Now that autumn is here trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and the birds in our gardens are easier to see. Soon the weather will get colder and nuts, seeds, berries and insects will be hard to find especially if there is snow and ice on the ground. Well stocked bird tables and hanging feeders can make all the difference to the survival of many of our garden birds in severe winter weather – they are also a great place to perfect your bird identification skills. The descriptions below are for adult birds.
For more information on garden birds click on the following links.
RSPB - feeding birds
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
BTO Garden Birdwatch
What to look for - a distinctive red breast.
They eat spiders, insects, worms and other invertebrates. also seeds and fruit. Robins are very territorial and will chase other birds away. Unlike most other song birds they will sing all through the winter.
RSPB - Robin
What to look for - adult male blackbirds are black with a yellow ring around the eye and bright orange beak. Females are brown with a pale yellow eye ring.
They eat worms, insects, berries and fruit. Blackbirds can often be heard scuffling about in fallen leaves under hedges looking for worms, grubs etc.
RSPB - Blackbird
What to look for - a blue head cap and white face with black strip through eye, yellow chest and belly.
All the tits eat insects, spiders, caterpillars, seeds and nuts. They are very agile and will feed easily from hanging bird feeders
RSPB - Blue tit
What to look for - a black head cap and black stripe down the front of the body. Larger than the blue tit.
RSPB - Great tit
What to look for - a white patch on the back of the head and neck. No blue or yellow feathers. Coal tits will make frequent trips to bird feeders taking nuts and seeds away and hiding them to eat later.
RSPB - Coat tit
What to look for - a bright red face and yellow stripe on the wing.
They eat seeds, especially thistle and teasel seeds. Hanging bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds can attract small flocks of goldfinches.
What to look for - male birds have a pinky brown chest and greyish head. Female birds have a similar pattern but with duller brown colours. Both males and females have white bars on their wings and white side tail feathers that are noiceable when they fly.
In winter chaffinches feed on seeds and grain. They can often be seen feeding on the ground under hanging bird feeders.
RSPB - Chaffinch
What to look for - an olive green bird with yellowish wings. Food includes rosehips which few other birds will eat.
RSPB - Greenfinch
What to look for - male birds have a rosy pink chest with a black cap and face. Females have a similar pattern but duller brown colours. Both the male and female have a white rump (lower part of the back above the tail) - this is very visible when the bird flies.
RSPB - Bullfinch
What to look for - a brown bird with a pale speckled chest.
They feed on worms, caterpillars, invertebrates and fruit. Snails are a favourite food - the bird will bash the snail on a stone until the shell breaks and it can eat the soft body. Empty and broken snail shells are a good sign that there are song thrushes around.
RSPB- Song thrush
What to look for - a greyish backed bird, with a pale chest and black speckles. Larger than the song thrush. As the name suggests they will eat mistletoe berries along with other fruit, berries, slugs and worms.
RSPB - Mistle thrush
In very cold winter weather you may see mixed flocks of fieldfares and redwings. These winter visitors can be confused with our native thrushes and will eat the same food - earthworms, insect larvae, fruit and berries.
Fieldfare - winter visitor
What to look for - look for the grey head, pale eyebrow and bronze chest. Larger than a redwing.
RSPB - Fieldfare
Redwing - winter visitor
What to look for - a very obvious pale eyebrow and red patches under the wings - easily seen when the bird flies.
RSPB - Redwing
What to look for - glossy black bird with white speckles.
Starlings are often seen probing lawns for grubs and worms. They are very agile and will easily feed from hanging bird feeders. Usually seen in noisy flocks.
At dusk on winter evenings thousands of starlings can often be seen swooping across the sky in a huge flock or murmuration above the Albert Bridge in Belfast. As it becomes dark the birds settle down to roost together under the bridge.
In autumn native starlings are joined by large numbers of starlings from northern Europe - they migrate to Ireland because the winter weather is milder and it is easier to find food.
RSPB - Starling
What to look for - brown backed bird with a grey cap, pale cheeks and chest, black bib.
Eats seeds in winter. Very social birds, usually seen in flocks. Happy to use hanging bird feeders.
RSPB - House sparrow
What to look for - tiny all brown bird with an upright tail.
Eats spiders, insects and other invertebrates. Usually seen darting around in bushes and shrubs looking for insects - not attracted to hanging bird feeders.
RSPB - Wren
What to look for - unmistakable glossy black and white bird with a long black tail.
Magpies will eat amost anything including other birds eggs, young birds and dead animals. They are very noisy and will chatter loudly scaring off would-be predators like cats.
RSPB - Magpie
What to look for - small fluffy bird with a very long dark tail, pink tinged breast and black wings.
Usually seen in small noisy groups. Like the other tits they are insect eaters but will feed on nuts and seeds in hanging bird feeders.
RSPB - Long-tailed tit
What to look for - large grey pink breast, white patches on either side of neck - like thumb prints. White band on wings very visible in flight.
Feeds on seeds, berries, grain, nuts and green plants like brussel sprout leaves and broccoli.
RSPB - Woodpigeon
What to look for - black band (collar) on the back of the neck. Elegant pale pink grey pigeon. Eats seed, fruit and berries.
RSPB - Collared dove
Feral or City Pigeon
What to look for - feral pigeons come in a range of colours and markings. They are descendants of domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. The rock dove is the ancestor of all domestic pigeons.
RSPB - Feral pigeon
What to look for - male birds have a greyish back and wings with a rusy brown barred chest and red orange eyes. The female has a brown back and wings and pale brown barred chest with yellow eyes. Both have bright yellow legs and a hooked bill. As with many birds of prey the female is larger than the male.
Eats other birds hence the name. The larger female sparrowhawk can catch birds up to pigeon size while the male usually eats smaller birds like tits and finches.
Gardens are good hunting places for sparrowhawks especially if there is a bird feeder or table attracting lots of small birds.
RSPB - Sparrowhawk
What to look for - well camouflaged brown, grey bird.
Eats seeds, worms, spiders and other invertebrates. Usually spotted on the ground quietly shuffling about under a bird feeder or near the bottom of a hedge.
RSPB - Dunnock
Waxwing - winter visitor
What to look for - pinky, brown body and crest on top of the head. Dark bib, bright yellow marking on wings and tip of tail.
Eats berries in winter. Waxwings are occasional winter visitors. They are usually seen feeding on rowan, hawthorn or cotoneaster berries - they can eat twice their body weight in a day - a small flock will quickly strip a tree of berries before moving on.
RSPB - Waxwing