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Bird Identification


Black BirdOne of Europe’s most familiar birds, the Blackbird is also a common example of a species with very obvious male and female differences.  Black adult males are unique while females are always darker than other thrushes, although with a variable tendency to be spotted on the underparts.  They range from remote mountain forests to gardens and parks, and are among the most regular garden birds and bird table visitors in many areas.  Blackbirds create most of the spring dawn chorus in suburban and woodland areas.

Voice Low soft chook, frequent loud sharp pink pink pink; alarm rattle fast, hysterical outburst of sharp rattling notes, high, thin, slightly rough srreee; song superb, musical, full throated, mellow warbling with many variations, phrases often ending in weak, scratchy sounds.

Nesting  Grass and mud cup, lined with grass, in shrub, bush, low in tree or hedge, 3-5 eggs; 2-4 broods; March-August.

Feeding  Finds worms, insects, invertebrates of all kinds on ground, often noisily exploring leaf litter, feeds on fruit and berries in bushes; often visits bird tables and eats scattered apples and bread.

Length: 24-25cm (9½-10in) Wingspan: 34-38cm (13½- 15in) Weight: 80-110g (2⅞-4oz)
Social: Family Groups Lifespan: Up to 5 years Status: Secure

Blue TitCommon, noisy, colourful and tame, the Blue Tit is a favourite garden bird, coming to feeders of all kinds.  It also nests in boxes in larger gardens but is generally not very successful there as broods of young require prodigious numbers of caterpillars to thrive.  Only large woodland areas provide sufficient supplies.  Even there, in recent years, Blue Tits have had reduced breeding success as the chicks hatch when food supplies have declined, caterpillars having appeared earlier due to climate change.

Voice  Thin, quick, tsee-tsee-tsee, harder tsee-see-sit, scolding, churrrr, song trilled, slurred tsee-tsee-tsee-tsisissisisisi.

Nesting  Small, mossy cup, lined with hair and feathers, in hole in tree or wall or nest box; 7-16 eggs; 1 brood: April-May.

Feeding  Takes many seeds, nuts, insects and spiders; visits garden feeders and bird tables frequently in large numbers.

Length: 11.5cm (4½in) Wingspan: 17-20cm (6½- 8in) Weight: 9-12g (⅜-½oz)
Social: Loose flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

BUll FinchA pest in some areas, but seriously declining in many, the Bullfinch is a quiet, inconspicuous bird despite its bold plumage.  It uses its round bill to feed on soft buds, flowers and shoots rather than hard seeds, usually feeding in pairs or family groups.  If disturbed, it moves out of sight through thicket or hedge.  Its whistled calls are then highly distinctive.  It does not visit bird tables or feeders, although it may come to gardens in spring to raid flowering fruit trees.

Voice  Call low, soft, clear whistles, slightly descending peuuw, deu, or phiu; song infrequent, creaky pea whistle quality, with calls intermixed.

Nesting  Cup of twigs, lined with moss and grass, in bush or tree; 4 or 5 eggs; 2 broods; April-June.

Feeding  Eats soft buds, seeds, berries, shoots and some invertebrates, from low bushes and shrubs, occasionally on ground.

Length: 15cm (6in) Wingspan: 22-26cm (9-10in) Weight: 21-27g (⅜-1oz)
Social: Small flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

ChaffinchOne of Europe’s most abundant birds, the Chaffinch forms an obvious species pair with the Brambling.  The two often feed together outside the breeding season; their general shape, pattern and behaviour are very similar.  Chaffinches breed in separate territories, proclaimed by males singing loudly from prominent perches, but they are social birds at other times.  They are often very tame, coming for food in car parks and picnic sites and frequently visiting gardens.

Voice  Flight call short, single, soft chup, frequent loud pink! in spring, loud hweet, jilip; song bright, cheery, rattled phrase with a flourish, chi-chip-chip, chirichirchiri cheeip-tcheweeoo.

Nesting  Neat, perfectly camouflaged cup of grass, leaves, moss, cobweb and lichen, against trunk of tree or bush; 4 or 5 eggs; 1 brood; April–May.

