when do birds fly south uk

Where to see migratory birds

Find some of the top Wildlife Trust reserves ahead of time to witness migratory birds. Because flocking birds are so migratory, it’s important to check with the reserves or your local Wildlife Trust ahead of time to find out which visitors will be present. You should also consider the time of year, as we’ve included some seasonal highlights below this list of reserves!

Red Rocks Marsh – The reserve and surrounding area is a well-known stopping point for migratory birds in spring and autumn, with regular visitors like redstarts, ring ouzels and wheatears sometimes joined by spectacular rarities such as bee-eaters, red-backed shrikes and Richards pipits.

South Walney: At the southernmost point of a shingle island at the tip of the Furness Peninsula, gull colonies can be observed in the springtime, along with oystercatcher, shelduck, and eider breeding colonies. Large flocks of migrant goldcrest, wheatear, redstart, and willow warblers also congregate. Watch for large numbers of waders and wildfowl in the winter.

One of the four Druridge Bay reserves is East Chevington; the other three are Hauxley, Cresswell Foreshore and Pond, and Druridge Pools. All are excellent birdwatching locations. Large numbers of wigeon, teal, greylag, and pink-footed geese can overwinter, as can 6000–8000 starlings. During migration seasons, wading birds are a common sight. Several rarities have been observed, such as Pacific golden plover and greater yellowlegs. Grebes, seaducks and divers are also regular visitors.

Grindon Lough – This natural lough, not far from Hadrians Wall, is great for wildfowl, particularly during winter. A number of geese can regularly be seen, including greylag, pink-footed, bean and white-fronted. Rarer visitors have included red-necked phalarope and American wigeon.

Druridge Pools – Druridge Pools is a wetland haven, rich in bird life, especially waders and wintering wildfowl.

Wigan Flashes: The lakes known as the Flashes are a remnant of the city’s industrial past and were created by mining subsidence. Over 200 species of bird have been recorded here. See the great crested grebe, tufted duck, coot, pochard, goldeneye, and grey heron that overwinter in your area.

Flamborough Cliffs: During the summer, tens of thousands of auks, gannets, and gulls congregate on the cliffs, making for an unforgettable experience. However, in the fall, the focus of birdwatching shifts to migration. All four skuas, as well as a great number of common seabirds, divers, grebes, and wildfowl, can be seen at sea. While berry-laden scrub and wooded areas in Holmes Gut draw large numbers of migrant thrushes, warblers, and finches, clifftop fields are home to short-eared owls, wheatears, and whinchats. Scarce migrants are also frequently seen, including yellow-browed warbler.

Tens of thousands of wigeon, teal, pintail, and mallard ducks, as well as Icelandic whooper swans, are drawn to winter floods in Wheldrake Ings. Pink-footed and white-fronted geese, as well as the occasional bean goose, are frequently seen in large flocks of greylag geese. A peregrine falcon on the hunt buzzing hordes of golden plover and lapwing creates an amazing sight.

Spurn: One of the best places in the UK to see migrant birds is Spurn, a curving spit of land that spans the mouth of the River Humber for three and a half miles. Many birds stop to refuel, offering great views of migrants such as ring ouzel, whinchat and a variety of warblers; in one day, 22,000 swallows were recorded flying through the site, with 7,000 house martins logged the following day! Autumn and spring spectacles of visible migration can see thousands of birds passing overhead; rare birds are regularly recorded. A specialized seawatching hide provides a protected area to observe the waves. Among the species frequently observed are seabirds, terns, divers, waders, and wildfowl, with the black-browed albatross being one of the rarities.

Staveley – This superb wetland site lying close to the River Tutt holds year round interest for visitors with regular sightings of otters and several orchid species among the highlights.

North Cave Wetlands – North Cave Wetlands is a true example of a 21st Century nature reserve, developed in the footprint of a large sand and gravel quarry. From spring avocets and common terns, summer dragonflies, to wintering flocks of wildfowl, a day spent here at any time of year will reward.

Carr Vale – The mixture of wetlands, grassland and trees attracts a rich variety of birds throughout the year, with a number of rare species recorded such as Caspian tern and Sabines gull. In September, swallows gather in a pre-migration roost of 1-2,000 birds, often attracting hunting hobbies. In winter, large numbers of wildfowl feed on the wetlands and grassland.

Rutland Water – One of the most famous inland locations for birdwatching, Rutland is rewarding at any time of year. In winter, up to 28 species of wildfowl are recorded including rarer species such as scaup and smew. Passage waders are a big feature of spring and autumn, with 21 species recorded in a single day, and other regular migrants include terns and wheatears. Up to 70 species breed over summer, including the famous ospreys.

