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Garden birds - residents and winter visitors

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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

Robin

Robin

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Blackbird

Blackbird

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Blue tit

Blue tit

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Goldfinch

Goldfinch

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Chaffinch

Chaffinch

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Song thrush

Song thrush

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Starling

Starling

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House sparrow

House sparrow

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Wren

Wren

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Magpie

Magpie

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Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit

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Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon

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Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk

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Dunnock

Dunnock

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Waxwing

Waxwing

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Robin

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 

Image: Robin - male, 13 February 1919, Whiteabbey, Country Antrim. Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7149
Robin - male, 13 February 1919, Whiteabbey, Country Antrim. Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7149

 

Blackbird

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

Blackbird - male, 20 November 1918, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5806
Blackbird - male, 20 November 1918, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5806
Blackbird - female, 14 November 1918, Belfast, County Antrim. Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6049
Blackbird - female, 14 November 1918, Belfast, County Antrim. Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6049

 

Blue tit

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

Image: Blue tit - male, 12 February 1915, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5743
Blue tit - male, 12 February 1915, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5743

Great 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

Coal 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

Great tit - 1989 Taxidermist Kenny Murphy. BELUM.Lg5088
Great tit - 1989 Taxidermist Kenny Murphy. BELUM.Lg5088
Coal tit - male, 15 February 1915, Knock, Belfast County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5745
Coal tit - male, 15 February 1915, Knock, Belfast County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5745

 

Goldfinch

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.

RSPB Goldfinch

Image: Goldfinch - male, 20 January 1926, Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7126
Goldfinch - male, 20 January 1926, Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7126

 

Chaffinch

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

Image: Chaffinch - male, 28 December 1914, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7153
Chaffinch - male, 28 December 1914, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7153

 

Greenfinch

What to look for - an olive green bird with yellowish wings. Food includes rosehips which few other birds will eat.

RSPB - Greenfinch

Bullfinch

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

Greenfinch - male, 2 February 1916, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5692
Greenfinch - male, 2 February 1916, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5692
Bullfinch - male, 20 January 1917, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5697
Bullfinch - male, 20 January 1917, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5697

 

Song thrush

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

Image: Song thrush - male, 20 February 1919, Belmont, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5777
Song thrush - male, 20 February 1919, Belmont, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5777

Mistle 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

 

Mistle thrush - male, 22 February 1914, Belmont, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5843
Mistle thrush - male, 22 February 1914, Belmont, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5843
Fieldfare - male, 13 December 1915, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5844
Fieldfare - male, 13 December 1915, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5844
Image: Redwing - male, February 1911, Crossgar, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5783
Redwing - male, February 1911, Crossgar, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5783

 

Starling

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

Image: Starling - male, 20 January 1915, Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5761
Starling - male, 20 January 1915, Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5761

 

House sparrow

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

Image: House sparrow - male, Downpatrick, County Down, Taxidermist Williams. BELUM.Lg7212
House sparrow - male, Downpatrick, County Down, Taxidermist Williams. BELUM.Lg7212

 

Wren

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

Image: Wren - female, 1928, Belfast, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7166
Wren - female, 1928, Belfast, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7166

 

Magpie

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

Image: Magpie - male, 13 February 1922, Milltown, Belfast, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7158
Magpie - male, 13 February 1922, Milltown, Belfast, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7158

 

Long-tailed tit

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

Image: Long-tailed tit - 6 December 2001, Lurgan, County Armagh. Taxidermist Kenny Murphy. BELUM.Lg2009.04
Long-tailed tit - 6 December 2001, Lurgan, County Armagh. Taxidermist Kenny Murphy. BELUM.Lg2009.04

 

Woodpigeon

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

Collared dove

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

Wood pigeon - 1981, Taxidermist Bob Davey. BELUM.Lg5054
Wood pigeon - 1981, Taxidermist Bob Davey. BELUM.Lg5054
Collared dove - BELUM.Lg5976
Collared dove - BELUM.Lg5976

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

Feral pigeon - female. BELUM.Lg6437
Feral pigeon - female. BELUM.Lg6437
Rock dove - male, 7 August 1928, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6594
Rock dove - male, 7 August 1928, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6594

 

Sparrowhawk

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

Sparrowhawk - female, Dundonald, County Down. BELUM.Lg5338
Sparrowhawk - female, Dundonald, County Down. BELUM.Lg5338
Sparrowhawk - male, 28 December 1920, Portmore Lough, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5555
Sparrowhawk - male, 28 December 1920, Portmore Lough, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg5555

 

Dunnock

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

Image: Dunnock - male, 30 September 1910, Knock, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6611
Dunnock - male, 30 September 1910, Knock, Belfast, County Down, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg6611

 

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

Image: Waxwing - female, 27 November 1921, Lower Balliderry, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7147
Waxwing - female, 27 November 1921, Lower Balliderry, County Antrim, Taxidermist Sheals. BELUM.Lg7147