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.

yellow-warbler-Felicity-Rose-Cole--912c712

All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole

Advertisement

1 Willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus (above)

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

white20throat20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-21480dd

2 Whitethroat Sylvia communis

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

blackcap_623_Felicity20Rose20Cole20-03e96aa

3 Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

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

redstart20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-94205a8

Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

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

whinchat20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-cff3654

5 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

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

wheatear20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-beeb969

6 Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

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

pied20flycatcher20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-5b26c92

7 Pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

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

ring20ouzel20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-314dab4

8 Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus

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

yellow20wagtail20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-afd3a43

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.

hobby20Felicity20Rose20Cole20-2d62eaf

10 Hobby Falco subbuteo

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

common20tern_Felicity20Rose20Cole20-958d1e1

11 Common tern Sterna hirundo

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

arctic20tern_623_Felicity20Rose20Cole20-676a40d

12 Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea

Advertisement

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