Whether it is the dawn of spring or the slow closing of summer, as the seasons change many of our much-loved UK birds have perilous journeys ahead of them. Take the cuckoo, certainly not an athletic-looking bird, but each year it makes an impressive roughly 9,000 to 12,000 mile round trip from the UK, through Spain, into northern Africa, down to western Africa and back again, via the Sahara.

These journeys are a real test of endurance for long-distance migrants. They have to deal with extreme, changeable weather, long sea crossings, persecution and scarce food. Many will not make it. Every year, fewer and fewer of our iconic summer birds – swifts, cuckoos and turtle doves – return to our shores.

So what can we do to help our precious migrants? Here are eight summer migrants to see this year, and how you can give them a helping hand.


A swift landed on a building

Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

This aerial screamer can turn up anywhere in the UK, often seen just above rooftop height. They only land to nest, and never on the ground. Look for them flying lower in cloud and rain, often in numbers over freshwater. They visit the UK from May to August.

Swifts need our help now more than ever, and the best way for us to help them is to know where they are. Submit your sightings of swifts coming and going into holes in buildings or any low-flying screaming groups to our swift survey. You can also help swifts by installing swift boxes.

Migration: Arrives from south Africa in April, departs again in August.

Where to see: RSPB Loch Ruthven, RSPB Newport Wetlands, RSPB Dove Stone, RSPB Rainham Marshes

Turtle dove

Turtle dove

Photo: Les Bunyan (rspb-images.com)

Increasingly scarce in the UK, turtle doves favour farmland with tall, thick hedges or scrub. They can often seen on wires and atop shrubs. They have a fast, flicking flight and characteristic "purring" or "turring" call, which gives them their name.

Turtle doves are suffering from habitat loss and persecution. A project, of which the RSPB is a founding partner, is aiming to learn more about the migratory routes of this species and work to protect them across borders. Learn more and support Operation Turtle Dove.

Migration: Winters in central Africa. Present in the UK from April to September.

Where to see: RSPB Fowlmere, RSPB Bower's Marsh



Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Arriving in the UK in April, cuckoos breed in many habitats, including woodland, reedbeds and uplands. The last juveniles depart in August. Listen for their "cuckoo" song, then as soon as it stops, look for a falcon-like bird flying low, wingbeats not above horizontal. They occur nationwide but are now commonest in the north and west.

The cuckoo is an integral and much-loved part of the dawn chorus, but sadly it is being heard less and less in the UK. Support the RSPB's Let Nature Sing project to protect birdsong, or sponsor a cuckoo through the BTO's cuckoo tracking project.

Migration: European birds winter in central and southern Africa. Present in the UK from April to September.

Where to see: RSPB Aghatirourke, RSPB Langford Lowfields, RSPB Mawddach Valley – Arthog Bog, RSPB Arne

Pied flycatcher

Pied flycatcher

Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Slightly smaller than a house sparrow, the male will be a stark black and white in summer. Look for it darting out from perches on trees to catch flies.

This small bird of upland deciduous woodlands is on the decline for unknown reasons. Tagging projects are currently working to see if the problems lie outside the UK.

Migration: Winters in west Africa. In the UK from late April until September.

Where to see: RSPB Wood of Cree, RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas, RSPB Nagshead



Photo: Getty

Look for this small bird around moorland edges and in young forestry plantations with areas of grass. They summer in the UK between May and September.

Once common, whinchat numbers have declined substantially all over Europe since the 1980s. Since 2016, 21 individuals have been tracked by the RSPB and BTO. Research is continuing into their declines.

Migration: Winters in central and southern Africa. Seen in the UK from April to mid-September.

Where to see: RSPB Geltsdale, RSPB Langford Lowfields

Wood warbler

Wood warbler

Photo: John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

These beautiful bright and clean birds have a bright yellow breast and yellow-green underparts. Look for them zooming around capturing insects in flight and foraging them off leaves.

A woodland bird that has retracted from much of lowland England in recent years and is now declining in much of Europe. The RSPB holds many reserves where the species breeds.

Migration: Spends the winter in central Africa and migrates to the UK in April. Leaves again in August.

Where to see: RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, RSPB Glenborrodale, RSPB Naghead

House martin

House martin collecting mud for nest

Photo: Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)

An aerial expert, house martins can be seen darting out from the eaves of houses and catching insects in flight over the water. They are distinguishable from sand martins by the white patch on their rumps.

Like the swift, this is another fast-declining aerial bird, but it makes mud nests on the eaves of houses. Help martins by supplying them with safe nesting sites.

Migration: European birds winter in Africa, but the exact location is unknown. In the UK from March / April until September / October.

Where to see: RSPB Black Devon Wetlands, RSPB Bowling Green and Goosemoor, RSPB Sandwell Valley

Ring ouzel

Ring ouzel

Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Slightly slimmer than a blackbird, this less approachable bird breeds in the uplands of Wales, Scotland and the south-west of England. Look in gullies on moorlands and in mountains, as well as around hill farms.

This inhabitant of uplands requires a mosaic of heather and turf. It declined by 58% from 1988 to 1999. The RSPB manages reserves for them and tagging will help us understand where else we can act. Donate to the Ring Ouzel appeal.

Migration: Winters around the Mediterranean and north Africa. In the UK from March / April until September.

Where to see: RSPB Dove Stone, RSPB Haweswater