This list of the birds of Britain contains pictures and facts on a number of well-known British species. This page is the second part of our look at birds of the British Isles.
- You can find the first part here: Common British Birds
- Need help identifying British birds? Check out these awesome bird books: Best British Bird Books
In the list below you’ll find species that aren’t quite as common or as well-known as those in the first list. However, the birds on this page are all familiar species that anyone living in Britain should be able to recognise!
Once you can identify all of the birds in both lists, then you can call yourself a true British bird expert!
What’s your favourite bird of Britain? Do you get any of these birds in your country? Let us know in the comments below!
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Birds Of Britain: List With Pictures & Facts
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
- Typical Habitat: Farmland, grasslands
This beautiful white owl is active not only at night, but also at dawn and dusk. It can often be seen flying silently over fields at these times as it hunts for prey. The bulk of its diet consists of small mammals such as shrews, voles and mice.
Although the barn owl is often associated with the British countryside, it is also found in many other parts of the world. In fact, the species has a wider range (the area in which it is present) than most other birds.
Barn owls are found not just in Britain, but also in much of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and even in Australia!
The barn owl’s call consists of a rather unpleasant shriek, giving the species the nickname of ‘screech owl’.
(The owl responsible for the well-known ‘twit-twoo’ call is the tawny owl. You'll find the tawny owl in our list of common British birds.)
Black Headed Gull
- Scientific Name: Chroicocephalus ridibundus
- Typical Habitat: Coastal, estuary, farmland, reservoir
The black headed gull is smaller than the herring gull. It is commonly seen at the coast, but is also present in many inland habitats.
In the summer the black headed gull has a black head. Confusingly, during the winter the gull’s head is mostly white, with just a small patch of black behind each eye.
The black-headed gull is neither quiet nor shy. Listen out for its characteristic high-pitched, ‘caw’ call.
- Scientific Name: Pyrrhula pyrrhula
- Typical Habitat: Woodland, Farmland
The (Eurasian) bullfinch is a small passerine bird belonging to the "true finch" family, Fringillidae. It is found throughout Europe and Asia. Characterized by its robust build, the male boasts a bright rose-red chest and face, contrasting starkly with its black cap, tail, and wings; the female, on the other hand, sports a more muted, grayish-brown hue in place of the red. Both sexes possess a distinctive white rump, making them easily identifiable during flight.
Despite its striking appearance, the Eurasian bullfinch is a shy and secretive bird, often found in thick woodlands and gardens. It primarily feeds on seeds, but during the breeding season, may consume buds, potentially causing damage to fruit trees. The species' soft, melancholic whistle adds to its elusive aura, making any sighting or auditory encounter a treasured experience for British bird watchers.
- Scientific Name: Periparus ater
- Typical Habitat: Conifer woods
The coal tit is Britain’s smallest tit. It is somewhat similar to the blue tit in appearance, but rather less colourful, being predominantly pale brown, slate grey and white. It has a black head with white cheeks. Look out for the distinctive white stripe that runs up the back of the bird’s neck.
The coal tit spends most of its time in the tree tops in coniferous woodlands. The species will also visit parks and gardens.
- Scientific Name: Prunella modularis
- Typical Habitat: Hedgerows, gardens, woodland
The dunnock, also commonly referred to as the hedge sparrow or hedge accentor, is a small passerine bird found primarily in Europe and parts of Asia. It is distinguishable by its inconspicuous appearance, with a mottled brown plumage and a slim bill, allowing it to blend seamlessly into its woodland and garden habitats. The dunnock's legs are a noticeable orange-brown, and its finely streaked chest and flanks, along with the subtle blue-grey hue on its head and neck, help differentiate it from other small brown birds.
Although the dunnock's appearance might suggest otherwise, its breeding behavior is quite intriguing and complex, often involving polyandrous or polygynandrous mating systems. These birds are ground feeders, primarily subsisting on insects, spiders, and small worms, but they may also consume seeds during the colder months. Their song, while delicate, is a beautiful series of rapid, trilling notes, often heard during the early days of spring.
