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10 roosting birds to spot in winter and early spring

Roosting is another word for when birds settle down to rest or sleep. Different birds roost in different ways, but they all choose somewhere to sleep that is secure, comfortable and will protect them from potential predators.

Most UK birds will choose trees, dense shrubs or nesting boxes to rest in. Each species has a different roosting behaviour. Some will choose to roost alone whereas others will favour snuggling up together.

Blue tits are protected under UK law (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)
Blue tits are protected under UK law (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

When do birds start roosting?

The majority of birds in the UK are active during the day, carrying out activities during daylight and sleeping at night time. This is because their eyesight doesn’t function as well at night, and so it makes sense for them to roost during darkness. The opposite of course applies to owls, which rest in the day and hunt at night.

10 roosting birds to spot in winter and early spring

Blackbirds are easily identified by their bright orange beaks and eye rings. (Photo: iStock.com/MikeLane45)
Blackbirds are easily identified by their bright orange beaks and eye rings. (Photo: iStock.com/MikeLane45)

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Blackbirds are small, with a wingspan of around 34-38cm and a weight of around 80-100g. Males are indeed black all over, whereas females are brown and often have spots on their breasts. A key identifying feature is their bright orange beaks and eye rings.

They can be found in most habitats across the UK all year round and live on a diet of insects, worms and berries.

Listen to the blackbird:

Blue tits can be seen all year round (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)
Blue tits can be seen all year round (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blue tits are stunning little birds. They can be seen all year round and are common in woodland, hedgerows and gardens.

Their beautiful blue, white and green feathers and bright yellow breasts make these small birds stand out. Thanks to protection laws, the UK blue tit population has grown by 21% since 1970.

Listen to the blue tit:

The great tit has a distinctive two-syllable song (Photo: iStock.com/Andrew_Howe)
The great tit has a distinctive two-syllable song (Photo: iStock.com/Andrew_Howe)

Great tit (Parus major)

The great tit looks similar to the blue tit but is distinguished by its black cap and breast band, as well as its distinctive two-syllable song.

As the name suggests, the great tit is one of the larger tits, and can be quite bullish. They can often be seen fighting other birds off bird feeders!

The great tit is found in deciduous and mixed woodland all year round, as well as hedgerows and gardens.

Listen to the great tit:

Rooks are often confused with carrion crows (Photo: iStock.com/MikeLane45)
Rooks are often confused with carrion crows (Photo: iStock.com/MikeLane45)

Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

Rooks are large birds with a wingspan of up to 99cm - just slightly smaller than carrion crows which they’re often confused with. However, rooks can be distinguished by their white-grey beaks, as opposed to the all-black beak of the crow.

They can be found across most of the UK, apart from the far north-west of Scotland. They are found in farmland and open woodland and are often seen in large noisy flocks.

Listen to the rook: 

Willow warblers are seen from March to September (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)
Willow warblers are seen from March to September (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)

Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

These small birds are easily identifiable by their grey-green backs and yellow-tinged chests.

They look very similar to chiffchaffs but can be distinguished by their song.

They are seen in the UK from March until September and can be found in woodland and scrubland. However, they spend the majority of the winter in Africa, so you may have to wait a few months to spot these little beauties!

Listen to the willow warbler:

The song thrush population has declined dramatically (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)
The song thrush population has declined dramatically (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Song thrushes are small brown birds with distinguishable brown spotting on their breasts and a slightly jerky flight.

Not to be confused with the mistle thrush, the song thrush’s spots are smaller and a darker brown.

You can find them in woodland and farmland; however, the population has declined dramatically. It’s likely this is due to habitat loss and reduced food availability. The best place to see them roosting is in dense shrubs.

Listen to the song thrush:

The best time to see swallows is during the spring (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)
The best time to see swallows is during the spring (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

These iconic birds have a dark red throat and forehead with a cream body and long, forked tail.

Although you won’t be able to see them until the spring, they are found throughout the UK in open country. They can be seen roosting on the ledges and beams of sheds and outbuildings.

Listen to the swallow:

Nightingales are famed for their stunning song (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)
Nightingales are famed for their stunning song (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Nightingales are slightly larger than robins, with a light brown-coloured body and wings with a rusty red tail and pale undersides. They are mostly known for their beautiful song.

They are secretive birds which come back to the UK in the early spring.

They can often be found in thick vegetation, such as bushes and scrub. The nightingale is most commonly found in the South East.

Listen to the nightingale: 

You are much more likely to hear a cuckoo than see one (Photo: iStock.com/Jrleyland)
You are much more likely to hear a cuckoo than see one (Photo: iStock.com/Jrleyland)

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

While you are more likely to hear these birds than see them, they are around the size of a dove and have dark blue-grey stripes across their breasts.

They are common across the UK and are particularly prevalent in central England. They can be seen in woodland and marshland from April onwards.

The familiar 'cuckoo' call is made by the male bird - the female’s song is a quiet bubbling sound. 

Listen to the cuckoo: 

A tree sparrow is a rare sight, due to its decline (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)
A tree sparrow is a rare sight, due to its decline (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

Tree sparrow (Passer montanus)

The tree sparrow is a small bird that is found all year round in the Midlands and southern England. It is smaller than a house sparrow and has a chestnut brown head, rather than grey.

It can be seen in hedgerows and woodland edges. The population crashed dramatically, by some 93%, between 1970 and 2008. This is most likely due to habitat loss. So, this is a very rare little bird to see.

 Listen to the tree sparrow:

Protect our vital woods and make a home for wildlife

It’s so important that we protect our woodlands. Our birds need a place to roost and a plentiful supply of materials to build their nests. This is especially true of our native tree species which many of our birds thrive upon.

Tell us what birds you see roosting

We would love to hear if you’ve seen any of these birds while you’ve been out and about on your winter walks. An easy way to do this is through Nature’s Calendar, a project that tracks the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife across the UK, including 20 different bird species. Its records span all the way back to 1736!

Take part in Nature's Calendar and help scientists monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife. By taking just a few minutes to share what you see, you'll be adding to hundreds of years' worth of important data. If there's a place you visit regularly - be that your local park, your favourite dog walk or even your own garden, we'd love you to get involved. There's no time commitment - you just need to note the date of seasonal changes for certain species and add them to the website. We couldn't do this work without you!

Your wildlife observations are crucial to Nature’s Calendar

Tell us what you've seen

All sound files courtesy of www.xeno-canto.org