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Winter may bring cold weather and darkness, but it’s still a great time to see wildlife. Some birds fly hundreds of miles to visit us for winter. Others are here all year round, but seem more noticeable in winter when fallen leaves and the quest for food make hungry birds easy to spot. Follow our handy ID tips and brighten your winter with a bit of bird spotting!

 

Winter arrivals 

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Fieldfares are from the thrush family and about the same size. The fieldfare has a grey head and tail, with brown across the wings and back. They have orange colouration around the throat and chest. The flanks of the fieldfare are pale and spotted in the same way as the chest. Their underwing is white if you see it during flight.

Redwing (Turdus Iliacus)

This bird has distinctive red patches on the underside of the wing. Redwing are also similar in size to a thrush. They have a brown head with a pale stripe above and below the eye and brown back and wings with a pale mottled front.

When and where to see them: Fieldfare and redwing are often seen together once they arrive in early autumn. You’ll find both species around hedgerows and orchards, parks and arable fields. In harsh weather they may seek shelter in gardens. Redwings can also be found in woodland edges. Both birds are regularly seen in flocks with thrushes too. 

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulous)

The waxwing is distinctive with its silky grey pink plumage and crest and reedy call. They have a black bib under their beaks and a black eye mask which resembles big eyeliner flicks. Their wing and tail tips are also black with some yellow highlighting. These birds are about the size of a starling - from a distance the two can be mistaken for one another.

When and where to see them: We don’t always see a lot of waxwing in winter, but some years we have a real influx if the berry crop in their normal wintering grounds is low. They breed across Scandinavia and Siberia, then move south and west for the winter.

They are fond of rowan, hawthorn and cotoneaster berries so any garden, park or hedgerow with these species would be a good place to start searching.

Year-round residents

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Starlings are a little smaller than blackbirds and don’t look too dissimilar in summer with their shiny black plumage and yellow beaks. Their black colour is actually comprised of a myriad of shiny green and metallic purple with pale yellow and white specks. The starling has a shorter tail and a longer pointy beak than a blackbird. The two birds can also be told apart by their movements: blackbirds move by two-footed jumps while the starling has a hasty, slightly jerky walk.

When and where to see them: Starlings are here all year but our local populations are boosted in winter by birds escaping the harsh winter further east in Europe. They form flocks in rural and urban areas which often descend on garden feeders in large numbers, much to the dismay of other birds.

Starling chatter appears aimless and discordant, but they change their call to suit their environment. They often copy electronic sounds which are common to our ear, like ringing phones and car alarms.

Have you ever seen a murmuration of starlings? That’s the name given to their magnificent displays of swooping, twisting and turning together in flocks of hundreds at a time. This happens particularly at dawn and dusk as they assert their dominance of the skies.

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Mature males are all black with a yellow beak and eye ring. Young males in their first winter are black with a hint of brown on the wing tips and don’t have the yellow beak or eye ring. Females are a sooty brown with a slightly paler throat and diffuse streaks on the chest, with a darker yellow beak. The juveniles resemble the females but have pale spots on their upper parts.

When and where to see them: During September and October your local blackbirds may disappear for a while. After raising their young, they tend to hide away to moult their feathers. They will also leave gardens to forage the hedgerows and woods for autumn fruits.

We start to see them again from November, often joined by migrant blackbirds from Scandinavia and continental Europe. UK blackbirds might move south for warmer weather but tend not to migrate.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robins are territorial birds all year round - they have been known to fight to the death! We can hear them sing at any time - sometimes even at night if prompted by a nearby street light. During autumn the robin tends to have a reedy call, but as winter approaches it changes to a clear melodic song.

These birds are one of the easiest to recognise due to their orange bib, white underbelly and brown back and wings. They are also rather bold which means you can get a good look at them.

When and where to see them: Robins are present all year round in woodland, gardens and parks. During winter you may be able to tempt them out of cover with some dry mealworms.

Record winter birds on Nature’s Calendar

The Nature’s Calendar project tracks the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife across the UK – its records date all the way back to 1736! Fieldfares and redwings arriving in the UK are just two of 69 wildlife events recorded for the project.

Join Nature’s Calendar to record your sightings - every record is crucial and valid. The data recorded helps us to better understand the effects of climate change and other patterns in the natural environment. By taking just a few minutes to share what you see, you'll be adding to hundreds of years' worth of important data for studies worldwide. We couldn't do this work without you!

Male blackbird with worm

Visiting woods

Nature's Calendar

Have you seen your first butterfly or swallow of spring? Or your first ripening berry or autumn leaf tint? Let us know what's happening to animals and plants near you and help scientists track the effects of climate change on wildlife.

Explore Nature's Calendar

Learn more about birds