Donna Nook: The intertidal zones, slacks, and dunes make up the reserve. In winter, when sea-buckthorn berries draw a lot of fieldfare, redwing, and starling, snow buntings can be regularly spotted.

Gibraltar Point: Bird migration is concentrated along this dynamic stretch of the East Lincolnshire coastline. All year round, large flocks of birds can be observed, with particularly striking migration movements in the spring and fall that frequently feature rare species. One of the wonders of nature is the autumn and winter wader flocks here. During the highest tides of the year, up to 100,000 knot, dunlin, oystercatcher, and sanderling are forced off their feeding and roosting grounds and gather in enormous whirling patterns.

Attenborough – A complex of former gravel pits that attract large numbers of wintering wildfowl, as well as a variety of waders during spring and autumn migration, including little ringed plover, greenshank and rarer visitors such as Temmincks stint and curlew sandpiper. Other migrant birds that regularly pass through the reserve include whinchat, wheatear, osprey, black tern and little gull.

Idle Valley – One of the richest birding sites in the region, Idle Valley boasts an impressive species list including many local or national rarities such as killdeer, whiskered tern and long-billed dowitcher. Spring and autumn migration bring good numbers of waders and terns, with black tern regularly seen, as well as migrant passerines such as wheater, whinchat and yellow wagtail. The water holds large numbers of wildfowl in winter, including goldeneye and the occasional smew.

Wood Lane – This disused industrial site is now a haven for birds, including hundreds of pairs of breeding sand martin in summer. During spring and autumn migration, passage waders are commonly seen on the lagoons islands and muddy fringes, including greenshank and curlew.

Doxey Marshes – This wetland oasis near the centre of Stafford is important for breeding and passage wading birds, with significant populations of lapwing, snipe and redshank. Rare birds are regularly recorded during migration periods, including the Midlands first river warbler. Water pipits are sometimes present over winter.

Brandon Marsh – Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve is set in 220 acres and features a wide variety of large pools, bird hides, woodland walks and wildflower meadows. This former quarry has been transformed into a European Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – home to a number of iconic species including kingfisher, cuckoos and otter. The reserve is also frequented by visiting osprey, pied flycatcher and other rare migratory species. The Visitor Centre is a great place to start your visit, and includes a tea room and well-stocked gift shop. The accessible network of paths and boardwalks allow visitors to explore pools, reedbeds and woodlands and get closer to nature.

Bubbenhall Wood and Meadow – Bubbenhall Wood and Meadow nature reserve is nestled in the heart of the Dunsmore Living Landscape. Enjoy the contrast of ancient woodland and new meadow with ponds and pools.

Upton Warren – Spring and autumn passage often brings marsh harrier, osprey, black tern and a variety of waders, including greenshank, dunlin and green and common sandpipers. These are sometimes joined by scarcer species, such as little stint or wood sandpiper, or even a rarity – past records have included least sandpiper and Wilsons phalarope! Winter brings bittern, water rail, and common and jack snipe. Entrance is by WWT membership card of £3 permit on the day or in advance online.

Gunners Park and the Shoebury Ranges: Because of its closeness to the Thames Estuary, Gunners has long been a favorite location for migratory birds, such as the Yellow-browed Warbler, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, and Spotted Flycatcher. In October of this year, Gunners truly demonstrated its ability to draw migratory birds when an Olive-backed Pipit, a vagrant from the east, took up residence and signaled the beginning of twitchers’ arrival in Southend.

The Dark-Bellied Brent Geese, which have migrated to the region from far to the north and east of the British Isles—some even as far as Russia—are brought by the Naze, a late autumn migration. They typically stick around until March/April.

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park: This expansive, cutting-edge park opened its doors in 2012 and features a breathtaking hide overlooking the Mucking Flats, which is utilized by thousands of dunlin and knot during the fall and winter. Other waders, ducks, and gulls, such as the bar-tailed godwit, teal, gadwall, pintail, and avocet, are also abundant.

Blue House Farm Nature Reserve – Immerse yourself in the best wilderness Essex can offer and witness the true wonder of migration at Blue House Farm.

Tring Reservoirs: In the fall and winter, you can see flocks of lapwing, golden plover, goldeneye, wigeon, shoveler, tufted duck, goosander, gadwall, and pintail at these four spring-fed reservoirs, which offer some of the best birdwatching in southern England.

Large lake in the Colne Valley called Stocker’s Lake is home to a large number of wintering wildfowl, including magnificent mandarin ducks and shoveler, smew, pochard, wigeon, and gadwall.

Amwell – The volume of water birds that visit this reserve makes it significant on a global scale. Huge populations of shoveler and gadwall, as well as tufted duck, pochard, teal, and little grebe, can be seen in the winter. Look out for flocks of lapwing.

