How to identify birds on the move in spring

Use our illustrated guide to help you spot 12 migrant and resident birds on the move in spring in the UK.

Male wheatear in Gloucestershire. © Tim Graham/Getty

All illustrations by Mike Langman

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1

Sand martin (Riparia riparia)

All illustrations by Mike Langman

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

2

Little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius)

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

3

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

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

4

Garganey (Anas querquedula)

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

5

Redshank (Tringa totanus)

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

6

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

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

7

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

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


8

Ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

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

9

Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)

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

10

Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria)

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

11

Sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis)

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


12

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

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


Main image: Male wheatear in Gloucestershire. © Tim Graham/Getty 

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This article originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Take a look inside the current issue and find out how to subscribe.