Buttercup Learning
March 25, 2023

Spring Birds: 10 Species to Spot

Our feathered friends are back in town, filling parks and gardens with birdsong. Here’s 10 species to look and listen out for between March and May!

Spring has arrived! 

March 20th marked the first day of spring according to astronomical definitions. Known as Spring Equinox, on this day, night and daytime are roughly 12 hours each, everywhere on Earth. 

Temperatures are rising and cherry trees, daffodils, and other spring flowers are blooming. With warmer, longer days and more food available to wildlife, you may have noticed bees and butterflies making a welcome appearance and birds getting louder and livelier. 

About 50 species of bird leave UK shores each year to spend the winter in gentler climates – particularly insect-eaters which can’t find enough food during winter months. But from March to April, many return and non-migratory birds become more active. 

Bird-watching is an excellent way for you and your little ones to bid winter goodbye and welcome spring. 

Here’s 10 birds to look and listen out for between March and May!

How many can you spot?

Mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

Mistle thrush. Photo by Andrey Gulivanov on Unsplash

27 cm in length, the mistle thrush is a pale, black-spotted bird, with long wings and a white edged tail. It can be spotted in woodlands, parks and gardens. You’re most likely to see it perched atop a tree!

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Skylark. Photo by Heather Wilde on Unsplash

Skylarks are small, streaky-brown birds with a small crest – larger than a sparrow but smaller than a starling. With the recent population decline, it’s now a Red List species. But you may be lucky to spot one – in meadows, open farmland, moorland and coastal grasslands.

Their song, a symphony of trills, whistles and warblers, has inspired poets, musicians and writers for generations. Take a listen here

Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Wheatear. Photo by Andreas Trepte, www.avi-fauna.info

Wheatears are mostly ground-dwelling birds. They hop and run along the ground to find insects, larvae and berries.

Male wheatears have black cheeks, a grey crown and a white stripe on their eye. Females have orange-brown cheeks and a grey-brown stripe on their eye. Both have a white rump and a black ‘T’ shape on their tail. They are larger than a robin, but smaller than a blackbird.

Wintering in central Africa, they arrive in the UK in March. Although they favour open habitats in Scotland, northern and south-west England and Wales, they can also be spotted passing through coastal areas around the rest of the UK.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus minor)

Lesser spotted woodpecker. Photo by Andrey Gulivanov, Flickr

Britain has 3 resident woodpeckers: the green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker and lesser spotted woodpecker. The lesser spotted woodpecker is the smallest and rarest. They’ve sadly been lost from much of the UK, but you may be lucky enough to spot one!

Roughly the same size as a sparrow, they have a black and white head and wings, a short beak and a white breast. Males have a bright red crown. 

You can find lesser spotted woodpeckers in open woods, parkland, gardens and orchards. They tend to stay in the tops of trees, searching for larvae, spiders and wood-boring insects. So you’re more likely to hear these birds – drumming into the bark during early spring to mark their territory and warn off rivals. 

Eurasian magpie (Pica pica)

Magpie. Photo by Pierre-Selim. CC BY-SA 2.0

With a wingspan of up to 60 cm, magpies are unmissable with their black head and wings and stark white breast. 

They are in fact small crows. Omnivorous, they feed on invertebrates, carrion (dead animals), chicks and eggs. 

In spring you can spot them in hedges, heaths, gardens and parks ‘chattering’ noisily in small groups and building nests with their mate. 

The magpie has long been the source of many myths and legends. You may be familiar with the nursery rhythm: ‘One for sorrow, Two for a joy…’. 

Common chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Common chiffchaff. Photo by Hedera Baltic, Flickr

The chiffchaff is a small olive-brown bird, typically with dark legs and a pale eye stripe. They have a distinctive tail-wagging movement and song. Feeding by picking insects from trees or snapping them up in flight, and can be found in parks, lowland woodlands and large gardens. Most chiffchaffs arrive back in the UK in late March and depart in August and September. 

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Sand martins are the smallest UK swallow. They have a brown upper body and white belly, a brown band across their breast and a forked tail. They arrive from Africa in March and leave in October. Typically found on wetland sites, they nest in colonies, burrowing into sandy cliffs to lay their eggs. These tunnels can be up to a metre in length! 

Sand Martin. Photo by Julian on Unsplash

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed tit. Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Half the weight of a robin, long-tailed tits are small birds with dark wings, a pale-pinkish breast, and (you guessed it!) a long tail.

Feeding mostly on insects and invertebrates, including butterfly eggs and caterpillars, they pluck food from vegetation and tree branches. 

Building nests from feathers, spider silk, moss and lichen, they lay six to eight eggs in April.

They reside throughout the UK (besides mountainous parts of Scotland) in woodland, farmland, parks and gardens.

Tawny Owl

Tawny owl. Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

The size of a woodpigeon, the tawny owl has a round head, reddish-brown body and dark feathers around its face and eyes. 

They eat small mammals and rodents, birds, fish, frogs, worms and insects.

There are thought to be 50,000 pairs residing across England, Wales and Scotland, in rural gardens and woodlands. In early spring, they lay 2-3 eggs, which hatch 30 days later.

The tawny owl is nocturnal so is rarely seen, but if you go on a late evening walk listen out for their call.

And that’s the wrap! 

Why not head to your local park, woodland or nature reserve this weekend and watch or listen out for these feathered friends?

The Buttercup Team

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