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While the United Kingdom may be a small country, it boasts a remarkable diversity of garden bird species, with more than 140 different types. That said, only around 30 of these are commonly sighted.
In this article, we’ll delve into UK garden bird species, introducing you to some of the most commonly sighted avian inhabitants. We’ll also reveal the secrets to transforming your garden into a bird-friendly haven.
UK Garden Bird Species
If you’re a keen bird watcher, then there’s no need to travel up and down the country looking for your favorite species. Many of them can be seen right from your back garden.
1. Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
The blue tit is an incredibly common bird in the UK, with more than 3 million individuals wintering here. They’re so abundant that they’re listed as being of Least Concern.
These small birds boast blue and yellow plumage, making them easy to identify. You’ll often hear their song in the winter as the males defend their territory.
Blue tits are found all over the UK and enjoy woodland habitats as well as parks and domestic gardens. They feed on a diet of insects, including aphids and the wood tiger moth. If you want to attract these birds then try leaving out peanuts and suet balls.
2. Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
The robin is a highly symbolic bird, often seen as a messenger for lost loved ones as well as symbolizing happiness and good luck. They’re commonly seen in the UK, and while some females may migrate to Spain, most move no more than 3.1 miles (5 km), no matter what the weather is doing.
Robins are small birds that have a distinct red coloration to the breast and face. In UK robins, the remaining plumage is typically olive to brown.
These birds enjoy a varied diet of fruits and seeds, which you can put out for them, as well as insects. They’re found in more than 6,700,000 territories in the UK and live in woodlands, hedgerows, and gardens. You may hear them making chirping sounds, usually in groups of ten, which many people claim sounds like they’re saying cheer up.
3. Blackbird (Turdus merula)
It’s estimated that there are around 10 million blackbirds in the United Kingdom, and they’re found all over the country but don’t typically inhabit higher ground. They are mid-sized birds, growing to around 9.8 inches (24.9 cm) in length with a wingspan up to 15 inches (38 cm) in males. They boast beautiful jet black plumage and have a distinct yellow bill. However, this trait is only seen in males; the females have a brown beak.
Blackbirds feed largely on seeded fruits but are also known to eat insects. Offering fruit, mealworms, and sunflower seeds is a great way to attract them.
These birds usually breed between March and June, although this can be influenced by the weather. During this time, males will produce a slurred song to attract a mate, and they’re usually the first birds to start the dawn chorus.
While they are classed as migratory birds, most blackbirds in the UK are resident throughout the year.
4. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
The house sparrow is the most common bird in British gardens, with more than 5.2 million breeding pairs. However, they are rarer than they once were owing to habitat decline and a reduction in the insects on which they feed.
Males create a repeated chirruping sound, which can be heard throughout the day, and they use this to define their territory. They stay in this territory year-round, and it’s thought that individuals don’t usually travel more than a mile (1.6 km) from where they were born.
House sparrows are small birds that grow to around 6.3 inches (16 cm). They have a round head and stout bill, and their plumage comes in shades of brown and gray. To get a closer look, you can attract these birds to your garden by leaving out sunflower seeds, peanuts, or mealworms.
5. Great Tit (Parus major)
A very common bird in the UK with more than 2.3 million territories, the great tit has a distinct black head with white markings around the eyes. They also have a black strip running down the chest and in males, this continues down to behind the feet.
Great tits are the largest tit species in the UK, and they feed primarily on insects in summer, moving to a berry and seed diet in fall. You can leave a variety of their natural foods out to encourage them to visit your garden.
It can also help to install a nest box for these cavity nesters that lay their eggs in April and May. In the wild, they’re often found in woodlands and aren’t known to migrate from the UK.
6. Magpie (Pica pica)
With very distinct white and black plumage, the magpie is one of the most easily recognizable garden birds in the UK. These resident birds are related to crows and can grow to around 17.7 inches (45 cm), although males are typically larger than females.
Because they have a very curious nature, magpies have earned a reputation as thieves. However, inviting them into your garden with foods like fruits and berries, you’ll see that they’re sociable birds. When confident, some individuals may even enter the house to beg for food!
In the wild, magpies largely prey on insects and invertebrates, and they’re found in gardens as well as open countryside. You’ll find them in lower elevations in all of the UK, but they’re particularly common in Scotland. Listen out for loud chak-chak sounds; it’s probably a magpie!
7. Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
The song thrush is not a showy bird with its brown plumage, although it does have a spotted breast, which is an easy way to identify it. These birds can grow up to 9.3 inches (23.6 cm) and male and females tend to look similar.
Song thrushes live off a diet of fruits and invertebrates, so leaving out mealworms and pieces of fruit is a good way to attract them. They’re not as common as some other UK garden birds, with around 1.1 million breeding pairs, but they do stay here year round.
As their name suggests, they have a beautiful song made up of loud repeated phrases. They use this as a mating call but also as a warning to rivals. You’ll find them all over the UK, particularly in wooded areas, especially where there are a lot of coniferous trees.
8. Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
The coal tit is smaller and more agile than the blue tit. They’re also less abundant, with only around half a million breeding pairs. While they do not migrate, coal tits form flocks with other tit species and go into wooded areas in search of food.
They primarily eat insects but also forage for nuts and seeds. Leaving out black sunflower seeds or mealworms is a good way to attract them to your garden.
When bird spotting, you’ll want to look for a bird with a buff underside and gray plumage on the back. The head has similar black and white coloration to the great tit, but the coal tit is significantly smaller.
9. Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
The starling is often found in areas with a lot of trees during breeding season, as it nests in holes. They’re also common around fields where you can find them in search of foods like insects, berries, and fruits. However, they are considered a crop pest.
In UK gardens, starlings are a common sight, and it’s thought that there are around 800,000 breeding pairs. Starlings from the European mainland are known to migrate north to the UK for winter, and you can help them by offering suet balls and peanuts.
Starlings have a variety of calls, including whistles, trills, chatters, and warbles, which are used between males but also to scare off hawks and jays.
10. Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
The wood pigeon is a very common bird in the UK and is easily recognized by its low-pitched, five-note cooing sound. They’re often heard early in the morning, and their call is used to define their territory.
These birds can grow to around 15 to 17.3 inches (38 to 44 cm), and males and females look very similar. They have mostly gray plumage but are easy to tell apart from other pigeons, thanks to the white patches on the sides of their necks.
Wood pigeons eat a diet that mainly consists of seeds, fruits, and plants, which you can leave out to attract them. However, owing to their dietary tastes, they’re often seen as a pest by farmers.
These are non-migratory birds in the UK but in winter, you may see more than usual as those from the Scandinavian regions pass through as they migrate to France and Spain.
11. Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
There are around 6 million breeding pairs of chaffinches in the UK, making them one of the most common garden birds here. They have a pink-hued underside with black and white barred feathers on the wings and tail. The head is covered in blue-gray plumage.
Chaffinches are found all over the UK, but they’re most common in the southern, central, and eastern regions of the country. They feed on insects like spiders and invertebrates like snails, as well as a variety of fruits and seeds. Sunflower hearts and peanuts are a great food option for people looking to attract these birds to their gardens.
The song of the chaffinch is a rattle of descending notes that abruptly comes to a stop. You’ll hear the call year-round as, while females tend to migrate south, males remain in their UK breeding grounds throughout the winter.
12. Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
The wren is one of the smallest garden birds in the UK, but it’s easily identifiable by its rounded body, slender legs, and short wings. The tail is often in an upright position and is also quite short. They don’t typically grow to much bigger than 3.9 inches (10 cm) in length.
Wrens may be common, but they’re also one of the lesser spotted birds as they tend to keep to themselves. They’re found in all kinds of habitat around the United Kingdom and feed on a diet of small insects like ants, spiders, and beetles. Mixing mealworms with oats is a good way to attract them to your garden.
The wren makes a series of sounds, including rattles, chips, and chatters, which you’ll hear throughout the year as they don’t migrate abroad. That said, many wrens will head north in winter to find shelter in habitats like reed beds.
13. Long-Tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
The long-tailed tit is a small black and white, rounded bird, and it’s thought that there are around 400,000 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom. While they weigh less than a pound coin, these birds have disproportionately long tails, which is how they earned their name.
Long-tailed tits are often seen moving between gardens during the winter and can be identified by their rolling, high-pitched calls. You can also tell them apart because of the pinkish underside seen in adults.
These birds mainly eat invertebrates, but you can leave suet and peanuts to attract them to your garden. In winter, many of the smaller individuals struggle to stay warm, so providing bird boxes is a good way to help protect these cavity nesters.
14. House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
The house martin arrives in the UK in early spring, where it often sets up a nest under the eaves of houses. This means it’s one of the most commonly sighted birds in the UK. In around October, they will leave again and head as far as Africa for the winter.
These are truly fascinating birds whose diet consists of insects which they catch during flight. In order to ensure there’s a good supply of insects for all, these birds seem to know to fly at different heights when hunting for a meal.
These birds have glossy blue-black feathers with a white underside and they’re often pretty noisy! Their song is similar to that of a sparrow with lots of chirruping sounds. What’s more, when it comes to protecting their territory, house martins are known to get quite aggressive.
15. Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Goldfinches are some of the most spectacular-looking garden birds in the UK. They have a red face with black and white markings on the head. Their bodies are covered in brown feathers to the back with black and white patterns on the wings as well as yellow patches.
They feed on insects as well as seeds so hanging a bird feeder with a seed mix is a great way to attract them to your garden. Of course, having lots of plants that create an insect habitat is also useful.
The goldfinch is one of the later birds to breed, with the first brood not hatching until around June. Some individuals remain in the UK all year, while others head to France or Spain, making them partial migrators. They make a range of sounds, including slurs, whistles, rattles, and buzzes.
16. Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
The greater spotted woodpecker is a distinct-looking bird with black and white plumage; the males have a red spot on the back of the head. They’re found all over the UK apart from in the extreme north and can often be seen clinging to a tree.
In summer, they perform a drumming display accompanied by loud calls. However, they’re not as common as other birds, with around just 140,000 breeding pairs. Although, they do remain here all year as a non-migratory species.
Greater spotted woodpeckers use their strong beaks and resilient skulls to drill holes into the trees in order to find insect prey such as caterpillars. However, you can use lard and sunflower seeds if you want to attract them to your garden.
17. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Widely distributed all over the UK and Ireland, the goldcrest is another of the smallest garden birds. They have rounded bodies with a white face and black, white, and yellow coloration to their wings, tail, and body.
Goldcrests remain in the UK all year, but in winter, their numbers tend to grow as Scandinavian populations migrate here. Listen out for a high-pitched song but also a call that resembles a soft zi-zi sound.
These birds feed mainly on insects, flitting between tree branches to catch its prey. Adding grated apple and nuts to suet is sure to attract them to your backyard! In the wild, they’re often found in woodlands or parks where there is a lot of tree cover.
18. Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
The green woodpecker has a laughing call that is often heard in British woodlands. These birds have a vibrant character to match their vibrant coloration. With green feathers on the wings and body, green woodpeckers also have a bright red patch on the head with a black mask around the eyes.
Green woodpeckers are the largest of all UK woodpecker species and feed mainly on a diet of ants. They have a long tongue that is sticky enough to take ants out of the ground after the bird probes it with its beak. Unlike other similar species, the green woodpecker is not adept at boring holes in trees.
These birds are found in most parts of the UK apart from the Isle of Man and are not found in neighboring Ireland. They are year-round birds that do not migrate, and it is estimated that there are around 46,000 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom.
19. Swift (Apus apus)
The swift is a very special bird in that it spends most of its time in flight. They only land when it’s time to nest which they do in holes, including those in your roof, which is when you may spot them in your garden.
