticolidae were indeed distinct, and suggested that bulbuls (Pycnonotidae) were apparently the closest relatives of a group containing Sylviidae, Timaliidae, cisticolids and white-eyes.

In 2003, a study of Timaliidae relationships (Cibois 2003a) using mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S/16S rRNA data indicated that the Sylviidae and Old World babblers were not reciprocally monophyletic to each other. Moreover, Sylvia, the type genus of the Sylvidae, turned out to be closer to taxa such as the Yellow-eyed Babbler (Chrysomma sinense) (traditionally held to be an atypical timaliid) and the Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata), an enigmatic species generally held to be the only American Old World babbler. The parrotbills, formerly considered a family Paradoxornithidae (roughly, "puzzling birds") of unclear affiliations also were part of what apparently was a well distinctive clade.

Cibois suggested that the Sylviidae should officially be suppressed by the ICZN as a taxon and the genus Sylvia merged into the Timaliidae (Cibois 2003b), but doubts remained. Clearly, the sheer extent of the groups concerned made it necessary to study a wide range of taxa. This was begun by Beresford et al. (2005) and Alström et al. (2006). They determined that the late-20th-century Sylviidae united at least 4, but probably as many as 7 major distinct lineages. The authors propose the creation of several new families (Phylloscopidae, Cettiidae, Acrocephalidae, Megaluridae) to better reflect the evolutionary history of the sylvioid group.

The Sylviidae, in turn, receive several taxa from other families. Nonetheless, the now-monophyletic family has shrunk by nearly 80% for the time being, now containing 55 species in 10 genera at least. It is entirely likely however that with further research, other taxa from those still incertae sedis among its former contents, the Timaliidae, the Cisticolinae, or even the Muscicapidae will be moved into this group.




Nicators are sylvioids found in Africa.


Panuridae only contains the Bearded Reedling.


Alaudidae is a cosmopolitan family of sylvioids known as larks. They are mainly brown in colour, but have beautiful songs.

  • Genus: Calandrella
    • Darod Lark, Calandrella daaroodensis
    • Blanford's Lark, Calandrella blanfordi
    • Erlanger's Lark, Calandrella erlangeri
    • Northern Red-capped Lark, Calandrella williamsi
    • Southern Red-capped Lark, Calandrella cinerea
    • Greater Short-toed Lark, Calandrella brachydactyla
    • Hume's Short-toed Lark, Calandrella acutirostris
    • Sykes's Short-toed Lark, Calandrella dukhunensis


African warblers. Also "Sphenoeacus group". An assemblage of usually species-poor and apparently rather ancient "odd warblers" from Africa. Ecomorphologically quite variable. Monophyly requires confirmation.

  • Genus Melocichla
    • Moustached Grass Warbler Melocichla mentalis

Family Sylviidae

True warblers (or sylviid warblers) and parrotbills. A fairly diverse group of smallish taxa with longish tails. Mostly in Asia, to a lesser extent in Africa. A few range into Europe; one monotypic genus on west coast of North America.

  • Genus Sylvia - typical warblers (c.20 species). Paraphyletic or contains Parisoma
    • Temperate Eurasian superspecies ("atricapilla-borin group")
    • Parisoma superspecies
      • Banded Warbler, Parisoma boehmi
      • Layard's Warbler, Parisoma layardi
      • Rufous-vented Warbler, Parisoma subcaeruleum
    • curruca clade
      • Brown Warbler, Parisoma lugens
      • Yemen Warbler, Sylvia buryi - sometimes placed in Parisoma
      • Red Sea Warbler, Sylvia leucomelaena
      • (Western) Orphean Warbler, Sylvia hortensis
        • Eastern Orphean Warbler, Sylvia (hortensis) crassirostris
      • Lesser Whitethroat, Sylvia curruca
      • Hume's Whitethroat, Sylvia althaea
      • Small Whitethroat, Sylvia minula
        • Margelanic Whitethroat, Sylvia (minula) margelanica
    • communis-melanocephala assemblage
File:Chrysomma sinense.jpg

Chrysomma sinense, the Yellow-eyed "Babbler", is a sylviid closely related to parrotbills