Feeding  Eats insects in summer, mostly caterpillars from foliage; otherwise takes seeds, shoots and berries; visits bird tables for seed mixtures, especially sunflower seeds.

Length: 14.5cm (5¾in) Wingspan: 25-28cm (10-11in) Weight: 19-23g (¾  ⅞oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: 2-5  years Status: Secure

Coal TitOne of Europe’s smallest birds, the Coal Tit is everywhere associated with conifers, even isolated pines within a wood of deciduous trees.  It is also a garden bird in many places.  In autumn and winter, it regularly joins other tits in large, shapeless, roaming flocks that wander through woods and gardens in search of food.  Woods often seem birdless until such a flock comes by, when suddenly there is too much to see at once.  Coal Tits typically exploit their minute weight by searching the thinnest twigs.

Voice  Call high, sweet, sad tseu or tsoooo, thin tseee, bright psueet, song bright, quick, repetitive, high wi-choo wi-choo wi-choo or sweetu sweetu sweetu.

Nesting  Hair lined small cup of moss and leaves in hole in stump, tree, wall or ground, or in small holed nest box ; 7-11 eggs; 1 brood; April-June.

Feeding  Finds tiny insects, spiders and their eggs in foliage; eats many seeds and nuts; visits feeders frequently, often dashing off with food to eat nearby; hides much food in tufts of pine needles.

Length: 11.5cm (4½in) Wingspan: 17-21cm (6½-8½in) Weight: 8-10g (⅜-½oz)
Social: Loose flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

Collar DoveA remarkable natural phenomena of the 20th century is the spread of the Collared Dove from extreme southeast Europe to the whole of the continent.  It is now a common sight in farms and suburbs in Europe, its rather monotonous triple coo a familiar sound on summer mornings.  It relies heavily on food provided incidentally by people, and increasingly on food put out specifically for smaller birds.  Its display flights are easily seen over any built-up area with scattered trees in gardens or parks.

Voice  Loud, frequently repeated triple coo, cu-coo-cuk, or coo-coo-coo, unusually for a pigeon also a flight call, a nasal gwurrr.

Nesting  Small platform of twigs and rubbish; 2 eggs; 2 or 3 broods, sometimes more; all year.

Feeding  Picks up grain, seeds, buds and shoots from ground in parks, fields, paddocks and gardens; often at bird tables for seeds.

Length: 31-33cm (12-13in) Wingspan: 47-55cm (18½-22in) Weight: 150-220g (5-8oz)
Social: Small flocks Lifespan: up to 10 years Status: Secure

DunnockThe generally quite dull and unobtrusive looks of the Dunnock bely its unusual mating habits; it forms one-male-two-female or even one-female-two-male trios when breeding.  Easily overlooked, it is widely distributed in a great variety of places, like the Wren.  Its sharp calls and fast, high pitched but slightly “flat” song call attention to it.  If disturbed, it generally flies at near ground level into the nearest thick bush, and is sometimes taken for some rare, vagrant warbler.

Voice  Loud, high penetrating pseeep, thin, vibrant teeee; song, quick slightly flat, high pitched fast warble with little contrast or variation in pitch.

Nesting  Small grassy cup, lined with hair and moss, in bush or hedge; 4 or 5 eggs; 2 or 3 broods; April-July.

Feeding  Forages on ground, shuffling crouched, often in or around bushes, close to cover; picks up small insects and seeds; feeds on scraps beneath bird tables and grated cheese under shrubberies.

Length: 14cm (5½in) Wingspan: 19-21cm (7½-8½in) Weight: 19-24g (⅜-¾oz)
Social: Family groups Lifespan: up to 5 years Status: Secure

GoldfinchAlthough it is widespread in Europe, even in cool, damp climates, the Goldfinch seems most at home in the hot, sunny summer of the Mediterranean.  Its bouncy, lively actions and flashing colours go well with the bright, dry conditions and surroundings of brightly flowering plants on the seeds of which it feeds.  It is, however, also found father north in farmland with scattered woods and plenty of rough, open ground.  Such places tend to be labelled “waste” and are all too often tidied up and stripped of the seed bearing herbs and shrubs on which so many finches depend.

