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.


All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole


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

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


3 Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

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


Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

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


5 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

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


6 Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

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


7 Pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

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


8 Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus

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


9 Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava

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

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


11 Common tern Sterna hirundo

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


12 Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea


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