TL:DR | A beginners guide to spotting British garden birds doesn’t need to be complicated. With the world in recent times being a little more confined to their homes, we thought we would put together a simple birdwatching aid to learning about common garden birds. Read on.
Table of Contents
Five British Garden Birds: A Beginner’s Guide
How many times have you found yourself in the garden, tending to your plants or hanging out the washing, and wondered about the birds that are flitting around and filling your garden with birdsong?
All too often we see consumers and homeowners looking to purchase bird food and encourage more bird life into their gardens, with little knowledge about which species they are feeding. The fact is that birdwatching remains one of the UK’s favourite activities, not least because it allows us to truly enjoy the outdoor spaces that we nurture all year round. Birdwatching is the kind of activity that everyone can partake in, whether you’re an avid spotter or a window watcher – and where better place to start than with the most common UK birds you can find in your own garden.
What is a garden bird?
For those of us who enjoy spending time outside, we will likely notice that the same species of bird return every year to enjoy the fruits of our labour – and the plants and insects in our garden. These regular visitors are known as common garden birds, with every garden attracting different species and breeds of bird depending on everything from the length of the grass to the density of the trees and undergrowth, and the kinds of vegetables and plants being grown.
Are British garden birds in decline?
This beginners guide looks at five of the most commonly found and identified British garden birds – with the top spot being held by the same species which has sat at number one for the seventeenth year in a row (according to the experts at the RSPB!) This list is calculated by the number of times these birds have been spotted and counted by members of the RSPB Garden Watch, however it is important to note that sitting in top spot doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more of those birds in our skies. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors including the changing climate and a lack of green spaces with adequate food, many of these numbers and figures are in fact on the decline – making it even more important for us to understand what is flying into our gardens, and what they need from us in order to boost their chances of survival.
There is more that we can do, and we will be releasing various guides on how to encourage more birdlife into your garden and how you can make your garden bird friendly. But for now, let’s move into our top five list of birds.
Here we go with our five types of common birds found in UK gardens
Bird 1 – House Sparrow
As previously stated, the House Sparrow has held onto its top position for seventeen years, despite figures dropping drastically by 53% in the last forty years since the RSPB Birdwatch and reporting began.
If you hear a loud and high pitched chattering in your garden when you’re outside, that is likely to be the call of the House Sparrow, which can be heard and spotted all year round and across most of the UK. House Sparrows like both urban and rural areas due to their affinity for human habitation, meaning that they are found most commonly where humans reside. This makes them ideal as a bird to spot in your garden, no matter where you live!
Female House Sparrows tend to be quite small and pale in colouring, helping them to blend in with their surroundings. The males meanwhile are a little more striking in appearance, with brighter white and brown markings.
To help make your garden the perfect haven for House Sparrows, it is worth noting that these birds are opportunistic feeders and so will enjoy both grains and seeds, as well as insects and weeds. What this means is that you are just as likely to see House Sparrows picking away at your seed beds, as in your bird feeder – and it can sometimes be useful to leave newly turned soil to sit for a few days, so that the birds can feast on unearthed bugs and seeds.
Bird 2 – Starling
Starlings famously travel in large flocks which move across the skies in fast and direct routes. They are noisy due to their movement in groups, boasting a high pitched screeching noise. Like the House Sparrow, Starling’s are also on the decline, with numbers dropping by a staggering 80% in the last forty years or reporting.
To look at from afar, you could be forgiven for thinking that Starlings are a pure black, however up close you can start to pick out different metallic shades and colourings in their feathers and on their head. A juvenile Starling is a much paler brown colour while the adult bird is glossy with a thin beak.
If you want to see a large flock of Starlings in one go, Winter is the time when these birds can be found roosting in reedbeds and plantations – with most country dwellers having seen at least one flock of Starlings being disturbed and pushed up into the air all together by a sudden sound or the appearance of a predator: called a Starting Murmuration.
You can help support the appearance of Starlings in your garden by installing a feeder or a nesting box.
Bird 3 – Blue Tit
One of the standout birds on this list for its colouring and vibrant appearance, the Blue Tit is a favourite with many at-home bird watchers, thanks to its singsong bird call and its small and colourful aesthetic. This also means that blue tits are easy to spot and identify – making them a great place for novice birdwatchers to start.
One of the most interesting things to note about the Blue Tit is the way that family flocks interact and engage in food collection for larger groups: meaning that a bird feeder with four or five regular visitors may be feeding and boosting up to twenty individual birds at any one time. A juvenile Blue Tit can be identified with the more pastel shades of yellow and green and a more stumpy shape, while the adult birds boast purer colours and more of a streamlined shape.
There is no single best time to see Blue Tits as they are out and about all year round, however your best chance of seeing Blue Tits in your garden is if you have hedges and trees in which they can nest and hunt for insects and spiders. Bird boxes, bird tables and tree feeders are also great ways to support a Blue Tit family flock in your garden.
Bird 4 – Woodpigeon
Did you know that there are in fact multiple different breeds of pigeon, and that those large grey pigeons you see in rural and urban locations are in fact called Woodpigeons? The most common breed in the pigeon family, these birds are easily to identify for their large grey bodies, the white patches on their neck and their wings, and their pink breast.
In terms of the call of the Woodpigeon, the melodic “Coo” can often be heard long before you see the bird itself, so listen for a soft cooing. It is also interesting to note that Woodpigeons can be both tame and approachable, and shy and jumpy, depending on their surroundings: those in urban areas are often much tamer around humans and are renowned for being rather bold in their hunt for food.
Woodpigeons are found all over the country, all year round, and can be encouraged into the garden with a combination of nuts, seeds, berries, grain, sprouts, and vegetables like cabbage. To support the Woodpigeon species, especially those which migrate over to the UK during the Autumn and Winter from the European Continent, you can lay out bird baths and feeders for a consistent supply of food and water.
Bird 5 – Blackbird
We all know the rhyme about “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”, but would you really want to eat such a small bird? We think not! Blackbirds are easy to identify with their black feathers and bright orange beak, though juveniles are brown and can be confused with all manner of other garden birds if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The easiest way to be sure that you are seeing a juvenile Blackbird rather than another bird, is to listen for the melodic and lower toned birdsong.
Blackbirds are seen in the UK all year round, and feed on insects and worms as well as berries and fruit during the summer seasons. What this means is that Blackbirds can struggle to find adequate food in the colder months when the ground freezes up and fruit is not rife, and so leaving a bird bath and feeder out particularly in Autumn and Winter months can help support the growth and diversity of the Blackbird population.
The nesting habits of the Blackbird are much more open than many other garden bird species, with Blackbirds building structured nests in amongst the branches of open trees – if you look closely, you will see the Mother bird feeding her chicks with the worms and insects she has collected.
What factors affect the types of garden birds you see?
When it comes to bird spotting in your garden, the birds you see will depend not only on your location but on the amount of coverage available in your garden, the kinds of plants and ground you have, and the extras you leave out to help and support the bird population. There are a wide variety of products and garden accessories that you can purchase to get you started on your bird spotting journey, from feeders to bird baths, nesting boxes and natural solutions such as additional hedgerows and plants.
Visit our website regularly for updates on more of the birds you can spot, hear, and support in your garden. For more information on identifying bird through their birdsong or bird calls, the RSPB website is packed full of information guides and soundbites which can help you identify even the faintest of songs. Visit this page for more. We will also be releasing regular information of our own about top products and DIY projects you can invest in, to make your garden more bird friendly.
   RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – Big Garden Birdwatch Results 2020 – The RSPB