It’s currently believed that there are around 56,000 breeding pairs in the UK, and individuals can live for up to 9 years, typically growing to around 6.3 inches (16 cm) in length. Owing to the small population, they’re currently protected and have a red status in the United Kingdom.
Swifts feed on flying insects which they catch in the air, so while you might not be able to leave food out for them, you can install nest boxes during breeding season, which occurs between May and July. In winter, the swift has one of the longest migrations and can travel up to 14,000 from home.
20. Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
The blackcap is a species of warbler, and there are an estimated 1,650,000 territories in the United Kingdom with as many as 3000 birds overwintering here. The great thing about the winter residents is that you’re much more likely to see them; during the summer, they typically remain hidden in woodlands and parks.
As you may have guessed from the name, male blackcaps have a black cap-like marking on the top of the head. However, this is absent in females whose head markings are brown. The back of the bird is a darker shade of gray and brown, while the underside is much lighter.
Blackcaps produce a squeaky whistling song, but they also use shorter calls for communication. They’re often found in the middle of trees and they feed on a diet of insects, but they’re also partial to mistletoe berries. If you try to attract them to your garden with fruit, be mindful that they are known to chase away other birds from the feeder.
21. Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
While the collared dove is native to Europe and Asia, it has been introduced to many places around the world, and populations are strong. These birds have gray plumage with a bold black collar around the back of the neck.
These birds are similar in appearance to the wood pigeon but are much smaller and more delicate. Their call is also a similar cooing sound to that of the wood pigeon but doves tend to make three syllable calls while wood pigeons make five.
Collared doves are not native to the UK and were introduced here in the 1950s in Norfolk. But they’re now found all over the UK, but more sparsely in Scotland. They are non-migratory birds, so you’ll catch a glimpse all year round.
The collared dove is not a timid bird and is one of the most common at the garden bird table. They’re not particularly fussy eaters and, while grains and seeds make up a large portion of their diet, they’ll also eat berries and fruits.
22. Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)
Greenfinches are often found in woodlands but they’re a common sight in the garden. These birds, as their name suggests, are largely green in color but have gray and yellow markings on the wings. They’re small birds that don’t typically grow much larger than 5.9 inches (15 cm).
The greenfinch has a significantly large bill which allows it to eat seeds even from very fleshy and dense fruits. They like a variety of seeds, so it’s a good idea to offer things like sunflower hearts if you’re looking to attract them to your garden.
Greenfinches are very sociable birds, and most individuals are resident in the UK all year round. They have a wheezing song that they use as a mating call, and they’re one of the earlier birds to pair up in around February.
23. Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
Dunnocks are around the same size as a robin but not as showy. When viewed from a distance, they look as though they’re purely brown, but upon closer inspection, you’ll see that they have lots of intricate brown and gray markings.
The main part of the dunnock’s diet is made up from insects. However, if you’re looking to attract them then they’re often keen to get their fill of seeds during winter. That said, they’re very shy birds that are often seen on their own.
While timid, males will make loud calls when defending their territory. Generally, their song has a monosyllabic piping sound.
You’ll find the dunnock all over the UK, often in shrubs and hedgerows, which is why it’s sometimes called the hedge sparrow. They’re here all year being a non-migratory species.
24. Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Jays are common all across the UK, but they’re absent from the most northerly parts of Scotland. These birds have a screeching call, which is very prominent and a great way to know that one is close by. Moreover, since they don’t migrate, you can look out for them all year round.
The jay is a member of the crow family but has a much bolder appearance than its relatives. With stripes on the head, a pinkish-buff underside and back as well as blue and black feathers on the tail, they’re unmistakeable. However, they’re quite shy and often hide out in woodlands.
While the diet of the jay is varied, they’re most well-known for their love of acorns. In the autumn, they’re often spotted caching acorns for later use.
25. Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
The bullfinch is a bright and boldly colored bird with a red breast, gray back, and black wings, head, and tail. They’re very easy to identify and have a silky, tinkling song, which they mainly use to attract a mate since this isn’t a very territorial species.