  • Genus Pseudoalcippe - African Hillbabbler. Formerly in Illadopsis (Timaliidae)
  • Genus Rhopophilus - White-browed Chinese Warbler. Formerly in Cisticolidae
  • Genus Lioparus - Golden-breasted Fulvetta. Formerly in Alcippe (Timaliidae)
  • Genus Paradoxornis - typical parrotbills (18 species). Formerly in Paradoxornithidae; polyphyletic
  • Genus Conostoma - Great Parrotbill. Formerly in Paradoxornithidae; tentatively placed here
  • Genus Fulvetta - typical fulvettas (7 species). Formerly in Alcippe (Timaliidae)
  • Genus Chrysomma - 3 species. Formerly in Timaliidae
  • Genus Chamaea - Wrentit

Moved to family Timaliidae

  • Genus Graminicola
    • Rufous-rumped Grassbird ("-babbler") Graminicola bengalensis

Moved to family Cisticolidae

  • Genus Bathmocercus - rufous-warblers
    • Black-capped Rufous-warbler Bathmocercus cerviniventris
    • Black-faced Rufous-warbler Bathmocercus rufus
  • Genus Sceptomycter - sometimes merged into Bathmocercus. Cisticolidae?
    • Mrs Moreau's Warbler Sceptomycter winifredae
  • Genus Poliolais - Cisticolidae or more basal like bulbuls?
  • Two to 14 of the 15 tailorbirds

Moved to family Acrocephalidae

File:Hippolais icterina1.jpg

Icterine Warbler, Hippolais icterina

Marsh and tree warblers or acrocephalid warblers. Usually rather large "warblers", most are olivaceous brown above with much yellow to beige below. Usually in open woodland, reedbeds or tall grass. Mainly southern Asia to western Europe and surroundings ranging far into Pacific, some in Africa. The genus limits are seriously in need of revision; either most species are moved into Acrocephalus, or the latter is split up though there is presently insufficient knowledge as to how.

Moved to Malagasy warblers

See Cibois et al. (2001)

Moved to family Locustellidae


New Zealand's Kōtātā or Mātātā, the Fernbird, probably belongs to the Locustellidae

Grass warblers and allies . Mid-sized and usually long-tailed species; sometimes strongly patterned but generally very drab in overall coloration. Often forage on the ground. Old World and into Australian region, centred around Indian Ocean; possibly also one species in South America. A not too robustly supported clade that requires further study.

The Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapillus, which was long considered an aberrant wren or mockingbird is apparently quite closely related, and might possibly be considered the only American species of this family.

Moved to family Cettiidae

Typical bush warblers and relatives or cettiid warblers. Another group of generally very drab species, tend to be smaller and shorter-tailed than Megaluridae. Usually frequent shrubland and undergrowth. Continental Asia, and surrounding regions, ranging into Africa and southern Europe.

File:Uguisu 06g4391s.jpg

Uguisu (鶯), the Japanese Bush-warbler (Cettia diphone). See also uguisubari.

Moved to Family Aegithalidae

Moved to family Phylloscopidae

Leaf warblers or phylloscopid warblers. A group very variable in size, often vivid green coloration above and yellow below, or more subdued with greyish-green to greyish-brown plumage. Catch food on the wing fairly often. Eurasia, ranging into Wallacea and Africa.


Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix

"Sylviidae" incertae sedis

Taxa that have not been studied. Most are likely to belong to one of Sylvioidea families listed above. Those in the Australian-Pacific region are probably Megaluridae. These taxa are listed in the sequence used in recent years.

  • Genus Chaetornis - Bristled Grassbird. Locustellidae?
  • Genus Buettikoferella - probably Locustellidae
    • Buff-banded Bushbird Buettikoferella bivittata
  • Genus Megalurulus - thicketbirds. Probably Locustellidae
    • New Caledonian Grassbird Megalurulus mariei
    • Bismarck Thicketbird Megalurulus grosvenori
    • Bougainville Thicketbird Megalurulus llaneae
    • Guadalcanal Thicketbird Megalurulus whitneyi
    • Rusty Thicketbird Megalurulus rubiginosus

