11 rare birds in Britain's woodlands

According to the RSPB and BTO’s ‘State of UK Birds 2016’ report more than a quarter of British birds are now on the Red List due to habitat loss and persecution. These sad declines include many woodland birds, and you need to be very patient (or simply just lucky) to spot them.

Here are 11 rare birds you can find in Britain’s woodlands.

Willow tit (Photo: iStock)
Willow tit (Photo: iStock)

Hawfinch

The UKs largest finch can be found in mature woodland with a mix of tree species. That said, it has declined in many areas of Britain and is now one of the hardest birds to see, spending much of its time in the canopy. The hawfinch’s impressive bill is powerful enough to split open cherry stones, exerting a tremendous pressure of around 150 pounds per square inch

Hawfinch (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)
Hawfinch (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)

Lesser spotted woodpecker

The lesser spotted woodpecker is now one of our rarest birds. We have lost three out of four pairs since the 1970s, and these charismatic little woodland birds have disappeared from many areas completely. The lesser spotted woodpecker’s favourite habitat is deciduous woodland where there are plenty of trees harbouring beetle larva and moths.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (Photo: WTML/M Walker)
Lesser spotted woodpecker (Photo: WTML/M Walker)

Nightingale

The nightingale is a spring migrant found in the south east of the UK. Favouring thick vegetation and coppiced woodland, this birds specific needs mean it has declined with habitat loss and changes in the climate both here and in its wintering grounds. You can still hear the nightingale’s sweet song in areas of Essex, Kent, Sussex and Suffolk, as well as Whisby Nature Park in Lincolnshire.

Nightingale (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)
Nightingale (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)

Learn more about our woodland wildlife

Ten of the rarest woodland animals

Capercaillie

This huge woodland grouse is second only to the golden eagle when it comes to iconic Scottish birds, but unfortunately, it isn’t experiencing the same kind of recovery. In fact, it is thought there are less than 2,000 individuals left in their stronghold of Strathspey. Other areas of Scotland simply can’t meet the capercaillie’s very specific habitat needs: native pine woodland containing trees of differing ages, boggy areas rich in insects for their chicks, and open areas where the males can ‘lek’.

Adult male blue Capercaillie (Photo: iStock)
Adult male blue Capercaillie (Photo: iStock)

Pied flycatcher

This summer migrant colonises mature woodland in the west of the UK, gorging on insects, caterpillars, fruit and seeds before it returns to West Africa. Pied flycatcher numbers have halved since 1995, potentially due to a decline in traditional woodland management.

Pied flycatcher (Photo: WTML/A Lewis Photography)
Pied flycatcher (Photo: WTML/A Lewis Photography)

Willow tit

Alongside the lesser spotted woodpecker, the willow tit has become one Britain’s rarest woodland birds. Numbers have plummeted over recent decades, and since 1970 willow tit numbers have declined by a worrying 91%. Experts aren’t entirely sure what is to blame, with increased competition, increased predation and changes in habitat coming under fire.

Willow tit (Photo iStock)
Willow tit (Photo iStock)

Nightjar

The nightjar counts open woodland alongside its heathland and moorland habitats, but you would be very lucky to spot one just anywhere. Though now recovering and placed firmly on the Amber list, these almost mythical birds are still largely confined to southern England. With a churring call, silent flight and fabled ability to steal milk from goats, it is little surprise the nightjar has such a supernatural reputation. 

Nightjar (Photo: iStock)
Nightjar (Photo: iStock)

Spotted flycatcher

The spotted flycatcher is a charming woodland bird with impressive insect-catching skills, but this late spring migrant isn’t faring well. There are now six times fewer spotted flycatchers in Britain than just thirty years ago, and it is rare to hear their squeaky song floating down from the trees.

Spotted flycatcher (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photoghraphy)
Spotted flycatcher (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photoghraphy)

Wood warbler

The wood warblers zesty green plumage brightens up deciduous woodland, with the highest density in Wales. It prefers beech and oak woods, but has suffered a steady decline that has seen it become a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. If you do manage to spot one, it can be distinguished from other warbler species by the clear split between its white belly and bright yellow-green chest.

Wood warbler (Photo: iStock)
Wood warbler (Photo: iStock)

Goshawk

This stunning bird is made for its woodland habitat, using spectacular aerobatics to chase prey through even the densest tree cover. Goshawks were virtually extinct by the end of the 19th century and their numbers have never fully recovered. It is thought this is due to persecution, and even if you know where to look, those piercing eyes are still a rare sight

Northern Goshawk (Photo iStock)
Northern Goshawk (Photo iStock)

Lesser redpoll

This stunning little finch breeds in woodland habitats and is most likely seen demonstrating impressive gymnastics as it hangs from tiny twigs to feed on birch and alder seeds. Sadly, numbers have dropped due to habitat loss and the intensification of agriculture.

Lesser redpoll (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)
Lesser redpoll (Photo: WTML/A. Lewis Photography)

Conclusion

Though these declines in some of our woodland bird species are disheartening, there is something you can do to help. Become a member to help us protect wildlife in our woods and raise awareness of the plight of these rare species.