Birds to look out for in Winter – by Mike Tubb



Winter is not everyone’s idea of the best bird-watching season.  However, it has many advantages.  Make sure that your feeders are clean and well stocked, then sit back and wait for the excitement of some scarce visitors.

You may also wish to check that your feeders are positioned not too close to your window, as many birds are wary of movement and of human contact.  As the natural foods to be found in the countryside become more difficult to find, many birds will be looking for supplementary sources of food.  These birds are more likely to use your feeders if they are away from the immediate environs of the house, and are fairly close to cover.

Harsher weather may exacerbate the search for natural sources of food, so this is a time for extra vigilance.  Hard frosts or a covering of snow may well be the signal for a rarer species to be searching your garden for food.  It would be sensible to ensure that your bird-table or feeders are kept well regularly replenished at this time of year.

The Birds:

Long-tailed Tit and Treecreeper

The Long-tailed tit is a beautiful bird, which has increasingly been coming to garden feeders in recent years. It tends to move around in family groups, so if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you may be able to spot several individuals. In my garden, in addition to peanuts, they also seem to be particularly fond of the fat ball feeders.

Like a number of other British species Long-tailed tit numbers are increased in winter by birds from Northern Europe or Scandinavia. Look out for the Northern European race that has an all-white head.

treecreeperIn winter, Treecreeper occasionally join Long-tailed tit flocks. So when you have a flock feeding, keep an eye out on any mature trees you may have nearby. The Treecreeper may be creeping mouse-like up and around the tree-trunk or on larger branches, searching for insects in crevices, under loose bark, or around ivy.



Fieldfare and Redwing

FieldfareAnyone with windfall apples still underneath their trees, or prepared to put fruit out in a corner of their garden, can expect to see Fieldfare looking for an easy meal.  This is a large grey-headed winter thrush, which looks spectacular when seen close-to.

The Fieldfare has a distinctive chuckling call, and can often be spotted flying over the village in loose flying flocks.  They occasionally stop to rest in the large trees opposite the village green.

RedwingThe Redwing is a smaller thrush, and frequently accompanies Fieldfare.  As its name suggests, Redwing has patches of red on its body – not on the wings, but along the flanks.  They also have a clear, pale eyebrow stripe (or supercilium to give its correct term).  Another beautiful bird to observe at close quarters.

Both of these species will have been in Britain since Autumn, and will remain until March or April.  Just a few pairs of both species breed in northern Britain, but they are, in the main, winter visitors from northern  Europe. Redwing migrates at night.

Siskin and Nuthatch

These two woodland species offer a contrast of styles.  Both can be viewed around the village, and become more visible in winter.

Siskin is a bird of coniferous woodland (during the breeding season), and its numbers are augmented by visitors from northern and eastern Europe from September to May.  In winter, when their favoured alder cones become scarcer to find, Siskin will frequently come to garden feeders – peanuts for preference, but also partial to nyger seed.  Slightly smaller than a Greenfinch, the male is contrastingly marked in green, yellow and black.  Females are less colourful, but their streaky appearance, together with a more pointed bill, will mark them out from Greenfinch. Listen for their fast twittering song in the tops of alder trees.  Goldfinches can often be found feeding alongside them.

NuthatchNuthatch is another species that has adapted to garden feeders.  I can usually spot this bird fairly quickly on one of my nut feeders because of its habit of clinging upside down.  A portly bird, is rusty buff below and medium grey on its back and head.  Has a black eye-stripe, and a powerful bill that is used to probe for nuts and seeds.

Usually in open deciduous woodland, Nuthatch can be seen here all year round, but the lack of leaves on the trees makes it easier to spot this time of year.  Tend to be solitary or in pairs.

Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting

Most of you will be familiar with the House Sparrow.  Sadly this species is now in massive decline, due to a combination of factors, which are still being researched more fully.  However, around our village we are fortunate in that, in addition to a few pairs of House Sparrow, we also have its country cousin – the Tree Sparrow.

This is a wary bird that has also declined in a big way, mainly due to the reduction in invertebrates needed to feed its young resulting from more intensive farming methods.  The BTO has measured a decline of 95% over the last three decades.

In winter the smart-looking Tree Sparrow has started to come to garden feeders – mainly for seed.  Harsher weather and the exhaustion of supplies in the hedgerows will necessitate their reliance on us.  This month I have counted as many as ten Tree Sparrows at the same time lining up to feed from one of my seed feeders.

Hollow trees are attractive to this species for nesting purposes, so I am keen to see the retention of mature trees in the local hedgerows.  As an alternative, they will take up residence in nest boxes if situated in trees at or near the edge of the countryside.

Reed Bunting may also favour your bird table or seed feeder, but I have found that they will not perch on hanging feeders or feeders on poles.  They seem to like a flat table that resembles the ground.

This is one of the species that benefits from seed crops grown as Pheasant cover, but will come into gardens when the shooting season is over and cover crops are exhausted or ploughed in.

In breeding plumage the male is unmistakeable, but in winter plumage both sexes are less well marked and take some experience to identify.  You may be forgiven for thinking they are Dunnock when you first see them on your table.


This species has until very recently been confined to the west of Britain, typically in upland habitat.  Its spread across the country is quite remarkable, but it is still by no means common.

Raven is Britain’s largest passerine, and is a corvid – the same family as Jackdaw, Rook and Carrion Crow.  It looks all black, and is considerably larger than the latter two species.  It can usually be identified in flight by its deep and far-carrying “kraaank” calls.  Any regular visitor to Wales or to the Lake District should be able to identify this species in flight.

There is at least one bird that winters locally and can occasionally be seen feeding on fields with Rooks or Jackdaws – or heard flying over the village.  It is likely to become more vocal towards the end of winter, but may then depart westwards to breed.  If you are lucky you may see a pair engaging in aerial rolling and tumbling displays as they pair up.

Birds of prey

The absence of leaves on the trees and hedgerows makes winter an ideal time to pick out birds of prey, or raptors.  Locally our most common birds of prey are Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, and Kestrel.

Despite its size, much of the Buzzard’s diet is made up of frogs, worms, and insects.  So you may spot this bird perched on posts or low branches, looking for its next meal.  Like the Raven, in my lifetime Buzzard has moved from being a bird of western uplands to relatively common across much of central Britain as well.  Buzzard are mainly brown birds, with broad rounded wings that have prominent white patches.  They soar and glide, but rarely hover.


Kestrel, on the other hand, are usually noticed when hovering, although they too will often sit perched on roadside posts and wires.  In good light it should be easy to distinguish the male by his grey head and reddish brown back – more brightly coloured than the female.  Like the Buzzard, Kestrel takes rodents, frogs and insects, in addition to occasional small birds, especially when it has young of its own to feed.



Sparrowhawk can be a really exciting bird to watch, although its visits to my garden are often fleeting.  They have become used to the numbers of birds that will flock around well-stocked garden feeders, so look to that to supplement their own sources of food.  They will fly in quickly at fence-top height and try and surprise the diners.  Often they will fly straight through if there is no obvious victim in sight, but occasionally land on top of a feeder or on a nearby perch.  Fortunately they normally need to make quite a few sorties before being successful.

It is normally the male Sparrowhawk that I see in my garden or in the village.  Females are much larger and usually remain in more open countryside to hunt.


Remember to use the on-line field guide if you need help with identifying particular species.


Your sightings

Don’t forget that we are keen to capture all interesting bird sightings from Bradden and the surrounding area.  Please remember to let us know what you have seen.  This can be done via the web-site.


  1. I have just seen a greater spotted woodpecker on one of the birch trees on the green, very excited as I have never seen one before.

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