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Wintering Birds

With winter fast approaching millions of birds will soon undertake their migration to the UK in search of milder weather conditions and greater feeding opportunities.


Here’s a little more about some of the amazing birds migrating to the UK this winter:


 1. Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)



This long-beaked bird, which feeds on invertebrates, has a red conservation status for UK. The Black-tailed Godwit – which prefers to reside on coastal estuaries, coastal lagoons, and inland wetland environments – is found in the UK during the summer in very small numbers; approximately 50-100 pairs breed here each year. During winter however, almost 45,000 of this species line the East, West and Southern coasts of the Isles. The majority of these winter residents will have travelled from Iceland. The Black-tailed Godwit is found across the Somerset levels and regularly dwells in the Severn estuary too. Further to this, approximately 12,000 individuals will use the UK for passage as they travel on to central Europe and west Africa .




2. Curlew (Numenius arquata)



Although many Curlew’s are also present inland during the summer months for breeding purposes their UK population peaks in the winter; it is thought approximately 150,000 individual Curlew’s visit the coasts of the UK during October through to March. These wading birds prefer wetland environments which are protected in the UK. Curlew’s have an amber conservation status in the UK and often continue on to warmer climates as far as Western Africa. Curlew numbers are in decline in the UK.




3. Red-Throated Diver (Gavia stellata)



Only in summer does this bird live up to its name by sporting a red throat. They are the smallest sized species of diving bird which visits the UK. They have a grey-brown plumage and an up-tilted beak. 2600 of these stunning birds locate in North-west Scotland during the summer breeding months with particular focus on the Shetland Islands. The rest of their population are spread across North America, Scandinavia and Russia through this period. As winter arrives Red-Throated Divers will peak at around 17,000 individuals spread high and wide around the UK coasts. More individuals of this species will continue on to central and southern Europe. Red-Throated Divers has an amber conservation status in the UK and mainly feeds on fish, but also frogs and large invertebrates.  




4. Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer)


The Great Northern Diver travels varying distances from the likes of Iceland, Greenland and North America. It is a bird with a striking plumage pattern and is distinctive for its large and heavy head. 2600 individuals of this species are present on UK coasts during the winter with particularly large abundance around the North and West coasts of Scotland and the Cornish coastline near to us in the South-West. They start to arrive on UK coasts as early as August and head back around April-May. They have an amber conservation status in the UK. Great Northern Diver’s feed on fish and crustaceans, but their numbers are thought to be in decline due to over-fishing.




5. Rough-Legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)


Only 10-150 Rough-Legged Buzzard individuals make their way to the UK during the winter months; the total European population is approximately 8,000-19,000 pairs. They have not been assessed with a conservation status in the UK. This rare UK bird is very similar to the Common Buzzard, except for its much paler colour, longer wings and black-tipped white tail. They mainly feed on small mammals such as rabbits, lemmings and voles.




6. Knot (Calidris alba)



Knots breed in North America, Greenland and Siberia during the summer months. During August through to May Knots will appear on UK coasts with a strong preference to live on large muddy estuaries. Their greatest numbers in the UK occur between December and March where they are spottable in high-tide roosts; approximately 320,000 Knot individuals will winter in the UK. Despite this they have an amber conservation status due to their declining numbers. 


 Check out all our bird services and in particular our winter bird surveys.