With the coming of autumn the days will start getting shorter, the weather will begin to chill, and our summer migratory birds such as the swift, turtle dove, and swallow will leave our shores for the warmer climes of southern Africa. For birds that live most of the year in Scandinavia and Russia, however, our autumns and winters are relatively mild and welcoming, and they travel thousands of miles over to the UK for their winter retreats.

Some of these migratory birds may even find their way to gardens, particularly if it gets really cold and there’s less food around. Here are a few autumn and winter visitors you might see, out your back window or in the wider countryside:

  • Siskins
    These bright yellow little finches were once only found in remote pine forests of northern Britain, but now you may see them on garden feeders. They live in the UK year-round, but in winter they’re often joined by siskins from northern Europe. They look similar to greenfinches, so look out for their pointy, slimmer beaks, brighter and streakier colours, and their slightly smaller size.
  • Bramblings
    Another one easily confused with a garden regular, bramblings often sound like chaffinches and have a similar red breast. The brambling (pictured above), however, has a white rump and almost all-black tail. They start to arrive in the UK in September and so are one of our earliest migratory birds, though they tend to only come to gardens when there’s less food around.
  • Waxwings
    Gregarious, flamboyant birds with a mohawk – these birds make a statement. They can be quite tame and will even approach within a few metres. Their numbers vary year on year, but it’s worth keeping an eye on berry bushes for flocks as they can devour 800-1,000 berries in a day! Rowan berries are their favourite, but they will also take berries from other plants such as Cotoneaster and the hawthorns.
  • Fieldfares
    Large, colourful, and social, these members of the thrush family (the same family as the blackbird) are lovely additions to the UK countryside in the cold months. They stand very upright and move forward with purposeful hops and will form flocks of sometimes several hundred strong in rural areas.
  • Redwings
    This is another member of the thrush family – and is in fact the UK’s smallest thrush. It has a creamy strip above the eye and orange-red flank patches, along with the characteristic thrush dots along its belly. They can be heard migrating in loose flocks at night, giving a soft seep seep call overhead. Like some of the others, they will only visit gardens when food is thin on the ground, but if you’re out and about keep an eye on flocks of starlings – there may well be a few bonus redwings amongst the flock.

To make your outdoor space as welcoming as possible to migratory birds, and other wildlife, please visit the RSPB’s Nature on Your Doorstep page for inspiration and top tips: www.rspb.org.uk/NatureOnYourDoorstep.

Image: Brambling Fringilla montifringilla by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)