Roosting birds to spot this winter and how to identify them

Short winter days may restrict your birdwatching time, but if you’re canny you can just wait for the birds to come to you. Use this guide to improve your roosting bird ID skills.

Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) circling over Britain's largest rookery, Norfolk, UK

In the early winter months, large numbers of birds gather to roost together near lakes and nature reserves across the UK. This wildlife spectacle is fascinating to witness.

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Learn how to identify British species in our expert guide to roosting birds.

What does roosting mean?

Roosting is when birds sleep or settle to rest. Although different species don’t all roost in the same way, choosing a safe, and secure spot away from predators.

All illustrations by Mike Langman 

Black-headed gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Gathers in tens of thousands at reservoirs and gravel pits, often with other gull species. Take a telescope.

Blackheaded gull illustration

Knot Calidris canuta

Forms dense packs on shoreline at high tide, often with smaller dunlin, appearing as a solid grey block.

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Lapwing Vanellus vanellus

Roosts mainly on the ground, but in northern England has also taken to roosting on flat warehouse roofs.

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Hen harrier Circus cyaneus

Roosts in rushy places on moors, at a few inland marshes and on saltmarsh, especially in eastern England.

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Rook Corvus frugilegus

Roosts, sometimes in thousands, at traditional sites in copses. Pre-roost flocks often gather in nearby fields.

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Raven Corvus corax

Forms noisy roosts, often on crags or in dense conifers. Pre-roost displays involve croaking and soaring.

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Long-eared owl Asio otus

Roosts at traditional sites, often low down in thick scrub or small trees. Take great care to avoid disturbance.

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Redwing Turdus iliacus

Roosts in trees, especially conifers, and thick scrub. Birds arrive quite high and drop suddenly into cover.

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Greenfinch Carduelis chloris

Roosts up to several hundred strong gather in trees, often conifers such as Lawson’s and Leyland cypresses.

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Linnet Carduelis cannabina

Roosts in prickly shrubs such as gorse or bramble; also in conifers. Pre-roost gatherings twitter as darkness falls.

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Pied wagtail Motacilla alba

Roosts in warm, well-lit places, often on trees or buildings in towns. Listen for birds calling overhead en route.

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Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Gathers in huge roosts at reedbeds, and on piers and buildings. Aerial pre-roost displays are spectacular.

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