Birds of Britain  
  The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers   
Home Guide to British Birds Birding news and events Bird reserves Birdwatching Clubs Mystery Bird Quiz Birdwatching FAQ's Bird Shop
More Features
More feature articles

Spring Birding

by Paul Laurie

After the long winter months bird watchers look forward to the exciting spring birding that is now with us. Birding during March, April and May is not only summer migrants arriving from their winter quarters but also our local resident birds in full song and resplendent in bright colours.


March is a good time to begin to learn bird song with our resident species easier to hear before all the summer warblers arrive to make the task of identification more difficult. March is the real start of the spring with Garganey, Wheatear, Sand Martin, Black Redstart and Sandwich Tern often the first species to be seen in each county. Light southerly winds and warm temperatures can help push early continental migrants on to the south and east coast of the UK with Firecrest often in good numbers and the scarcer Bluethroat of the White-Spotted form occurring in small numbers.

Less obvious migrants during March will include large numbers of Meadow Pipits, Linnets and White Wagtail, the continental form of our Pied Wagtail. Siskin are common migrants through the UK as most of the northern birds winter in France and Spain. Redpoll is another finch which winters on the continent and migrates north in the early spring.

April can have a spell of wintry weather and this will often hold up the northward migration on the east coast but continue unabated through the western UK. Bardsey Island in north Wales has a great reputation for spring migration with large counts of common migrants such as Willow Warblers reaching 1000 on occasion. Once mid April arrives many species have reached southern Britain with birds such as; Nightingale, Little Ringed Plover, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Yellow wagtail being widespread. April is a good month for raptor migration with the east coast seeing numbers of Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawks often reaching double day count figures with the occasional Red Kite and Rough-legged Buzzard caught in the movement. Ospreys are also passing through at this time a single birds can be seen at several site over one day.

Inland counties experience spring migration on smaller scale than the coastal sites but can see some exciting birds such as Black-necked Grebes on gravel pits and fishing lakes. Purple Heron is a regular overshooting migrant to Britain and it is always worth checking any heron you see fly from a reed bed.

Alpine Swift
Alpine Swift

Early May sees the spring migration peak with thousands of birds passing north, waders visit the south and east coast many in full summer plumage and a visit to any east coast site should prove worthwhile with Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin. Scarce waders seen along the east coast can include Curlew Sandpipers, Temminck's Stints and Spotted Redshank. Temminck's Stint are also often seen at inland sites often on small areas of mud on gravel pits .Inland gravel pits and reservoirs are also known for occasional sighting of rare terns such as Whiskered, White-winged and Caspian Tern.

Rare raptors are a feature of May with Red-footed Falcon and Black Kite being reported in south and east of the UK. Red-footed Falcons often arrive with Hobbies on light south east winds.  Montagu's Harrier sighting can number up to 60 during late April and May and as the breeding population in eastern Britain seems to be improving this acrobatic bird should become more common on migration. Alpine Swifts can be found from March to May and are often found with the first flush of spring migrants.

The end of May is renown for producing rare birds from east and south east Europe and is a great time to look for Bee-eater, Common Rosefinch, Red-rumped Swallow, Thrush Nightingale, Melodious Warbler, Collared Flycatcher and Rosy Starling.

For the best birding during the spring don't miss warm days with light rain and south and south eat winds, you never know what you might find.