How to identify birds on the move in spring

Use our guide below to help you to spot 12 migrant and resident birds in the UK. 

All illustrations by Mike Langman

All illustrations by Mike Langman


1. Sand martin Riparia riparia

Migrant; early March. Lakes, gravel pits and rivers. Our smallest ‘swallow’, brown above with brown breast band.


2. Little ringed plover Charadrius dubius

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Gravel pits and brownfield sites with pebbly areas. Neat plover with pale eye-ring.


3. Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

Migrants arrive early March; some birds also overwinter. Woods and scrub. Paler legs than willow warbler.


4. Garganey Anas querquedula

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Lakes, shallow pools and floods. Male has white eyestripe; female is like teal.


5. Redshank Tringa totanus

Resident; heads inland to uplands and wet meadows. Wader with bright orange-red legs and white rump.


6. Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

Migrant; early March. Areas of short turf, especially by coast. Male has dark mask and grey back; female sandier.


7. Curlew Numenius arquata

Resident; moves inland to moors and boggy uplands. Our largest wader, with long, curved bill and white rump.


8. Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus

Migrant; from late March. Appears on rough grassland, especially on hilltops. Like blackbird, with pale bib.


9. Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis

Resident; heads inland to uplands and moors. Streaky brown bird with jerky gait. Often gives ‘seep’ calls in flight.


10. Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Resident; returns to breed on boggy moors. Golden-brown above, paler below; in spring acquires black belly.


11. Sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis

Migrant; mid-March onwards. Most records are along sandy coasts. Our largest tern, with shaggy black crest.


12. Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus


Resident; moves to uplands and inland rivers. Stocky, black and white wader with orange bill. Often gives ‘kleep’ calls.