Bullfinches are small birds, not growing more than around 6.3 inches (16 cm). They are widely distributed around the UK, and it’s thought that there are somewhere in the region of 265,000 breeding pairs at the time of writing.
Often found feeding on the buds of trees during the spring, the bullfinch switches to a diet of seeds in winter. They’ll also collect insects to feed to their young and are often seen as a crop pest owing to their love of fruits and seeds.
26. Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Carrion crows were traditionally found in areas with sparse tree cover and marshlands. However, these days, they’ve adapted very well to urban environments and are often spotted in towns and gardens.
The carrion crow is a completely black bird and is highly abundant in the UK, with over 1 million pairs. While they’re usually solitary birds, they’re also incredibly intelligent and are known for their problem solving abilities and ability to use tools.
These birds have a loud cawing call and can be spotted all year round in the UK. Growing up to 18.5 inches (47 cm) in length, they’re rather large birds, and they build large nests to match.
The diet of the carrion crow is extremely varied and includes fruits, berries, seeds, and insects; they’re certainly not fussy eaters!
27. Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
The jackdaw might look as though it’s totally black, but when you take a closer look, you’ll see that the nape of the neck is gray. With a shorter beak and rounder head than the carrion crow, it’s easy to tell apart from other similar-looking birds.
Jackdaws can grow up to 15.4 inches (39 cm) in length and are found all over the UK, where they are considered to be of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. These birds prefer a woodland or field habitat where they can be found in small flocks. Although one flock in Sweden was recorded as having around 10,000 individuals!
These birds are highly confident and sociable, and UK populations don’t tend to migrate. However, those in more northerly areas may move further south for the winter.
28. Siskin (Spinus spinus)
Siskins are beautiful birds with black, green, and yellow plumage and some impression markings. That said, females tend to be less bold than males and lack the barred markings on the head. A type of finch, the siskin is a very small bird that doesn’t usually get much larger than 4.7 inches (12 cm) in length.
The siskin does feed on insects but is partial to a diet of seeds, especially those from coniferous trees. There are just under half a million breeding pairs in the United Kingdom, and the populations here do not migrate. If anything, over winter, you may see more as those from northern countries have landed here.
Since these are such beautiful birds, it’s not uncommon for people to want to attract them to their gardens. Using nyjer seeds in a special feeder for smaller birds is a great way to invite them, and they won’t be shy about visiting.
How to Create a Bird-Friendly Garden Habitat?
Having birds in your garden is a great way to get up close and personal with nature. However, they will only visit if the conditions are favorable, and there are many things you can do to encourage them.
Provide Food & Water
One of the most effective ways to attract birds to your garden is to provide them with a food source and water. Not only will this give you the benefit of observing nature, but you’re also doing your bit to ensure their natural diet is supplemented, which is especially important in winter when food may be scarce.
An effective way to offer water is to place a bird bath in your garden. This doesn’t need to be anything ornate, but I would recommend placing it somewhere sheltered so that the birds are protected from predators as they drink and bathe.
However, it’s vital that you regularly maintain your birdbath as bacteria and diseases can quickly build up, affecting the local populations. You can easily clean your birdbath using a solution of water and mild vinegar. Use a scrubbing brush to remove any droppings, and thoroughly rinse the bath before adding fresh water.
The same method applies when cleaning a bird feeding table. It’s essential that you never leave old food on the table as this can harbor bacteria from any sick visitors. In the fall, I would recommend giving the table an annual clean as well as completing any repairs that may be needed.
While bird tables are ideal for seed-eating birds like pigeons, starlings, and sparrows, they might not be suitable for other types. Finches and jays will appreciate a hopper or house feeder, which can also hold seeds and offers them more protection than an open bird table. However, it’s vital to clean the feeder regularly.
If you have problems with squirrels getting to your bird feeders then a tube feeder is a great option. It has smaller holes that birds like finches can get their beaks through, but they’re impossible for squirrels to interfere with, especially if you use a baffle at the top of the feeder. Siskins and other small birds will definitely appreciate a nyjer feeder.
