Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, perched on an old tree stump, Co. Durham

An unexpected garden guest

What's the most unusual bird you've seen in your garden?


With the Big Garden Birdwatch fast approaching (25th-27th January 2020), many of us are watching our gardens even more keenly for a glimpse of something unusual.

Lately, one family were delighted to spot a kingfisher making itself at home in their Northamptonshire garden - perching happily on a plastic heron. Better still, they were able to capture their handsome garden guest on camera.

Alison Barrables, an RSPB supporter, said: “Our family were absolutely thrilled to see a kingfisher in the garden and really excited that we managed to get a photo as I know they are very difficult to photograph as they don't stay still for long.”

The Barrables watched the unmistakable bright blue and orange bird for 10 minutes as it swooped down and picked off a few goldfish from their pond. 

Kingfishers are not typically garden birds. Small and shy, you'll most likely see them as a flash of brilliant blue by water courses such as lakes, canals and rivers. In winter, some move to estuaries and the coast but a garden pond could also prove an attractive place to hunt for opportunistic individuals.

Ian Hayward, RSPB wildlife advisor, explained: “At this time of year kingfishers are quite mobile as fish are harder to catch as they go deeper when the weather is cold. Garden ponds become good hunting grounds if they have goldfish breeding in there- young goldfish are bitesize snacks. So whilst it is pretty rare for them to come into gardens it certainly is possible given the time of year and if the food sources are good it might make a habit of it over the winter.”

Kingfisher in garden

Other unexpected guests

As temperatures drop, some unexpected birds may make their way into gardens as they go in search of more food sources to fatten up over the cold winter months. Keeping your feeders, tables and bird baths topped-up when the cold weather arrives will make sure your garden visitors are well-fed and looked after. It will also encourage them into your garden just in time for you to take part in the world’s biggest wildlife survey in January- the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Ian continued: “Some very unusual and exotic birds have ended up being recorded in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch over the years, including an American robin in Putney, black throated thrush on the Isle of Bute, common rosefinch in Yorkshire, and little bunting in Gloucestershire. One year a yellow-rumped warbler, which should have been spending its winter in South America, turned up in a garden in Durham. You never know what you could see in your garden!”

Big Garden Birdwatch

Big Garden Birdwatch is part of the Giving Nature a Home campaign and takes place over the weekend of 30-31 January 2016. Spend just an hour counting the birds you see in your garden and send in your results to provide valuable information about the changes in numbers of birds using our gardens in winter. 

We're looking for more than just birds, too. RSPB also asks participants to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens and green spaces such as hedgehogs, stoats and squirrels, to help build an overall picture of how important gardens are for giving nature a home.

To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit: