How to identify birds on the move in spring

Use our guide below to help you to spot 12 migrant and resident birds in the UK. 

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Sand martin
All illustrations by Mike Langman

                                                                                                                                                                   

1. Sand martin Riparia riparia

Migrant; early March. Lakes, gravel pits and rivers. Our smallest ‘swallow’, brown above with brown breast band.

 

 

2. Little ringed plover Charadrius dubius

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Gravel pits and brownfield sites with pebbly areas. Neat plover with pale eye-ring.

 

 

3. Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

Migrants arrive early March; some birds also overwinter. Woods and scrub. Paler legs than willow warbler.

 

 

4. Garganey Anas querquedula

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Lakes, shallow pools and floods. Male has white eyestripe; female is like teal.

 

 

5. Redshank Tringa totanus

Resident; heads inland to uplands and wet meadows. Wader with bright orange-red legs and white rump.

 

 

6. Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

Migrant; early March. Areas of short turf, especially by coast. Male has dark mask and grey back; female sandier.

 

 

7. Curlew Numenius arquata

Resident; moves inland to moors and boggy uplands. Our largest wader, with long, curved bill and white rump.

 

 

8. Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus

Migrant; from late March. Appears on rough grassland, especially on hilltops. Like blackbird, with pale bib.

 

 

9. Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis

Resident; heads inland to uplands and moors. Streaky brown bird with jerky gait. Often gives ‘seep’ calls in flight.

 

 

10. Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Resident; returns to breed on boggy moors. Golden-brown above, paler below; in spring acquires black belly.

 

 

11. Sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Most records are along sandy coasts. Our largest tern, with shaggy black crest.

 

 

12. Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Resident; moves to uplands and inland rivers. Stocky, black and white wader with orange bill. Often gives ‘kleep’ calls.

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