It’s not all gloom for Britain’s birds. Some farmland birds and migrants like cuckoos are in steep decline. But over the last forty years, while 72 of our bird species declined, 47 remained stable and 74 species increased. And we have over 50 more species breeding here than we did a century back.
Here’s when and where you might go to catch a glimpse of some of our more exotic newcomers:
Arguably the ultimate exotic, they are rare breeders here but many overshoot France in spring when they migrate north from Africa and stay here for a week or so. Watch out for them in late April into May anywhere in southern England where you might be lucky enough to spot one probing the ground for invertebrates with that unusual curved beak. But they can turn up almost anywhere.
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Expanding its range westwards across Europe, this small but gorgeous bird is named for the elaborate ball of a nest it constructs hanging from a tree branch. Penduline tits were once used in Central Europe as children's slippers. Not yet proven to breed here, they are turning up more and more frequently in spring, across southern Britain especially and almost always at wetlands. Try the RSPB’s Darts Farm near Exeter.
Tall and elegant, cranes are once again breeding in Britain after an absence of nearly four centuries, nesting in the Somerset Levels and in East Anglia. You can’t get close to their nesting sites – to give them the best chance of raising chicks – but you might catch a glimpse of them flying overhead or hear their loud “bugle” calls as they do so.
Tantalisingly recorded every year in small numbers in southern England since the 1960s and occasionally breeding, this tiny yellow finch has a “tinkling glass” song heard in every village throughout France. Listen out for them particularly in April and May. Europe-wide there are maybe 20 million breeding pairs of Serins; they might yet settle in numbers in southern England.
A Blackbird-sized beauty, listen for their loud, flute-like whistles from the poplar trees at the RSPB’s Lakenheath Reserve, Suffolk in spring and early summer. Camouflaged by leaves, watch for their undulating flight to and fro. Other places in eastern and south east England sometimes attract them too, especially in poplars, but only if our climate warms further are they likely to establish here in numbers.
First breeding in Dorset in 1996, birders used to go to France to see one. Not now; spot them feeding all year round on virtually any estuary or large marsh in southern Britain. In spring watch for their long nape plumes blowing in the breeze. Their similar cousins, Cattle Egrets – birds of pastureland not marsh – started breeding in 2008 too.
By sweeping their characteristically long, flattened beak from side to side, Spoonbills can be spotted from far away. Arrivals from Holland, they first nested in 2008 after a gap of over 300 years. See them in coastal Reserves such as the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk or Arne Reserve in Dorset or maybe elsewhere on the coasts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent through the year. “Spoonies” are likely to gradually spread much further.
A Houdini of the bird world, these noisy, exotic and aggressive birds escaped from aviaries and first nested in the wild in Kent in 1971. Now well established with 9,000 breeding pairs, small flocks of ring-necked parakeets shout like costermongers all year in parks in and around London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. To the worry of fruit growers, you might spot them in Kentish orchards too.
These Dutch incomers first bred in Hampshire in 1968; delicate gulls with all-white wings, they now number over a thousand and are increasing rapidly. Find them in summer, often with similar Black-headed Gulls, mainly on the south coast from Dorset to Norfolk but increasingly on inland lakes too. In winter they move back to the coast.
A tiny beauty, and a cousin of the common Goldcrest, Firecrests first came here to breed in 1962. Concentrated in south and southeastern England, they are spreading north to Wales and the Midlands, further still in winter. Constantly restless, watch for them in conifer woods in southern England in summer, especially in the New Forest but in conifers, broadleaved scrub, even gardens in winter almost anywhere.
Another visitor migrating from Africa to northern Europe to breed, these perky birds often miss Holland and move along our eastern coasts on migration instead. Anytime from April to early June, good numbers are sometimes dotted about in scrub and grassy areas near the sea. Often seen feeding on the ground, they dive into low cover if disturbed. Occasionally stopping to breed, it’s possible that they will become more widespread.
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