The swallow arrives in the UK in March and leaves again in October for its southern African wintering grounds. It is a slender bird with glossy blue-black upperparts and cream underparts with a black breast brand. The forehead and throat are red, and it has a deeply forked tail with a row of white spots and long streamers.
Swallows are most often seen in flight. Look out for them near villages, freshwater, and coasts, flying low over fields and water with their wings swept and tail spread, or gathered in groups on telegraph wires and other high points. It has a sharp call and a rapid, twittering, musical song.
Swallows build their nests tucked under the eaves of outbuildings, or under bridges and culverts. They have up to 3 broods a season and juveniles can be seen from late May.
The swift arrives in the UK in April and leaves again in September to winter in Africa. A late spring arrival, the swift is an almost entirely aerial bird. It is sooty brown except for a white chin and underwing which looks pale in the sun. The slender tail and scythe-like wings form a bow and arrow shape when it is in the air. It flies fast and high with deep wing beats interspersed with soaring glides, and emits a screeching whistle as it dashes about in groups.
The swift’s small legs and forward-pointing toes means it can hang on to a rough surface but is unable to grip a perch, so look out for it flying over open spaces, woodland, water, and roofs.
Swifts nest in holes hidden under the eaves of old buildings, chimneys, and smokestacks. They produce 1 brood a season and juveniles can be seen from late May.
Although an increasing number of chiffchaffs winter in the UK, most arrive for the summer in March and leave again in late August. It is one of the first signs of spring as it doesn’t have to travel as far from its wintering grounds in the Mediterranean and north Africa as other summer visitors. It is a dusky olive bird with pale edges on the dark wing and tail. The underparts are dull with white under the tail. On the head there is a short, pale stripe over the eye, a dark eye stripe and a white crescent underneath. The legs are thin and dark brown or black which distinguishes it from the similar looking willow warbler.
It hovers as it forages, taking insects from bushes and shrubs. The song is a lively ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ which gives the species its name. It can be seen in woodland, close to water and is a frequent visitor to parks and gardens.
Chiffchaffs nest in bushes, tall grasses, and creeping plants. They have 1 or 2 broods a season and juveniles can be seen from late April.
The cuckoo’s is well known for its iconic sound that announces spring. It is only in the UK for a short period, arriving from late March or early April and leaving again in July or August for the winter in central Africa. Juveniles leave a month later. It is a long, slim bird with a small head and downcurved bill, drooped wings, and broad tail. It has grey upperparts and barred underparts with white spots on its tail. Some females are slightly buffy or even rufous, but sexes cannot generally be distinguished.
It flies with quick wing beats and its head slightly raised. Look out for it over farmland, the edges of woodlands and around reedbeds. Its soft call carries far but can often be confused with that of the collared dove.
Cuckoos are brood parasites and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds including reed warblers, meadow pipits, robins, and dunnocks. It can lay up to 25 eggs a season in different nests although the hosts will sometimes remove them if they are not fooled. Juveniles can be seen from late May.
The house martin arrives in the UK and leaves again in October to winter in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia. It is a small, stocky, black and white bird with short, white-feathered legs. It has blue-black upperparts, brown wings, white rump, and white underparts. The short tail is forked, and the wings are triangular.
Its flight is fairly stiff and holds its wings angled back during active flight and stretched out when gliding. It can be seen flying over suburbs, rural areas, and lakes, coming to rest on roofs and wires, or swooping low onto puddles and other bodies of water. It has a short, dry call and twittering song.
House martins nest under the eaves and gables of the ends of buildings. The nest is closed on the top and has a small side entrance hole. Small groups will gather together to collect mud with which to build their nests. House martins produce 2 or 3 broods a season. Juveniles can be seen from late April.
The turtle dove arrives in the UK in late April and leaves again in September for the winter in northern sub-Saharan Africa. It is a small, dainty dove with orange and brown chequered upperparts, a pale pink breast, and white belly. It has a small black and white streaked patch on its neck. The grey tail has a white tip which is conspicuous in flight.
It is light and agile when flying, often rolling from side to side. During display it will rise steeply before making a long, gliding descent in a wide arc with its wings extended forwards and its tail fanned before landing on a perch. Its call is a long, monotonous purring sound repeated a few times with short intervals which gives the species its name.
It is a scarce migrant and can be spotted mainly in the south east of England in open country, bushy downland, hedgerows, and fields. Like many members of the pigeon and dove family its nest is a flimsy platform made from twigs. Turtle doves produce 2 or 3 broods a season. Juveniles can be seen from May.
The pied flycatcher arrives in the UK in late April and leaves again in September, spending the winter in tropical Africa. It is a small flycatcher with a round head, short tail, and long wings. The male has black upperparts and white underparts with a white patch on its wing, and one or two small white patches on its forehead. The female has brown upperparts and buff upperparts, dark wings, and a smaller wing patch.
It is agile in flight, hovering over bushes picking berries or catching insects, and it will also hunt from the ground. Its song is a short, staccato whistle while its call is a repetitive, sharp ‘tic tic’.
During breeding season it can be spotted in oak woods, parks, and gardens and during migration look out for it near the coast. It nests in holes in trees and will also make use of nest boxes. Pied flycatchers produce 1 brood a season. Juveniles can be seen from May.
The redstart arrives in the UK in April and leaves again in October, wintering in central Africa and Arabia. It is a slender chat about the same size as a robin, with a distinctive, quivering red tail. The male has a grey back, rufous breast, dark wings, and a rusty orange rump. The forehead is white, the throat is black, and the face is black and partially obscured by brown feather fringes. The female has pale orange underparts and lacks the black face mask and white forehead.
It pursues insects in flight and flutters around the front of trees and vegetation in order to catch prey. It will also forage in bushes and low branches. Its song is a quick, squeaky warble, and its call a soft whistle occasionally punctuated with a sharp ‘tic’.
It breeds in a variety of habitats including woodland, parks, orchards, stone walls, quarries, heaths, and farmland. They will also use open-fronted nest boxes. During migration it can be found near the coast. Redstarts produce 2 broods a season. Juveniles can be seen from May.
The lesser whitethroat arrives in the UK in April and leaves again from mid-October to spend the winter in north-east Africa. It is a small, sleek warbler with dull grey-brown upperparts, and white underparts with a pink wash on the flanks. The head is dark grey with a white throat. The bill is black and the legs are blue-grey. Unlike many warblers, males and females look the same.
It is fairly secretive so can be difficult to spot. It skulks in tall, dense hedgerows and thickets, foraging for insects, berries and fruit. In flight it pulls its wings to the side and flies with rapid wing beats. It can be identified by its call which is a hard, clicking sound, and its song which is a low warble followed by a wooden rattle.
Lesser whitethroats breed in scrubby areas and the edges of forests. It produces 1 or 2 broods a season. Juveniles can be seen from early May.
The reed warbler arrives in the UK in mid-April and leaves in early October to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a small, slim, plain brown warbler with pointed wings and a rounded tailed. It has a pale rust-coloured rump and tail, pale buff underparts and a white throat which it puffs out when singing. The bill is slender and the legs are grey-brown to blue-grey.
In flight it alternates several rapid wing beats with short glides, but spends most of its time hidden in reeds with just the rustle of stems giving a clue to its presence. Its song is a rhythmic and repetitive sequence of rasps and purrs and it will often sing clinging to an upright stem even before dawn.
During breeding season warblers can be found in reedbeds and swamps. Look out for it in scrubby areas during migration. Reed warblers produce 1 or 2 broods a season and is commonly brood parasitized by the cuckoo. Juveniles can be seen from May.