Make your garden a haven for wild visitors from Scandinavia

Guide

Be a wildlife guardian this winter and help make your garden a haven for wild visitors from Scandinavia. Across the country large numbers of hungry winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings are turning up in gardens as the temperature plummets. Find out what you can do to help them.

Our winter visitors

Across the country large numbers of hungry winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings are turning up in gardens as the temperature plummets.

These birds are often mixed up with the song thrush, which can be found in gardens all year round.

RSPB wildlife advisor Charlotte Ambrose said: “At this point in winter much of the natural food supply will have been used up. So with the weather turning dramatically for much of the UK, these hungry birds have moved into gardens for food, water and shelter.

"...with the weather turning dramatically for much of the UK, these hungry birds have moved into gardens for food, water and shelter."

“You can help these beautiful visitors get through the cold snap by putting out fruit like apples and pears and planting winter berries such as holly. Remember they’ll need water too, so keep your bird bath topped up and ice free.”

Redwings and fieldfares usually spend the winter roaming the countryside in search of berries and other fruit. They remain in the UK until around the end of March when they return to Scandinavia, Finland or northwest Russia to nest.

The woodcock and the hitchhiker

Woodcocks are also turning up in people’s gardens, often colliding into windows as they mistake the glass for open sky.

Woodcocks are a red-listed bird steeped in myth. Folklore says woodcocks cross the North Sea by the light of November’s full moon. Goldcrests – tiny birds with a fiery yellow stripe on their heads - are known as “the woodcock’s pilot”. Scandinavian goldcrests and woodcocks are often seen arriving together along Britain’s east coast, triggered by the same cold conditions abroad. It was once believed the petite goldcrests hitched a ride on the backs of woodcocks.

"Goldcrests – tiny birds with a fiery yellow stripe on their heads - are known as 'the woodcock’s pilot'."

In recent weeks surprised members of the public have been reporting sightings of woodcocks showing up in back gardens and even cities to the RSPB. Many birds are appearing dazed and confused, having bumped into buildings and windows.

But as birds that usually live in woodland and rural areas, what are they doing in our cities?

Most woodcocks found in the UK are migrant visitors from Finland and Russia. Because they make long journeys during the night to avoid predators, flying low, woodcocks are prone to crashing into landmarks. Experts believe woodcocks are lured by artificial lights and overlook glass windows and shiny office buildings.

"In recent weeks surprised members of the public have been reporting sightings of woodcocks showing up in back gardens and even cities to the RSPB."

We suggest fixing reflective stickers to the outside of the window to break up the sheen of the glass and make the obstacle clearer.

Woodcocks are plump birds with a long bill and short legs, with ear openings pushed far forward on their head which help them listen for worms to eat in the mud. It is nocturnal, spending most of the day in dense cover. These enigmatic birds are normally shy and hard to see. They have eyes on the sides of their heads, giving them 360° vision to help them spot approaching predators.

The RSPB encourages people to interfere as little as possible if you find a woodcock which has strayed off course and isn’t visibly injured. Click here for our advice on what to do if you find an injured bird. Given time to recover in peace, they will normally fly off when ready.

Woodcocks’ white tail tips aren’t there for decoration – they are a decoy to predators. When attacked they will spread the tail to entice a predator to target the brightest spots at the end of their tail. These feathers detach easily, freeing the woodcock. Chicks struggle to see their mother as her feathers are so well camouflaged in woodland. Mother woodcocks will spread her tail so her chicks can follow the white dots. The white tail tips are also displayed for courtship and in territorial disputes.

In early winter as many as 800,000 woodcocks migrate to the UK fleeing the bitter temperatures of eastern Europe, Finland and Russia. Some woodcocks do breed in the UK but most head east for the summer.

Did helping winter visitors leave you wondering what else you can do to make your garden more inviting to wildlife? Explore, learn and connect with wildlife enthusiasts to help the Nature on Your Doorstep.