Hummingbird hawk moth

Identifying birds frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about how to identify birds.


Are hummingbirds found in the UK?

Hummingbirds have never been found in the wild anywhere in Europe. If you think you have seen a hummingbird, it will almost certainly be a hummingbird hawkmoth. This moth is so similar to the tiny American bird that there are hundreds of cases of mistaken identity every year.

The moths mimic the hummingbird’s behaviour as they hover and collect nectar from flowers. Their shape and size are also similar to the birds’ and they only fly during the day. However, if you look closely you will see antennae, which is a real give-away that this is an insect and not a bird.

Which birds sing at night?

Nightingales, nightjars and corncrakes are known for their nocturnal singing during the spring and summer, but in winter they migrate to Africa. Other, more common birds such as song thrushes, dunnocks and, most regularly robins, can be heard singing at night all year round.  

Night-time singing is usually stimulated by bright lights or sudden noise. The robin is the most commonly heard night-time singer in the UK’s towns and gardens, especially in winter. 

Why do some birds have rings on their legs?

Rings are attached to some birds' legs as a way of monitoring their movements and lifespan. When the ring is fitted, the bird’s location and age (if known) are recorded. Any later recordings of the bird are also kept, so a pattern of the bird’s movement between places can be seen. The RSPB regularly uses ringing as a monitoring and research tool but the ringing scheme is overseen by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Each ring is very lightweight and has a unique number, allowing the bird to be identified as an individual. The ring does not harm the bird or affect its flight. 

Only licensed bird ringers can attach the rings. These licenses are attained after 1-2 years of training ensuring that any risk to birds is kept to an absolute minimum. 

What I can do with my old binoculars and telescope?

You can donate your old binoculars and telescopes to the RSPB’s second-hand scheme, which sends unwanted optical equipment to people who need them. Donations go to conservation organisations and schools based in the UK and to BirdLife International conservation projects abroad as far afield as Africa, Indonesia and India.

I've a white bird in my garden, what is it?

You can get what are called albino birds, although they are unusual. Most albinos have normal coloured eyes, bills and legs, but their feathers have no colour pigmentation making them completely white. Very rarely true albino birds are seen. In addition to white feathers, these have pink beaks, eyes and legs.