Spring heralds the arrival of swifts and swallows, but these aren’t the only migrants you could see in and around your garden.

Garden birds continue to surprise us with their behaviour, not least where migration is concerned. Take Britain’s National Bird, the robin. You might think the red-breasted visitor to your bird table was born and bred in the UK when, in fact, it could have travelled over from Europe.

An unexpected migrant

Most robins live a sedentary lifestyle, staunchly defending their own patch of territory from rival robins. In fact, they will fight to the death if necessary.

While many robins won’t move more than 5km whatever the season, some flee the UK for warmer climates before winter arrives. Most of these birds are female, crossing the Channel to as far afield as Spain or Portugal, and returning to the UK with the warmer weather.

The same can be true in reverse. Our resident birds are often joined by migrants from Scandinavia, Europe and Russia looking to avoid the harsh winter in their own countries. Along with other members of the thrush family like redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds, they arrive on British shores (usually along the east coast) once their own food supply has been consumed by snow and ice.

One of the most interesting facts about migrating robins is how faithful they are to their territories. Many maintain both their summer and winter patches despite them being hundreds of kilometres apart.

When other garden birds migrate and return

Between September and March, 10-20 million chaffinches fly here from Scandinavia and Western Europe. They can be differentiated from our resident chaffinches by their foraging behaviour: searching for food in large flocks on open farmland. UK chaffinches favour woodlands and hedgerows.

The UK also sees an influx of starlings during winter. Fleeing the severe cold in Eastern Europe, they seek solace in our abundant food sources and comparatively balmy temperatures. Numbers will trickle in throughout September, but the influx really kicks off during October. According to experts, one UK starling roost numbered close to one million over-wintering birds!

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