Goldfinch feeding from a garden feeder, County Durham

Birds to look out for

Which birds will you spot during this year's Big Garden Birdwatch? The excitement is building!

How to tell birds apart

As well as different colours, birds have different shapes, different beaks, different habits and different voices. Becoming familiar with your regular garden visitors will make it easier to spot something more unusual when it turns up!

Blackbird

Not always black...

Male blackbirds live up to their name but, confusingly, females are brown often with spots and streaks on their breasts. Sometimes blackbirds even have white feathers - that's a condition called leucism.

What they eat

Blackbirds eat a variety of foods, from earthworms to fruits like apples and berries. They also love porridge oats.

Blackbird Turdus merula, male, on garden lawn. Co. Durham.

Blue tit

Loves seeds, nuts and fat

A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors. 

What they eat

Blue tits are happy to use hanging feeders to grab sunflower seeds, peanuts and tasty fatty snacks. They're agile and happy to perch at odd angles!

Blue tit Parus caeruleus, perched on berry covered branch in autumn

Chaffinch

Loves hopping on the ground, looking for seeds

Male chaffinches have a subtle pink breast, while females are more brownish. They both have distinctive black and white flashes on their wings. 

What they eat

Chaffinches are not so keen on using bird feeders and generally prefer to shuffle around on the ground, picking up seeds that other birds have dropped.

Male Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. Cornwall, England.

Coal tit

Small and cheeky

Not as colourful as some of its relatives, the coal tit has a distinctive grey back, black cap, and white patch at the back of its neck. 

What they eat

Look out for coal tits making quick visits to feeders for seeds or suet pellets. They don't like to hang around, and prefer to dash back to a safe perch in a tree or bush to eat.

Coal tit clinging to side of rotten tree stump

Collared dove

"Coo-coo coo, coo-coo coo..."

Collared doves are a pale, pinky-brown grey colour, with a distinctive black neck collar (as the name suggests). They have deep red eyes and reddish feet, and are responsible for repetitive cooing songs and those twiggy nests on your satellite dish.

What they eat

They're nervous visitors to bird tables if seeds and grains are on offer, but are a bit too big for most bird feeders.

Collared dove

Dunnock

Small and brown - likes lurking in flower beds

A small brown and grey bird. Quiet and unobtrusive, the dunnock is often seen on its own, creeping along the edge of a flower bed or near to a bush, moving with a rather nervous, shuffling gait.

What they eat

Some dunnocks are bold enough to brave the bird feeder or visit a bird table for any seedy, fatty scraps. But mostly they prefer to hide among shrubs or feed on other birds' leftovers on the ground.

Dunnock, Prunella modularis, foraging in grass in garden. Co. Durham

Goldfinch

Brightly-coloured but argumentative!

Everyone's favourite? A brightly-coloured finch with a red face and yellow wing patch. Sociable, often breeding in loose colonies, goldfinches have a delightful liquid twittering song and call. But don't be fooled - they can be a bit grumpy!

What they eat

Goldfinches are seed-eaters. Make sure you stock up, as they often go around in flocks and have large appetites! Sunflower hearts or nyjer seeds are their favourites.

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, feeding from a garden feeder, Co. Durham,

Great tit

Grabs seeds and flies away with them

The largest UK tit is green and yellow with a striking glossy black and white head. It's a woodland bird which has found that our gardens offer plenty of food and places to nest.

What they eat

Like blue and coal tits, great tits make quick visits to bird feeders for seeds and fat. They also eat insects and consume a lot of caterpillars in spring and summer.

Great tit, Parus major, on blossom

Greenfinch

Eats lots and lots of seeds...

Its twittering and wheezing song, and flash of yellow and green as it flies, make the greenfinch a truly colourful character. Males can be bright, almost lime-green, but females and younger birds are more dull.

What they eat

Seeds, and lots of them! Sunflower seeds (with or without the shell) are their favourite food. Greenfinches are sociable birds and might visit you in a small flock - so stock up on seeds!

Greenfinch on bird feeder

House sparrow

Common - but not as common as they were

Everyone knows the house sparrow, but its numbers have dropped alarmingly. They're still common garden visitors in many areas, though. Males have a black chin and 'bib'; females are dressed in more subtle shades of brown.

What they eat

Almost anything! Seeds are their favourites, though they're not too fussy and will try most foods, in feeders or on a bird table.

House sparrow male perched on edge of garden shed roof

Long-tailed tit

Small, cute and sociable

The long-tailed tit is easily recognisable with its distinctive colouring, a tail that is longer than its body, and a bouncy flight. These cuties roam around together in family flocks that stay together all year-round.

What they eat

Long-tailed tits eat a lot of insects, though they can be attracted by fat like suet cakes or pellets. They'll often visit you in a big flock, arriving and leaving all together.

Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus, collecting insects from hawthorn bush in Durham

Magpie

Simply unmistakable!

With its noisy chattering, black-and-white plumage and long tail, there is nothing else quite like the magpie in the UK. When seen close-up, it's easy to spot the beautiful iridescent purple, blue and green tones in its feathers.

What they eat

Absolutely anything. 

Magpie Pica pica, standing among red berries, Hampshire

Robin

The gardener's friend

The UK's favourite bird - with its bright red breast the robin is familiar throughout the year and especially at Christmas! Males and females look identical, and they both hold territories during winter. 

What they eat

Robins eat a lot of creepy-crawlies, including worms (which is why they like gardeners turning over the soil). They'll grab mealworms from a bird table or feeder, or snack on sunflower hearts. Fruit is another favourite.

Robin, Erithacus rubecula, perched on bowl of windfall apples in garden. Co. Durham

Starling

Glossy, squawky and starry

Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointy head and wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. In winter they're covered in pale spots - which gives them their name.

What they eat

Starlings aren't picky and will eat almost anything they can get their beaks into. They can be quarrelsome on the bird table, however.

Starling Sturnus vulgaris, adult male in hedge of Wild privet Ligustrum vulgare, Bedfordshire, England

Woodpigeon

Now a common garden visitor

The UK's largest and commonest pigeon, it is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Woodpigeons also have beautiful pinkish and turquoise hints to their plumage - can you spot where?

What they eat

Seeds and grains, and green shoots when they're out in the fields.

Woodpigeon on bird table