When Cley Marshes was acquired in 1926, it became the nation’s first Wildlife Trust reserve. It has many infrequent visitors and is among the best birdwatching spots in Europe. Numerous wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as bittern, marsh harriers, and bearded tit, are supported by the shingle beach, saltwater lagoons, grazing marsh, and reed bed.

Hickling Broad: The raptor roost at Hickling Broad offers fantastic views of raptors as they fly in to roost from October to March. You can witness hundreds of hen harriers, merlin, barn owls, and marsh harriers—a bird that is still rarer in Britain than golden eagles as a breeding species. It may also be the greatest location in Britain to see common cranes in the wild.

Lackford Lakes: Meadows, forests, reedbeds, and streams can be found at this former gravel pit complex by the Lark River. Excellent in the summer and winter for wildfowl, Lackford draws shoveler, goosander, tufted duck, teal, pochard, and gadwall. The large winter gull roost can number 28,000.

Chew Valley Lake – A great place to spot wildfowl including migrating birds feeding in the reed beds around the lake.

Puxton Moor – Large pastureland networked with rhynes full of rare plants, invertebrates and birds.

Weston Moor – A moor with three fields on the limestone ridge in Gordano Valley. Important for its breeding waders and rare plants.

Dawlish Inner Warren: An extended stretch of sand that forms the opposite bank of Exmouth at the mouth of the River Exe, forming a huge question mark. Numerous migratory birds, such as the dunlin, ringed plover, curlew, and black-tailed godwit, among many others, arrive and depart from this location. The visitor can get up-close views of the birds as they approach the hide as the sea level rises.

Brownsea Island: accessible by boat from Sandbanks and Poole from April to October, this location offers up-close views of up to 10,000 wading birds. This area has been home to the largest single avocet flock in Britain. Up to 2,500 black-tailed godwits, along with curlew, grey plover, dunlin, and oystercatcher, can be seen here every autumn. Landing fees may apply; visit the Dorset Wildlife Trust website for more information.

Blashford Lakes: Encircled by grassland and woodland, these lakes were formerly gravel pits that draw a lot of wildfowl in the winter. Over 900 ganders can be found, and each evening, up to 65 goosanders can roost. Herons, little egrets, and great white egrets have been frequent visitors in recent years. Some winters have also seen bitterns. Kingfishers are present all year round.

Farlington Marshes: One of the Trust’s oldest reserves, it is a grazing marsh rich in species and significant to the world’s waders and wildfowl, including reed warblers, sedge, and bearded tit. Additionally, a wide variety of flowering plants, including uncommon species like sea barley and corky-fruited water dropwort, have been documented here.

Catcott Complex: An excellent preserve to observe waders and waterfowl during the winter Internationally significant numbers of ducks, such as wigeon, pintail, shoveler, and teal, scuffle on the flooded fields directly in front of the main hide, while waders, like lapwing and snipe, navigate the drier terrain. Also watch for Bewick’s swans, golden plover and whimbrel.

Grazing marsh, sand dunes, rivers, shingle, reedbeds, and farmland combine to form Rye Harbour, one of the most significant conservation sites on the Sussex coast. Always a good place to see birds; 279 species have been documented here, including waders and big winter flocks of ducks like smew.

Langford Lakes: Osprey, terns, and waders are among the migratory birds that occasionally stop by in the early fall. The best time to see the wildfowl spectacle is in the winter, when many ducks use the lakes as their wintering grounds, including the tufted duck, pochard, gadwall, and great crested grebe. Shodler and wigeon join the increasing ranks of species as winter approaches.

Lower Moor Farm: Medieval hedges, forests, and meadows bind this wetland wonderland. Between December and March, around 4 p.m., amazing aerial displays of starlings can be seen as they assemble for roost. Keep an eye out for big flocks of redwing and fieldfare, as well as teal, goosander, red-crested pochard, and gadwall, while keeping a watch close to the Heronry Hide.

Cemlyn – During the summer, Cemlyn is home to one of Wales most important tern colonies, with hundreds of pairs of Sandwich tern joined by smaller numbers of Arctic and common tern. Spring and autumn can produce passage waders and other migrant birds, such as whinchat and wheater – rarer visitors to the area have included woodchat shrike and black-headed bunting. Between July and October a westerly or north-westerly wind can lead to excellent seawatching, with storm petrels, skuas and shearwaters often recorded.

Llanbwchllyn – In winter, big flocks of coot can be seen from the bird hide’s thatched roof. Great Northern Divers and bitterns have been spotted on occasion, but larger flocks of tufted ducks and goosanders, along with rarer birds like gadwall and goldeneye, are more likely to be spotted.

