We often wax lyrical (the pun will make sense in a minute) about how beautiful some birds look in the breeding season. Whether it’s the brilliant bill of a Puffin or the colourful collar of a Great-crested Grebe, many birds are often at their best and brightest in the spring and summer.
But that doesn’t mean the natural world turns drab and lifeless as the cold weather comes in. Some of our most colourful species don’t even show up until the leaves are off the trees. That’s why in today’s blog, we’re going to celebrate the beautiful birds that can brighten up even the darkest winter day.
Told you that pun would make sense.
Waxwings look like they belong in the tropical rainforests of Africa and South America, not those leafless bushes at the end of your road. But that’s exactly where you might find them in autumn and winter. A major reason for this is that while those bushes may be leafless, they’re certainly not lifeless. Waxwings love berries, and species such as hawthorn and rowan are full of them at this time of year.
In some years, when the berry yield is particularly poor in their Scandinavian homes, we see huge flocks of Waxwings appear in Scotland seemingly overnight. These outbreaks are called ‘irruptions’.
Image credit: Ben Andrew
Pink-footed Geese share a lot of similarities to our resident Greylags but have a few key differences. As well as being smaller and having pink beaks as opposed to the Greylag’s orange, there’s one other notable difference. Can you guess what it is?
Here’s a hint – it relates to the colour of their feet.
Tens of thousands of these birds travel here from breeding grounds in Greenland, and you’ll often hear them before you see them (honk honk!) For many, the first sight (or sound) of Pink-footed Geese is one of the quintessential signs of autumn – keep an eye out for their distinctive v-shaped formation in flight.
Image credit: Andy Hay
Redwing & Fieldfare
Redwings and Fieldfares are closely related as part of the thrush family, which also includes Song and Mistle Thrushes.
Upon arriving on our shores in autumn, these bird buddies will often flock together as both species are fond of holly, yew and juniper berries. Despite these similarities, there are plenty of ways to tell them apart. Fieldfares are one of the largest thrushes found in the UK and stand out with their grey heads, brown wings and speckled breasts. Redwings on the other hand, are our smallest thrush and – surprise, surprise – have a red patch on their wings.
Redwing (left) by Ben Andrew; Fieldfare (right) by Ian Francis
They might save their bright, chestnut plumage for the breeding season in Greenland and Canada, but just look at those legs! Who needs a lighthouse when you have a flock of orange-legged Turnstone scrabbling around the coast.
And scrabbling is exactly what they do. Turnstone by name and nature, these birds feed by poking their long, thin beaks under stones by the beach, before flipping them over to uncover the tasty morsels hiding beneath. In this instance, ‘tasty morsels’ refers to maggots, worms and other beasties.
Image credit: Katie Nethercoat
Okay, Robins are here all year round, but we could hardly write a blog about colourful, cold-weather birds without giving them a mention.
Their famous red breast always helps them stand out, but Robins are perhaps even more notable in winter as they’re one of the few birds that sing all year round. And while this singing may sound sweet to us, it’s actually part of their fiercely territorial behaviour; they’ve been known to attack other Robins and even their own reflection if they feel threatened!
What birds do you look forward to seeing come autumn and winter?
Header image shows a round, fluffy Robin on a frost-covered tree branch. Credit: Ben Andrew.
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