Nature Profiles

British Birds

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)

Male, Martin Down NNR, Hampshire

Female, Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

An iconic resident of heathlands, this bird is easily recognised by its plumage (especially the male), or its characteristic call, which really does sound like two stones being 'chatted' together.



Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Ben Lawers NNR, Scotland

On moors and heathland this is one of the most commonly seen birds.  Its heavily streaked pattern and brown upper parts distinguish it from other pipits.  The Meadow Pipit is common across much of Britain, where it is resident all year round.



Woodlark (Lullula arborea)

Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

It's a terrible photo, but this rare bird was some distance away.  I was lucky enough to see one on a guided walk at Arne RSPB reserve, where the bird is something of a speciality.  Woodlarks are only found in southern Britain, where they inhabit heathland and open, scrubby woodlands.  They have a distinctive song, which instantly separates them from the superficially Skylark.



Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

Juvenile, Hartland Moor NNR, Dorset

Britain's only completely resident warbler, this tiny bird is a conservation success story.  Its numbers have increased hugely in recent decades due to the increased protection of its dwindling heathland habitat.



Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)

Martin Down NNR, Hampshire

A common summer migrant, the Whitethroat favours scrubby grassland habitats where it can hunt for insects and advertise its presence loudly from the top of shrubs or small trees. 

The very similar Lesser Whitethroat is much less common in Britain, but occurs in the same habitats alongside its more numerous cousin.



Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Juvenile, Cupola Pond, Derbyshire

The slightly mournful song of the Willow Warbler is an encouraging sound in spring, assuring the listener that summer will soon be on its way.  Along with the Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers are the commonest of Britain's warblers and most patches of extensive woodland or scrub will have resident birds during the summer months. 

Although similar in appearance to other related species, the Willow Warbler can be distinguished by its off-white underside and pale legs, although the song is the best and most obvious feature for recognition.



Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve, Yorkshire

The emblem of the RSPB, and another bird rescued from extinction in Britain, this beautiful wader can now be seen at many localities along the south and east of England.  The sight of a flock in flight with their black and white wing markings showing is magnificent.



Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve, Yorkshire

Common across much of Britain, the Snipe is an intricately camouflaged wader, which tends to skulk among vegatation near the water's edge, rather than in the water itself. 

It is similar to the smaller and rarer Jack Snipe, but has a longer bill and a crown with a pale central stripe.  In addition, the Jack Snipe is winter visitor to Britain, and only rarely recorded in summer.




Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Male, winter plumage, Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve, Yorkshire


The bizarre oversized bill of this duck makes identification easy, even in the typically drab female, which in other respects closely resembles other female ducks.  The bill is an adaptation enabling the duck to filter crustaceans from the mud it passed through its bill.


female and ducklings, Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset



Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)


Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

Unmistakable among British ducks with its bold plumage pattern and bright colours, the Shelduck is almost exclusively a coastal species, where it feeds in shallow estuaries on marine invertebrates.




Eider (Somateria mollissima)


male and female, Coquet estuary, Northumberland

Around the coast of northern England and Scotland this unmistakable marine duck is familiar sight.  In harbours it becomes tame and can be approached closely.  In southern England this attractive species is only seen as a winter visitor, whereas in the north it is a year-round resident.




Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve, Yorkshire

An awful photo, but this very rare migrant was a long way away!  These beautiful grebes are winter visitors to England, and only a few birds stay to breed in northern Scotland.



Razorbill (Alca torda)

St Abb's Head NNR, Scottish Borders

The dapper black and white plumage and thick, white-streaked bills of these cliff-dwelling birds makes them unmistakable. 

They breed around many rocky coasts of Britain and north-western Europe, but retreat out to sea in winter months. 

The bird on the right of this photo is the similar Guillemot, which lacks the large head and characteristic beak shape of the Razorbill.  The two are often seen together on cliffs in the breeding season.



Kittiwake (Larus tridactyla)

St Abb's Head NNR, Scottish Borders

It's not the best photo, but shows a few of the distinctive features of this elegant gull - a pale yellow bill, white head and pure pale grey back, with no black markings (although juveniles do have these) - the only black on this gull is a band across the tail and at the tips of the wings.



Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

A familiar garden bird to many, the Dunnock is a common bird of lowland Britain.  It makes up for its drab plumage with a charming song in spring, when males boldly sing from prominent perches on the top of bushes.



Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

It's not a good photo, but shows the territorial nature of Green Woodpeckers.  Unfortunately it was in shady woodland , so a high shutter speed wasn't possible. 

Although  widespread in Britain, the Green Woodpecker can be an elusive species.  It favours woodland edges, where it feeds on the ground on ants.  When I grew up in southern Britain, they were regular visitors to my front garden, where they often fed on the lawn!



Greater-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset

The most common and frequently-seen woodpecker throughout most of Britain, this species is the classic woodland woodpecker, and the one people hear drumming on trees in spring.  It is easily recognised by its bold plumage pattern and colours. 

The superficially similar Lesser-spotted Woodpecker (D.minor) is much smaller (the size of a Great Tit), and sadly now much rarer and in decline.



Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)


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Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Matlock, Derbyshire

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Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Matlock, Derbyshire

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Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Matlock, Derbyshire

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Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Coquet estuary, Northumberland

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with Redshank



Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)


Mersehead RSPB Reserve, Galloway

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Pintail (Anas acuta)

Mersehead RSPB Reserve, Galloway

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Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

Matlock, Derbyshire

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