- Scientific Name: Fulica atra
- Typical Habitat: Lakes, reservoirs, rivers
The coot is a medium-sized black water bird found in lakes and reservoirs across Britain. It has a white bill and ‘frontal shield’ (a hard, bony plate that covers the face and forehead).
The featherless white surface of the bird’s frontal shield gives rise to the saying ‘as bald as a coot’!
- Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax carbo
- Typical Habitat: Coastal, reservoirs
The cormorant is a large, long-necked black bird found all around the coastline of Britain. The species also visits inland lakes and reservoirs, especially in winter.
The cormorant is a fish-eater, diving into the water to capture its prey. The species can often be seen drying its outstretched wings.
The long neck of a cormorant gives it a rather ‘reptilian’ appearance. Looking at a cormorant makes it easier to believe that all birds are descended from dinosaurs.
- Scientific Name: Regulus regulus
- Typical Habitat: Coniferous woodland and forest.
The goldcrest is Britain’s joint-smallest bird (the similar-looking and closely-related firecrest is equally as tiny). It is found in coniferous woodlands. It can often be seen flitting among the branches searching for insects, which it pulls out from between the pine needles using its thin bill.
The goldcrest’s back and wings are olive green. A prominent gold stripe on the bird's head gives the species its name.
Great Black-Backed Gull
- Scientific Name: Larus marinus
- Typical Habitat: Coastal, reservoirs
The great black-backed gull is the world’s largest gull. It can be identified both by its size and by its black wings; the lesser black-backed gull’s wings are usually dark grey rather than black.
The great black-backed gull's pale pink legs are also helpful in identifying the species.
This large gull finds food by scavenging and by kleptoparasitism (the stealing of food caught by other birds).
Great black backed gulls are also skilled hunters in their own right. They prey on fish, birds and mammals.
The great black-backed gull is found on the coast all around Britain. It occasionally visits inland reservoirs and rubbish tips. During the winter, great black-backed gulls from Scandinavia join those that are resident in Britain all year round.
- Scientific Name: Chloris chloris
- Typical Habitat: Woodland, parks, gardens
The greenfinch is a sparrow-sized bird with a powerful, seed-eating bill. The male bird is olive-green, the female grey-brown. Both males and females have bright yellow strips in their wings and tail.
The male greenfinch’s song consists of a long, high-pitched, whistling melody. The phrases often end with a sustained note that drops in pitch.
- Scientific Name: Picus viridis
- Typical Habitat: Woodland, meadows, farmland
The green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers commonly found in Britain. Its size and green colour allow it to be easily distinguished from the great and lesser spotted woodpeckers (which are both predominantly black and white).
The green woodpecker spends more of its time on the ground than the other woodpeckers. It feeds mainly on ants, which it plucks from the grass with its long, sticky tongue.
When disturbed, the green woodpecker will emit a long, alarm call that sounds like laughter.
- Scientific Name: Delichon urbicum
- Typical Habitat: Farmland, country towns and villages
The house martin is a small, black and white bird. It has a forked tail and pointed wings. You can distinguish it from the similar-looking swallow by its smaller size and the white strip on its back behind the wings.
The house martin is a summer visitor to Britain. It arrives in April and departs in October. The species breeds in Britain, raising its young in round mud nests built in the eaves of buildings.
The house martin overwinters in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Scientific Name: Coloeus monedula
- Typical Habitat: Farmland, coastal areas, country towns and villages
The jackdaw is the smallest of Britain’s crows. It has a black body and wings, and dark grey head and shoulders. The eyes are pale grey.
The jackdaw is a highly social bird. It roosts and forages in small groups with a complex social structure. The jackdaw mates for life and is rarely seen without its mate.
The jackdaw has a wide range of calls, including the short ‘jack’ call, from which the species gets its name.
- Scientific Name: Garrulus glandarius
- Typical Habitat: Woodland
The jay is one of the more colourful members of the crow family. This handsome bird has a pale brown chest and wings, a white lower back and black tail. The edges of the wings are black and white, and there is a bright blue panel on each wing.
The jay is a woodland bird. For such a good-looking bird it has a rather ugly, scream for a call. The jay is well-known for its habit of stockpiling acorns which it will eat later in the year.
