How to identify birds on the move in autumn

Migrants in a range of plumages are now on the move. Here are the immatures of 12, mostly common, species to look for this September.

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All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole

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1

Willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus (above)

Immatures are much brighter than adults, with entirely yellow underparts and a greener wash to the upperparts.

2

Whitethroat Sylvia communis

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Young are similar to adult females, but with brown not greyish heads and brighter chestnut wing panels.

3

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

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Immatures are browner overall than adults, with pale chestnut caps like those of adult females.

4

Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

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Young of both sexes have orange tails; young males also have hints of a black hood and a white forehead.

5

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

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Young resemble adult females, but are paler and more speckled, often with some spots on the breast.

6

Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

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Young are sandy above, not greyish as in adults, with paler eyestripes and less-defined cheek patches.

7

Pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

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Immatures are pale below and grey-brown above with white wing bars, much like adult females.

8

Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus

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Young look ‘scaly’ but often have just a trace of the adult diffuse breast band, so resemble young blackbirds.

9

Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava

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Young are more buff and grey than yellow, so can be confusingly pipit-like, but lack the streaky breasts of pipits.

10

Hobby Falco subbuteo

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Immatures lack the red ‘trousers’ and undertail feathers of adults, and have buff-tinged underparts.

11

Common tern Sterna hirundo

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Young lack the blood-red bills of summer adults, but beware: adults may also have darker bills in autumn.

12

Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea

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Young have darker bills and shorter tails than adults; can be very similar to immature common terns.