Voice  Calls are highly distinctive variations on usual finch theme: chattering, skipping flight call, skip-i-lip or tililip with liquid, lilting quality, rough tschair; song musical and varied, mixture of call notes and liquid trills.

Nesting  Neat nest of roots, grass and cobwebs, in tree or shrub; 5 or 6 eggs; 2 broods, May-July.

Feeding  Feeds on soft, half ripe seeds on low growing to medium height plants, less often on ground; also eats tree seeds from alder and birch.

Length: 12.5-13cm (5in) Wingspan: 21-25cm (8½-10in) Weight: 14-17g (½-⅝oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

Greater Spotted WoodpeckerThe common woodpecker in most areas, the Great Spotted announces itself in spring by a loud drumming: a rapid, abrupt “drum roll” made by hammering the bill against a resonant branch.  It uses its stiff tail as a prop so that it can grip a branch while resting upright against it.  Its grip is secure enough to enable it to hang beneath a branch without the help of its tail for a time.  Careful observation is required to be sure of woodpecker identification where several woodpecker species overlap.

Voice  Loud, hard, explosive tchik!, less often fast, chattering rattle of alarm; loud, fast, very short drum.

Nesting  Digs hole, diameter 5-6cm (2-2¼in), in trunk or branch of tree; 4-7 eggs; 1 brood; April-June.

Feeding  Finds insects and larvae beneath bark, digging them out with strong bill; also takes seeds and berries; visits gardens for nuts, seeds, cheese and fat.

Length: 22-23cm (9in) Wingspan: 34-39cm (13½-15½in) Weight: 70-90g (2½-3¼oz)
Social: Solitary Lifespan: 5-10 years Status: Secure

Great TitA big, colourful, bold and aggressive tit, the Great Tit is well known almost everywhere and is one of the most familiar of garden birds; it is also common in woodland and on bushy hillsides.  It feeds more on the ground than the smaller tits, lacking their extreme lightness and agility, but is still an acrobatic bird, moving more energetically and erratically than the woodland warblers.  In spring, it has a simple but remarkably fine and appealing song.

Voice  Extremely varied, often confusing; calls include ringing chink or pink, piping tui tui tui, nasal churrr, song variation on repeated two-syllable phrase, sharp, metallic, strident, musical or grating, with varying emphasis, tea-cher tea-cher tea-cher or seetoo seetoo seetoo

Nesting  Cup of moss, leaves and grass in natural hole, woodpecker hole, or nest box; 5-11 eggs, 1 brood; April-May

Feeding  Eats insects , seeds, berries and nuts, especially tree seeds in autumn and winter, many from ground, commonly visits bird tables and feeders.

Length: 14cm (5½in) Wingspan: 22-25cm (9-10in) Weight: 16-21g (½-¾oz)
Social: Loose flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

GreenfinchThis large, stocky thick-billed finch breeds in loose groups in tall trees, old hedges, overgrown gardens and orchards and is a frequent garden visitor in winter, either to feeders or to shrubs with berries.  Where common, Greenfinches gather into large feeding flocks, flying up together in a rush, more like Linnets and Sparrows than Chaffinches.  Adults are easily identified, but duller juveniles can be more troublesome at times.

Voice  Flight call fast, light, tinny chatter, tit-it-it-it-it, loud nasal tzoo-eee, hard jup-jup-jup; fine song series of staccato trills of varying pace and quality, some metallic and thin, others full, musical, with droning, buzzy dzweee intermixed; often in flight chup-chup-chup, chip-ipipip chr’r’r’r’r’r’r, tit-it-it-it chup-up.

Nesting  Bulky nest of grass and twigs, lined with finer stems, hair and feathers in thick bushes or trees; 4-6 eggs; 1 or 2 broods; April-July.

Feeding  Eats seeds, from trees to short plants, many taken from ground; also feeds on berries and nuts; visits bird-tables and feeders.