- Scientific Name: Falco tinnunculus
- Typical Habitat: Farmland, grassland, heaths
The kestrel is a medium-sized falcon, well-known for its ability to hover. It has a brown back and a pale chest with dark spots. Its wings are brown with dark tips.
The kestrel can often be seen by the side of the road, either perched on a telegraph pole or hovering, searching the ground for voles, its favourite prey.
- Scientific Name: Alcedo atthis
- Typical Habitat: Slow-moving rivers, ponds, lakes, reservoirs.
The kingfisher, with its stunning blue and orange plumage, is unmistakeable; no other British bird looks even vaguely like it.
If you’re walking by a river and hear a short, high-pitched whistle, look up quickly; it’s likely to be a kingfisher darting past, following the course of the river.
Many times all you’ll see of a kingfisher is a quick flash of blue accompanied a whirr of rapidly-beating wings.
If you’re lucky you’ll see a kingfisher perched on an overhanging branch surveying the water before plunging in to catch a fish.
After catching a fish the kingfisher will return to its perch with its prey held in its long beak.
If the fish is still moving, the kingfisher will bash it against a branch. The kingfisher will then manoeuvre the fish in its beak to make sure that it goes down head first; that way it will be easier to swallow!
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
- Scientific Name: Larus fuscus
- Typical Habitat: Coast, farmland
The lesser black-backed gull is a large gull closely related to the herring gull. It is slightly smaller than the herring gull and significantly smaller than the great black-backed gull.
The lesser black-backed gull has dark grey, rather than black wings. Its wings are lighter in colour than those of the great black-backed gull, and darker than those of the herring gull. Its legs are yellow.
The lesser black-backed gull can be found all around the British coastline in the summer. In the winter it leaves the northernmost areas.
Young birds peck at the red spot on the adult’s bill. This produces an instinctive feeding response in the parent bird, forcing it to regurgitate food.
- Scientific Name: Gallinula chloropus
- Typical Habitat: Ponds, lakes, rivers, reservoirs
The moorhen is a black water bird. It is similar in appearance to the coot, but has a red frontal shield rather than a white one. (A frontal shield is a hard plate on a bird’s face.) The moorhen’s bill is red with a yellow tip.
The moorhen can also be distinguished from the coot by the patchy white line that runs along the sides of its body.
Moorhens are found in freshwater habitats in all but the northernmost parts of the British Isles. They prefer well-vegetated habitats.
- Scientific Name: Sitta europaea
- Typical Habitat: Woodland, gardens
Nuthatches are smart woodland specialists that are found in England, Wales and southern Scotland. Look out for their grey heads and backs, black ‘superhero’ eye masks and orange undersides.
If you see a small grey bird climbing head-first down a tree, or hanging upside-down from a branch, then you’ll probably be looking at a nuthatch.
Unlike the treecreeper, another small woodland bird, the nuthatch will move downwards, as well as upwards, while foraging for food on a tree trunk.
Woodpeckers, although well-adapted for climbing trees, are never seen climbing downwards head first.
- Scientific Name: Haematopus ostralegus
- Typical Habitat: Coast, estuaries
This smart coastal bird is found all around the British Isles. With its black and white plumage, red eyes, and long orange bill that looks a bit like a carrot, it would be hard to mistake the oystercatcher for any other species.
The oystercatcher is a wader. Waders are birds that specialise in foraging for food on the shoreline, wading in the shallow water and sifting through the mud with their (usually long) bills.
- Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
- Typical Habitat: Cliffs, upland areas, now also present in some cities
The peregrine falcon (sometimes known as just the peregrine) is Britain’s largest falcon. This powerful-looking predator can be recognised by its wide, pointed wings, streaked chest and black ‘moustache’ marking on its face.
The peregrine hunts by flying above its prey, then dropping down on them in a deadly dive, known as a ‘stoop’. Peregrines have been recorded travelling at 200 mph (320 km/h) while diving, making them the fasting moving of all animals.
Although in the past peregrines were only found in rocky upland areas, they have recently adapted to living in cities. Here they have an abundant food supply in the shape of feral pigeons.