Not in Sylvioidea

Entirely unrelated songbirds hitherto placed in Sylviidae

See also

  • List of extinct birds


  • Alström, P., Ericson, P. G. P., Olsson, U., & Sundberg, P. (2006). Phylogeny and classification of the avian superfamily Sylvioidea. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38 (2): 381–397. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.05.015 PMID 16054402
  • Baker, K. (1997). Warblers of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Helm ISBN 0-7136-3971-7.
  • Barker, F. K., Cibois, A., Schikler, P. A., Feinstein, J., & Cracraft, J. (2004): Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 (30): 11040-11045. doi:10.1073/pnas.0401892101 PMID 15263073 PDF fulltext Supporting information
  • Beresford, P., Barker, F. K., Ryan, P. G., & Crowe, T. M. (2005): African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): molecular systematics of several evolutionary 'enigmas'. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 272 (1565): 849–858. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2997 PDF fulltext Electronic appendix
  • Cibois, A. (2003a). Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny of Babblers (Timaliidae). Auk 120 (1): 1-20. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0035:MDPOBT]2.0.CO;2 HTML fulltext without images
  • Cibois, A. (2003b). "Sylvia is a babbler: taxonomic implications for the families Sylviidae and Timaliidae". Bull. B. O. C. 123: 257–261. 
  • Cibois, A., Slikas, B., Schulenberg, T. S., & Pasquet, E. (2001). An endemic radiation of Malagasy songbirds is revealed by mitochondrial DNA sequence data. Evolution 55 (6): 1198-1206. DOI:10.1554/0014-3820(2001)055[1198:AEROMS]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
  • del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-96553-06-X.
  • Ericson, P. G. P. & Johansson, U. S. (2003). Phylogeny of Passerida (Aves: Passeriformes) based on nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29 (1): 126–138 doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00067-8 PDF fulltext
  • Fuchs, J., Fjeldsa, J., Bowie, R. C. K., Voelker, G., & Pasquet, E. (2006). The African warbler genus Hyliota as a lost lineage in the Oscine songbird tree: Molecular support for an African origin of the Passerida. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39 (1): 186-197. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.07.020
  • Shirihai, H., Gargallo, G., & Helbig, A. J. (2001). Sylvia Warblers. Helm ISBN 0-7136-3984-9.
  • Sibley, C. G. & Ahlquist, J. E. (1990). Phylogeny and classification of birds. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
  • Simms, E. (1985). British warblers. Collins, London. ISBN 0-00-219404-X.
  • Yamagishi, S., Honda, M., Eguchi, K., & Thorstrom, R. (2001). Extreme endemic radiation of the Malagasy Vangas (Aves: Passeriformes). Journal of Molecular Evolution 53 (1): 39-46. doi:10.1007/s002390010190 (HTML abstract)


  1. ^ a b Perrins, C. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 192–194. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  2. ^ AOU: Check-list of North American Birds
  3. ^ Spottiswoode, C.N., U. Olsson, M.S.L. Mills, C. Cohen, J.E. Francis, N. Toye, D. Hoddinott, A. Dagne, C. Wood, P.F. Donald, N.J. Collar, P. Alström (2013), Rediscovery of a long-lost lark reveals the conspecificity of endangered Heteromirafra populations in the Horn of Africa, J. Ornithol. 154, 813-825.
  4. ^ Sefc, K. M.; Payne, R. B.; Sorenson, M. D. (2003). "Phylogenetic relationships of African sunbird-like warblers: Moho Hypergerus atriceps, Green Hylia Hylia prasina and Tit-hylia Pholidornis rushiae". The Ostrich. 74: 8–17. 
  5. ^ Johansson, U.S.; Fjeldså, J.; Bowie, R.C.K. (2008). "Phylogenetic relationships within Passerida (Aves: Passeriformes): A review and a new molecular phylogeny based on three nuclear intron markers". Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 48: 858–876. 
  6. ^ Fuchs, J.; Fjeldså, J.; Bowie, R. C. K.; Voelker, G.; Pasquet, E. (2006). "The African warbler genus Hyliota as a lost lineage in the oscine songbird tree: Molecular support for an African origin of the Passerida". Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 39: 186–197. 

External links

[still use obsolete taxomony. EoL has Panurus picture, which is as wrong as it can be!]

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