Length: 15cm (6in) Wingspan: 25-27cm (10-10½in) Weight: 25-32g (⅞-1⅛oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

House SparrowRecent declines have seen numbers in gardens and town parks reduced and farmland flocks disappear but House Sparrows remain almost as widespread as ever.  They are familiar in towns and gardens and even in farmland concentrate around buildings.  Males are easily recognised, although they look quite like Tree and Spanish Sparrows.  Females lack the bold patterns and can be taken for some finches, but in reality are equally distinct.  House Sparrows are typically social and noisy birds.

Voice  Basic lively, simple chirrup, chilp; loud chattering chorus from flocks, series of chirps forms simple song.

Nesting  Untidy nest of grass and feathers, in roof space, cavity in wall, in House Martin nest, tree cavity, or more openly in creepers and around wires; 3-7 eggs; 1-4 broods; April–August.

Feeding  Usually on ground, taking seeds, buds, roots, berries and many insects for young, catches some insects clumsily in flight, visits bird tables for nuts, seed mixtures and kitchen scraps.

Length: 14cm (5½in) Wingspan: 20-22cm (8-9in) Weight: 19-25g (¾ -1oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: 2-5  years Status: Secure

KingfisherMost people seeing one for the first time think the Kingfisher is surprisingly small: about Starling sized or a little less.  It is also, despite its bright colours, much more unobtrusive than may be expected: in the dappled shade of flickering foliage above rippling water, it can be extremely hard to see.  Often it is the sharp call that gives it away, followed by a glimpse of a bright blue back flying off over water, but sometimes it allows really close, clear views.  It is particularly vulnerable to hard winter weather and populations consequently fluctuate greatly from year to year.  Occasionally a Kingfisher will take advantage of a garden pond full of goldfish, but visits are usually brief as Kingfishers are shy birds and quick to fly off if disturbed.

Voice  Quite loud, sharp, high kit-cheeee or cheee; also high, fast trill in spring.

Nesting  Deep tubular tunnel, lined with fish bones, in soft earth cliff over water; 5-7eggs; 2 broods; May-July.

Feeding  Catches fish, small aquatic invertebrates and amphibians in dive from perch or mid air hover.

Length: 16-17cm (6½in) Wingspan: 24-26cm (9½-10in) Weight: 35-40g (1¼-1½oz)
Social: Pairs Lifespan: 5-10  years Status: Declining

Long-tailed TitUnique in its round bodied, long-tailed shape and tiny size, the Long-tailed Tit is usually encountered in groups.  In summer, family parties move noisily through bush tops or undergrowth; in winter sometimes much larger parties tend to string out as they feed, often crossing a gap between trees in a thin, erratic stream.  Their high calls resemble those of other tits and Goldcrests, but have a particularly shapeless, needle like character intermixed with low, abrupt notes that are immediately distinctive.

Voice  High, thin, colourless see see see without emphasis or fuller quality of Goldcrest; short, abrupt, low trrp, longer zerrrp or tsirrup!

Nesting  Unique rounded and domed nest with side entrance into soft, springy, elastic ball of lichen, moss, cobweb, and feathers in low, thorny bush; 8-12 eggs; 1 brood; April-June.

Feeding  Groups move about, often in single file, picking tiny spiders and insects from twigs and foliage; eat a few seeds; increasingly visit feeders in garden.

Length: 14cm (5½in) Wingspan: 16-19cm (6½-7½in) Weight: 7-9g (¼-½oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: 2-3  years Status: Secure

Mistle ThrushA large, bold, aggressive thrush, the Mistle Thrush is by far the largest of the “spotted” thrushes and also Europe’s biggest true songbird.  It is usually found in pairs, but families join up in larger groups during autumn when berries are abundant.  In winter, single Mistle Thrushes often defend berry-laden trees against other birds, maintaining a food supply through the colder months.  While Song Thrushes often slip away at low level if disturbed, Mistle Thrushes tend to go up to a much greater height and fly off over greater distances.

Voice  Loud, slurred, harsh, rattling chatter tsairrrk-sairr-sairr-sairrk; song loud, wild, fluty, not very varied, series of short, repetitive phrases.