- Scientific Name: Motacilla alba
- Typical Habitat: Coastal, gardens, near water
The pied wagtail is a small, black and white bird with a long tail. As its name suggests, the pied wagtail frequently wags its tail. Its head also bobs as it walks. Pied wagtails are often seen near water – keep an eye out for them if you’re walking next to a reservoir, or by a stream. They’re also common garden visitors.
- Scientific Name: Fratercula arctica
- Typical Habitat: Sea cliffs, open ocean
No list of British birds would be complete without the puffin. Although not a common species, the puffin is a well-known and well-loved bird that most people are able to identify.
Known as the ‘sea parrot’ on behalf of its large, colourful bill, the puffin can be seen at a number of coastal locations during the summer.
The puffin comes onto land to breed and to raise its young. The species nests in colonies at the top of cliffs. It digs a burrow, in which a single egg is laid.
The puffin is seldom seen in the winter. After raising its chick it leaves the coast and lives far out at sea.
- Scientific Name: Alauda arvensis
- Typical Habitat: Grassland, heaths, open countryside
The skylark is a brown bird not much larger than a sparrow. The pale edges of its feathers give it a streaky appearance. Its chest is pale and marked with broken stripes. The male skylark has a crest which is raised when the bird is agitated.
In the spring and summer the male skylark can be heard singing its bubbling, melodic song. As it sings it flies vertically upwards, getting higher and higher until it is just a speck in the summer sky.
The skylark’s song can last for up to 15 minutes. It’s one of the quintessential sounds of the English springtime.
- Scientific Name: Accipiter nisus
- Typical Habitat: Woodland, gardens
You don’t want to be a garden or woodland bird when there’s a sparrowhawk around. This ultra-fast, ultra-manoeuvrable bird of prey is a small bird’s worst nightmare.
The sparrowhawk has slate-grey wings and a barred tail. The male’s chest has orange bars, the female has black bars. The species flies with a series of short wingbeats followed by a short glide.
Female sparrowhawks are significantly larger than males. This is a useful adaptation, because it means that males and females don’t go after the same prey.
A female sparrowhawk will quite happily take a collared dove, whereas the male will stick to smaller species.
If you’re a real birder, you call this woodland predator a ‘sprawk’ ... it’s for too much hard work to say ‘sparrowhawk’!
- Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
- Typical Habitat: Farmland, open countryside, reservoirs
You know that summer is on its way when the first swallows begin to arrive. These migratory birds make an amazing trip from Sub-Saharan Africa to Britain every spring. In the autumn they return to their African feeding grounds.
The swallow’s wings and back are dark-blue / black. Its undersides are white, apart from a dark neck band. If you get a good look at a swallow you’ll be able to make out its red face.
The swallow is an aerial acrobat, darting low over the ground (or water) and making sudden changes in direction as it hunts for small flying insects. It can often be seen resting on telephone wires in-between hunting trips.
- Scientific Name: Apus apus
- Typical Habitat: Cities, towns, villages
Like the swallow and house martin, the swift is a migratory bird with a forked tail. It is larger than both the swallow and the house martin, and (apart from a pale throat patch) is black all over. All three are summer visitors to the UK; of the three, the swift is the last to arrive and the first to leave. (It's always a sad day when you realise that the swifts have departed, as it means that summer is almost at an end.)
The swift spends most of its life in the air; it only touches down to lay its eggs and feed its young. Some swifts have been known to remain airborne for up to ten months at a time!
Although it looks like the swallow and house martin, the swift is unrelated to these birds. This is an example of ‘convergent evolution’, a phenomenon in which two unrelated species evolve the same characteristics and lifestyles independently of one another.
British Birds List: Conclusion
If you can identify all of the birds on the list above and the birds on this page: Common British birds, then well done–you're well on your way to becoming a true ornithologist!
Now it’s time to broaden your avian knowledge by learning some less-common species! Read this article to become a bird expert: Birds: The Ultimate Guide
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- Download our awesome FREE British Bird ID Quiz app for Android: British Birds Quiz App
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