Six top migrant birds to see this autumn

Peter Brash, Animal Ecologist Peter Brash Animal Ecologist
Short Eared Owl

Ecologist Pete Brash has spent a lifetime watching birds. He picks six top birds to spot at our places in autumn and winter.

Bird migration has fascinated people for millennia. And now science is unravelling the mystery, revealing that the birds' journeys are more amazing than we had thought. 

Autumn signifies all change for us in northern climes, with many of our summer breeders departed it’s time to welcome our winter visitors. 


1. Knot

Brick-red in summer and grey in winter, knots get their name from that other shoreliner King Canute. Birds wintering on estuaries in the UK originate from Canadian islands but may be joined by birds form Siberia en-route to South Africa. Spot them at Blakeney Point, Norfolk.

Short-eared owl perched on the ground

2. Short-eared owl

A large owl with straw-coloured upperparts and bright yellow eyes. It’s the owl you’re most likely to see hunting during daylight. Arriving in Britain from Scandinavia, you can see Short-eared owls at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.

The Fieldfare, a winter migrant bird

3. Fieldfare

A large and handsome thrush, with a chestnut-coloured back, blue-grey head and rump. The harsh chack-chack-chack call can often be heard as they move along hedgerows.

Redwing in parkland at Charlecote in winter

4. Redwing

Similar in size and appearance to a song thrush but with a striking white eyebrow, red underwings and flanks. These visitors from Iceland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Siberia usually start arriving in early October. Their high-pitched sighs can be heard as they migrate at night. See them in woodlands and farmland.


5. Waxwing

It’s feast or famine for this unusual plump, pinkish and crested bird. Usually, a couple of hundred birds arrive in Britain every winter. But if the berry crop in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe is meagre then tens of thousands come. See them in our parklands.

Light bellied Brent Geese on the water at Strangford Lough

6. Light-bellied brent goose

After breeding in Arctic Canada, the geese fly to spend winter in Ireland, north-west England and Wales. 90% of the world's population of Light-bellied brent geese winter at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.