Nesting  Big, loose cup of roots, leaves, twigs and grass, often quite exposed high on tree branch; 3-5 eggs; 2 broods; March-June.

Feeding  Bounding hops on ground, searching for worms, seeds and invertebrates; eats many berries, sometimes coming to larger gardens for fruit.

Length: 27cm (10½in) Wingspan: 42-48cm (16½-19in) Weight: 110-140g (4-5oz)
Social: Winter Flocks Lifespan: 5-10 years Status: Secure

NuthatchAlmost all the Nuthatch’s life is spent clinging to the branches of tall trees, although it does forage on rocks, walls and old buildings and quite often visits the ground.  It also comes to bird feeders in gardens near woods.  But it is principally as expert, agile climbers that Nuthatches have evolved, equally at home coming head down as climbing head up or perched across a branch.  They use the strength of their feet and sharpness of their claws exclusively, not using their tails as props as do woodpeckers and treecreepers.

Voice  Various loud, full, liquid whistles, pew pew pew pew, chwee chwee and fast ringing trills, loud chwit.

Nesting  Uses old woodpecker hole or nest box, lined with bark and leaves, typically plastering mud around entrance; 6-9 eggs; 1 brood; April-July.

Feeding  Eats variety of seeds, berries, nuts, acorns and beech-mast, often carried to be wedged in bark for easier manipulation; visits peanut baskets.

Length: 12.5cm (5in) Wingspan: 16-18cm (6½-7in) Weight: 12-18g (½-¾ oz)
Social: Loose Flocks Lifespan: 2-3 years Status: Secure

RobinThis is a typical forest or woodland edge species in most of its range, adapted to follow foraging animals such as wild boar: it picks up food from the earth overturned by the animals.  In the UK, it follows gardeners turning the soil and has become remarkably tame.  In most of continental Europe, Robins are much shyer birds.  Robins are easily identified (although juveniles have no red at first) and have a distinctive song.

Voice  Sharp, short, abrupt tik, series of quick tik-ik-ik-ik-ik, high, thin seep; song rich, full, varied warbling in long, musical series, some phrases like Garden Warbler’s; in autumn/winter more mellow, melancholy.

Nesting  Domed nest of leaves and grass in bank, dense bush or hedge, or thick ivy; 4-6 eggs; 2 broods; April-August.

Feeding  Most on ground, hopping and flitting in search of spiders, insects, worms, berries and seeds; comes to feeders and bird tables for seed mixtures.

Length: 14cm (5½in) Wingspan: 20-22cm (8-9in) Weight: 16-22g (½-¾ oz)
Social: Family Groups Lifespan: 3-5 years Status: Secure

Song ThrushThe classic spotted thrush, the Song Thrush is neatly patterned below, and is rather small, markedly smaller than a Blackbird.  It has a marvellously vibrant, varied, full-throated song that is instantly identifiable.  A declining bird in many areas, it relies on some woodland or tree cover, or at least big, bushy hedges in farmland.  It is equally at home in mixed or deciduous woodland with some clearings and well wooded gardens or town parks. 

Voice  Short, thin high stip; loud alarm rattle: song loud, exuberant, shouted, each separated phrase of 2-4 notes repeated 2-4 times, some musical, some whistled, others harsh or rattled.

Nesting  Grassy cup lined with mud and dung, low in bush, hedge or tree; 3-5 eggs; 2 or 3 broods; March–July.

Feeding  Hops and runs across open ground, stopping to detect and extract earthworms; eats many snails, slugs and other invertebrates, berries and fruit; shy visitor to bird tables but eats scattered scraps and apples.

Length: 23cm (9in) Wingspan: 33-36cm (13-14in) Weight:70-90g (2½-3¼oz)
Social: Family groups Lifespan: Up to 5 years Status: Secure

StarlingGenerally abundant, Starlings form dense, noisy flocks; no other small bird, apart from shoreline waders, creates such vast flocks that look like clouds of smoke at a distance.  However, with widespread declines, flocks have been much reduced.  They are found in many habitats, urban, suburban and rural, many moving west within Europe in winter.  In spring, Starlings sing loudly, with characteristic wing waving actions.