Pwllpatti: A bird hide with a view of the River Wye’s historic oxbow, which floods in the winter. It is also a good place for teal. It is home to the largest wigeon roost in Powys. Other likely species to be spotted include the mallard, tufted duck, redshank, oystercatcher, little egret, and common sandpiper.

Skomer Island – a spectacular summer seabird colony, Skomer is also a great place to see migrant birds passing through in spring and autumn. Regulars such as spotted flycatcher and redstart are often joined by more unusual visitors. Recent highlights have included woodchat shrike, eastern subalpine warbler and dark-eyed junco – a real rarity from North America.

Teifi Marshes – One of the best wetland sites in Wales, attracting large numbers of wintering wildfowl like teal and wigeon. Water rail, snipe, curlew and lapwing are all regular winter visitors, and passage can bring other waders such as ruff and green sandpiper, as well as songbirds stopping off to feed before completing their migration – a white wagtail ringed on the reserve was found in Vidvikursveit, Iceland, 1730km away, 76 days later.

Montrose Basin is a tidal basin that contains grassland, saltmarsh, mud, fresh and salt water, and reed beds. With a record count of 90,000 in October, the number of pink-footed geese peaks before declining in November, though some remain throughout the winter. Additionally, there are typically 2,000 or so redshank and eider that overwinter, 3,000 wigeon, 4,000 oystercatchers, and possibly even more knot

Isle of Muck: Located off Islandmagee in County, this striking island nature reserve The third-largest cliff-nesting seabird colony in Northern Ireland is found in Antrim. Large numbers of kittiwake, guillemot, fulmar, and razorbills breed here, and visitors may also see puffins, peregrine falcons, otter, and cetaceans.

Les Etacs and Ortac – Alderney is a haven for seabirds as well as a hotspot for migrating birds in spring and autumn. The spectacular Les Etacs and Ortac rocks support more than 2% of the world’s northern gannet population. These colonies are some of the most southerly found within the gannet’s range, with over 7,000 breeding pairs recorded.

Scilly – a paradise for birdwatchers, regularly hosting exciting and rare visitors during both spring and autumn migration. Scilly is one of the few places in the UK where rare birds from the east (such as citrine wagtail) can occasionally be seen alongside those from the west (especially waders, such as buff-breasted sandpiper). Great spots to visit are their Higher and Lower Moors.

Where to watch migrating birds

One of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the UK is bird migration, when birds fly from the south to breed in the spring, from the north in the winter to find food and milder climates, or they are just passing through on their journey. Observe the flocks’ annual arrivals and departures, but keep an eye out for those who would rather fly alone. April brings Cuckoos, July brings Arctic wading birds, and October brings Europe’s tiniest bird—the goldcrest—weighing as much as a ten-pence piece and miraculously managing to make the journey across the North Sea to spend the winter here.

© Alan Price/Gatehouse Studio

Why do birds leave Britain in autumn and winter?

There are clear benefits to moving south, especially for avian insects. Even a few extremely cold days could be enough to starve swallows and nightingales to death, so they would be taking a significant risk by attempting to survive a British winter. There is always more food farther south, but there is also a lot more competition. In addition to resident birds from Africa, there are also migrants from Europe and Asia. Between October and March, a shady African forest is a veritable melting pot of different nationalities.

No matter where they end up, their immediate surroundings will definitely not resemble the icy, barren British countryside in the winter.

Migrants will forage among olive leaves and evergreen scrub in Spain or North Africa. In the lush savannah of tropical Africa, willow warblers forage in the crowns of acacia trees, a place only giraffes can access. Garden warblers will move into thick montane scrub, which has a biodiversity many times higher than our own, while cuckoos will vanish into dense forests.

In Africa, gardens and cultivated areas serve as a source of food for nightingales, while moorland is replaced by semi-desert landscapes by Northern Wheatears.

FAQ

What month do birds fly south?

According to the experts, birds are in search of climates that will provide more food and daylight hours as the world heads towards the winter equinox. The annual migration begins in August and lasts through November, but September and October are considered to be the peak months in North America.

What time of year do birds migrate from UK?

Flocks of birds can be seen year round, including impressive movements of migrants during spring and autumn, which often include rarities. The autumn and winter wader flocks here are one of the wonders of the natural world.

Do all UK birds fly south in the winter?

About 50 bird species in all leave our shores each year on a substantial southward journey, to spend the British winter in gentler climates. But at the same time, many bird species – such as geese, swans and ducks – migrate to Britain in autumn, overwintering on our shores before leaving once more in spring.

What triggers birds to fly south?

Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of burgeoning insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations. As winter approaches and the availability of insects and other food drops, the birds move south again.