How to improve your bird spotting skills

Bird flying above the garden at Mount Stewart House, Garden and Temple of the Winds, County Down

There are nearly 600 species of birds known in the uk, from resident garden birds to seasonal migratory visitors. We've pulled together some of our best places to go bird spotting, as well as a few top tips that you can use out in the field.

Practice makes perfect

If you’re confused between two species the best thing to do is to read about them and then seek each species out in its natural habitat. Once you've got a good description of the bird, and the more you experience a bird’s behaviour, the better you’ll be at spotting it in the future. 

Understanding the structure of birds’ bodies and the terms used, particularly for different groups of feathers, is useful knowledge to have to hand in the field, especially when referring to identification guides.

There are nearly 600 species of birds in the UK - which will you spot?
Girl in field looking through binoculars
There are nearly 600 species of birds in the UK - which will you spot?

Listen out

Another way to identify different species is through their songs and, surprisingly, they are relatively easy to learn.

You’ll already recognise blackbird, blue tit, chiffchaff and robin calls without even realising it. The RSPB eGuide to British Birds app is a really helpful tool for checking birdsong you hear when you’re out spotting.

Bird-friendly gardens

Some of the easiest bird species to spot are our native garden birds, and you can improve your chances by creating a welcoming habitat for them. A garden full of native shrubs, flowers and grasses and free of excessive fertilizer and pesticide will be much more inviting for birds and may tempt in some unusual ones. Plants such as rowan, wild cherry and elder are particularly good - birds will love their berries and the insects they attract.

Follow our tips to make your garden more attractive to birds
Blue tit
Follow our tips to make your garden more attractive to birds

It’s not a good idea to feed wild birds bread in your garden – it’s not good for them and you’ll be more likely to attract crows instead.

If you do feed birds peanuts, crush them up first as young birds can choke on full-sized nuts. Overall the best approach is to feed birds foods that would naturally be growing at that time of year – seeds in the summer, nuts in the autumn.

Hot Spots

If you want to see some less-common bird species then it's worth travelling slightly further afield to find them in their natural habitats. Here are some of our top places for bird spotting:

Adult spoonbill standing in shallow water

Brownsea Island, Dorset 

The five hides that overlook Brownsea's lagoon are the perfect perch to watch the comings and goings of many bird species. Between May and July you’ll see terns feeding their young, along with Grey herons, little egrets and oystercatchers. In winter look out for avocets, spoonbills and black tailed godwits.

Wicken Fen - Marsh Harrior with nesting material

Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Wicken Fen is a great location for bird spotting, especially during the spring and summer months when our native species are being joined by seasonal migrants. Chiffchaffs, cuckoos, hobbies and marsh harriers are all common sights at this time of year – which will you spot?

Walker on the Malham Tarn Estate

Malham Tarn, North Yorkshire

Malham Tarn is an area of outstanding moorland uplands, wildlife-rich hay meadows, beautiful vistas and varied birdlife. On a meander around the estate you can pop into the bird hide to see which species you can spot. Great crested grebes, wigeon, goosander are all regular visitors, and if you’re lucky you might even see a hen harrier.

Seabird at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas

The Leas, Tyne and Wear 

The Leas is a two and a half mile stretch of cliffs and coastal grassland which make the perfect habitat for a whole host of bird species. Spot Kittwakes nesting on the cliffs, along with guillemots and cormorants. It’s also a great spot for raptors such as peregrines, owls and Sparrowhawks – so don’t forget your camera.

Braich y Pwll, Uwchmynydd, Llyn Peninsula

Llŷn, Gwynedd 

Looking for a birding adventure? A walk in the Llŷn countryside will reward you with diverse habitats and spectacular scenery that make this an ideal place for bird watching. From seabirds nesting on the cliffs to raptors riding the thermals, there are plenty of species here for the keen birdwatcher to spot.

Lapwings flying over a misty Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough, County Down 

Strangford Lough is a unique place to visit at any time of the year, and there’s always plenty of birdlife to be found by the shore or in the wider countryside. In spring migrant birds arrive from Africa and further afield, and you might also see nesting herons and other waterfowl. Later in the year Strangford hosts around 80,000 wintering birds such as brent geese.