Voice  Loud, slightly grating cheer, musical, twangy, whistled tswee-oo, variety of clicks, gurgles, squawking notes; song fast mixture of gurgles, rattles, trills and whistles, some mimicry.

Nesting  Loose, bulky nest of grass and stems, lined with roots, moss, wool and feathers, in tree hole, cavity in building or wall, or large nest box; 4-7 eggs; 1 or 2 broods; April-July.

Feeding  In small to large flocks, finding invertebrates, seeds and berries on ground; catches flying ants.

Length: 21cm (8½in) Wingspan: 37-42cm (14½-16½in) Weight:75-90g (2½-3¼oz)
Social: Flocks Lifespan: Up to 5 years Status: Secure

SwallowA popular bird throughout Europe, the Swallow is a summer visitor.  Of all the Swallows and Martins, it has the most relaxed, easy and flowing flight, often at the lowest level, while House Martins feed higher up, almost as high as the Swifts.  It hunts around field edges, over village greens, cricket pitches and open spaces, taking bigger insect food than the aerial feeders of higher levels.  It also relies nowadays on access to buildings of some sort in which to nest.

Voice  Calls distinctively liquid swit-swit-swit, nasal vit-vit-vit, tsee-tsee; song quick, chirruping, twittering warble with characteristic trills. 

Nesting  Open topped cup of mud and straw, on beam or ledge in outbuilding; shed or barn; 4-6 eggs; 2 or 3 broods; April-August.

Feeding  Flies low, swerving to catch flying insects in its mouth, mostly large flies.

Length: 17-19cm (6½-7½in) Wingspan: 32-35cm (12½-14in) Weight: 16-25g (½-¾ oz)
Social: Migrant flocks Lifespan: Up to 5 years Status: Declining

WoodpigeonA large, handsome, boldly marked pigeon, the Woodpigeon is wild and shy in country areas where it is regularly shot but visits gardens and becomes surprisingly tame in town parks where it is left undisturbed.  It sometimes forms huge flocks, becoming a dramatic part of the country scene in winter.  In summer, its dreamy, cooing song is one of the typical sounds of woodland areas.  Single birds in flight can easily be mistaken for birds of prey, but any reasonable view should remove such confusion.

Voice  Husky, muffled cooing, oft-repeated, coo,coo,cu, cu,coo, cook; loud wing clatter.

Nesting  Thin platform of twigs in tree or bush; 2 eggs; 1 or 2 broods; April-September (often Autumn).

Feeding  Eats buds, leaves, berries and fruit in trees; also takes food from ground; feeds at bird tables where undisturbed.

Length: 40-42cm (16-16½in) Wingspan: 75-80cm (30-32in) Weight: 480-550g (17-20oz)
Social: Large flocks Lifespan: Up to 10 years Status: Secure

WrenOne of Europe’s smallest birds, the big voiced Wren uses a remarkable variety or habitats.  It is found from sea level to high up in mountain areas, from forest to almost open spaces; subspecies exist in remote island groups.  It spends most of the time low down, on or near the ground, often in deep thickets of bramble or bracken or in ornamental shrubberies.  Cold winters cause dramatic declines but Wren populations can recover quite quickly. 

Voice  Dry, hard calls with irritable, rattling quality, chit, chiti, tzerrr; song loud, full throated, warbling outburst with characteristic low, hard trill and fast, ringing notes.

Nesting  Small, loose ball of leaves and grass, tucked in bank, under overhang; 5 or 6 eggs; 2 broods; April-July.

Feeding  Forages in dark, damp places under hedges, around buildings, shrubberies, in ditches and in patches of dead bracken and similar low, thick cover; finds insects and spiders and feeds on scraps scattered under bushes.

Length: 9-10cm (3½-4in) Wingspan: 13-17cm (5-6½in) Weight: 8-13g (⅓-½oz)
Social: Roosts in flocks Lifespan: 2-5 years Status: Secure

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