Brambling : Photo by Colin Smith
Fieldfare in the snow
A native wagtail enjoys some fresh water
A native male bullfinch
All photos by Jane Adams,
unless otherwise stated
For the uninitiated, it may seem that in winter most wild birds disappear from human sight. However, winter in Great Britain is a wondrous time for bird watchers, as millions of migrant birds arrive to increase the resident populations. The winter visitors arrive during autumn from colder climates, such as Scandinavia, Siberia, arctic Canada and continental Europe. They come to spend the winter in a more temperate climate that provides shelter and food, and return to their breeding grounds in the spring.
Who are our winter visitors?
Winter visitors include fieldfare, redwing and brambling, as well as many different kinds of geese, ducks, swans and wading birds. They often move around in flocks of dozens to thousands of individuals, forming a fantastic silhouette against the sky for birdwatchers' delight. Flocking together provides security from predators such as sparrowhawk, and at night huddling together produces the much needed body warmth for survival.
The colourful fieldfare
A large, colourful thrush, similar to mistle thrush, the fieldfare hails from Scandinavia and the Baltic. It is a sociable bird, found in large flocks, mostly in the countryside. It eats insects, worms and berries, and is particularly fond of hedgerows carrying hawthorn berries. During severe winters, it can occasionally be spotted in gardens as well. It arrives from October and stays until March, although some individuals stay until May.
Another northern thrush is redwing, often found accompanying the fieldfares in the open country. It has a distinctive cream coloured strip above the eye, and rusty red flanks. It is one of the most vulnerable migrants, often succumbing to cold weather and lack of food, as ground becomes frozen and food hard to find. It is highly nomadic and unpredictable in its migratory movements, often found in different countries from one year to another.
The brambling arrives on our coastal areas in October, quickly moving inland. The winter male is colourful, boasting dazzling colours of orange and white; the female is similar, but a bit duller in colouring. Like many other winter visitors, it is unpredictable in its winter movements and can be found in vastly different areas from year to year but often joins flocks of the similar chaffinch.
Relatives arriving from abroad
The native populations also get a boost to their numbers in the winter. Many well known birds, such as chaffinch, song thrush, siskin and starling, that breed in the UK, increase in numbers as their relatives arrive from Scandinavia and the continent. This year there has been a particularly large invasion of siskins.
Closer to home
Although most winter visitors are attracted to the open country and woodland, they also visit gardens, parks and even urban road verges, especially during cold spells, as they often move according to the weather. If you want to attract winter birds into your garden, hedgerows are particularly important at this time of the year, as the berries provide a food source when frozen ground prevents access to worms and insects. A supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing is also essential.
Always plenty to do in January
For even more wildlife to look out for this month, have a look at our January Guide, or maybe you fancy planning a trip to one of our nature reserves?