A lot of birds also love suet, so using a suet feeder is a brilliant option, especially in winter. You can buy ready-made suet feeders or make them from something as simple as an old onion bag. Woodpeckers, jays, and starlings will flock to your garden.
If you’re using a feeder to offer seeds then it’s vital to keep in mind that providing the widest variety will attract the most birds. Seeds like millet will attract dunnocks, sparrows, finches, and collared doves, while maize and other grains are attractive to blackbirds. If you’re looking for an all-round type of seed then I would suggest black sunflower as this typically attracts the widest range of birds.
Finally, it’s important to place your feeder in a suitable location otherwise birds may be deterred from visiting. You’ll need to find somewhere that is sheltered so that hot sun and strong winds don’t upset them while feeding. However, be mindful not to place the feeder too close to trees where predators could be hiding.
Birds can be incredibly vulnerable if they don’t have a safe place to nest which is why offering shelter is very important when creating a bird-friendly garden.
Nest boxes or bird houses are great for cavity nesters like tits and robins. Swifts may also use these, but they’re not as easy to attract, so playing their call is a good way to encourage them.
However, not all birds like this type of nest box. For example, the house martin naturally makes a cup-like nest and this is something you can fashion at home to attract them.
If you can’t or don’t want to install nest boxes then you might consider planting evergreen trees, which provide a natural habitat for our winged friends, even during winter.
Avoid Pesticides & Other Harmful Chemicals
While the use of chemicals in the garden can be very effective in killing weeds, deterring pests, and encouraging the growth of your plants, this all comes at the expense of protecting our wildlife. Birds, as well as many other creatures, are threatened by the use of pesticides, and studies have shown that this is a leading cause of their decline in the UK.
But eliminating the use of chemicals in your garden doesn’t mean that you can’t tackle common problems like weeds and pests. There are lots of organic methods which are just as effective.
For example, did you know that using mulch is a great way to naturally fertilize your plants and offers all the most important nutrients without harming local wildlife? What’s more, you can use things like broken egg shells to deter ground pests like slugs and snails or introduce natural predators, such as ladybugs, to control aphid populations. Nets are great for larger animals like rodents or cats.
Moreover, many birds will visit your garden and prey on pests, so by stopping the use of chemicals, you’re already inviting in natural predators.
Grow Bird-Friendly Plants
An excellent way to attract birds to your garden is to provide them with the shelter and nutrition that they need. This often comes in the form of plants, and there are species you can plant that provide the birds with resources all year round. This is why it’s important to take the seasons into consideration when choosing bird-friendly plants so our feathered friends always have access to what they need.
While I cannot create an exhaustive list of plants in this guide, I have detailed a few of the best options below.
- Plant one male and one female holly within close proximity and, after pollination, the plants will yield berries that will attract thrushes and blackbirds.
- Honeysuckle is a pretty climbing plant that will attract bullfinches and various species of warbler.
- Sunflowers have lots of seeds and this is attractive to various species of tits and finches.
- Starlings, chaffinches, and greenfinches love hawthorn!
- Rosehips provide a food source for blackbirds and thrushes well into winter, so planting shrub roses is a great way to attract them.
- Teasel produces seeds as late as December which makes this a great winter food source for birds like sparrows and goldfinches.
Keep Pets Away
Domestic cats are thought to kill around 27 million songbirds in the UK every year. While there’s nothing you can do to change the natural instincts of your pet (that’s perfectly healthy), it is important to keep your pet out of the garden when birds are nesting and feeding.
Of course, your beloved pet still needs outdoor time so instead of limiting her time, why not consider building an enclosure? This will provide your cat with the outdoor activity she needs without putting local wildlife at risk.
If you absolutely have to let your car wander freely, then there are things you can do to reduce that hunting instinct. For example, playing with your cat using a fishing pole toy allows them to use that instinct in a safe way. What’s more, studies have shown that feeding your cat with a diet high in grains can reduce prey brought home by as much as 35%.
You might also try using a collar with a bell, as this will alert birds to your cat’s presence before she has a chance to strike.