Winter visitors

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

As winter approaches, avian visitors arrive from the north and east to spend winter in the British Isles where the climate is milder and food is more abundant. These visiting birds will then leave our shores to head for their breeding grounds in springtime.

Two well-known and widespread winter visitors to the North York Moors, and across the UK, are the winter thrushes – Redwing and Fieldfare. Flocks are a well-known sight in our British countryside with hundreds of birds arriving each year looking for food.

Redwings Turdus iliacus

Redwing -

Redwings tend to arrive from Iceland and Scandinavia to winter in the UK before heading south to breed come springtime. Although a very small number have been known to breed in the far north of Scotland. These small thrushes are dark brown above and white below, with a black-streaked breast and orange-red flanks and underwing. The birds look for open countryside to feed on berries in hedgerows and on farmland; making the landscape of the North York Moors an ideal location. However Redwings have a nomadic nature depending on food availability and weather conditions which means they will also travel to built up areas, parks and gardens.

Fieldfares Turdus pilaris

Fieldfare -

Fieldfares, like Redwings, begin to arrive in October and head to open countryside to feed on berry-laden bushes. Fieldfares have a chestnut-brown back and yellow breast streaked with black, a black tail, dark wings and pale grey rump and head. They can often be seen in large flocks mixing with Redwings and roaming the countryside in the same search for food. This large colourful thrush will also come into gardens to feed if the weather conditions are poor. Holding back cutting hedges and bushes with berries on such as Hawthorn, Rowan, Holly and Rosehips is a help for these birds.

Waxwings Bombycilla garrulous

Waxwing -

Waxwings are not annual winter visitors to the British Isles but they do arrive irregularly en masse in an event termed an ‘irruption’. This will happen every 10 years or so and is often termed a ‘waxwing winter’ where large numbers of birds travel to the UK from their usual winter residence in Scandinavia. Waxwings usually turn up in the north and east of the country and this is typically the result of a lack of food. These birds are very distinctive with a Mohican style crest and red tips on the wings giving an impression that they have been dipped in wax. Waxwings, like the winter thrushes, will move on when food runs out at one location, often visiting our gardens looking for food with their favourites being Rowan and Hawthorn berries.

2 thoughts on “Winter visitors

  1. lovely birds Kate. But i think if you either do birdwatch or read up a little more you’ll find Fieldfares and Redwings arrive in flocks of thousands each year and not hundreds.

    Both these thrushes are relatively quiet when they arrive here but on their breeding grounds in the northern europe they are extremely noisey birds. I’ve camped next to fieldfares and the noise made by just one nesting pair made sleep almost impossible.

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