• Donnington Grove

Winter Birds

Who stays and who leaves the British Isles for Winter?

Winter visitors are birds that arrive in autumn from the north and east to spend the winter in the UK, where the weather is milder and food is easier to find. In spring, they return to their breeding quarters.

They include fieldfares, redwings, bramblings, Bewick’s and whooper swans and many kinds of ducks, geese and wading birds. Many water birds also spend the winter on the sea around the UK coast, including common scoters, great northern divers and red-necked grebes.

What is Irruption?
Irruption is a mass arrival of birds that do not usually visit the UK in large numbers. This happens with some northern species, such as waxwings, when their population grows too large for the food supply.
For example. once some waxwings have eaten all the berries in their usual Scandinavian winter quarters, they have to cross the sea to the UK to find more. Irruptions only happen every 10 years or so; we cannot expect to see waxwings every winter.


Altitudinal migrants
Instead of migrating between north and south or east and west, some birds migrate up and down. This is called altitudinal migration – or vertical migration. Birds that breed in upland areas in summer head down to lowland areas in winter in search of a milder climate and more food.

Although the journey may not be long, it often involves quite a change in lifestyle. Altitudinal migrants in the UK include skylarks, meadow pipits and snow buntings.

Winter Birds
Winter can be an excellent time of year to get close up views of birds visiting your garden for food, water and shelter. It also provides an exciting opportunity to see some species which are only here during the winter months.

Goldcrests are Britains smallest breeding bird and favour coniferous woodlands and gardens. In winter they can often join flocks of other small birds and most frequently seen in the tree canopy. They have a distinctive gold stripe on their head, giving them their common name.

The dunnock is a common garden bird but is a bit more elusive than other species. As their alternative name suggests, hedge sparrow, they often tend to seek cover.

Coal Tit
Coal tits most show a preference for conifer woodland during the breeding season. It Is similar in size and resembles the larger great tit but can be iden


tified by the white patch on the back of its head and light brown flanks.

Blue Tit
Is a resident breeding bird and has a similar diet to other birds in winter, favouring seeds. Famously Blue Tits adapted the


 ability to digest milk and used to tap through the foil lids of freshly delivered milk on doorsteps.


Bird facts

Shortest Bird Migration
The dusky grouse is a North American bird that migrates just 300 m. During the winter it lives in mountainous pine forests of western North America. It then descends to deciduous woodlands for the breeding season where it feeds on the early crop of seeds and fresh leaves.

Shortest Widest Wingspan
The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird in the world reaching lengths of 3.65m.

Longest Flying
Alpine swifts can fly up to six months without stopping.


The Peregrine Falcon can reach speeds of up to 240 miles per hour (mph) while diving!

Sparrows are carnivores by nature, but they have changed their eating habits when they learned to live close to people. Sparrows primarily eat moths and other small insects, but they can also eat seed, berries and fruit.

We spend approx. £200 million a year on wild bird food!

There are around 10,000 different species of birds worldwide.

Feeding winter birds

At this time of year, put out food and water on a regular basis. In severe weather, feed twice daily if you can.


Birds require high-energy (high-fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights. Use only good-quality food and scraps.

Always adjust the quantity given to the demand, and never allow uneaten foods to accumulate around the feeders.

Different birds are attracted to certain foods, often reflecting their special adaptations for natural food types.

Greenfinch, Tits : sunflower hearts
Sparrows, Woodpigeon : large grains

Woodpeckers, Tits, Starling : fat balls and peanuts
Robin, Thrushes : mealworms and

live foods
Thrushes, Waxwing : windfall fruit