The blackcap is a slight, stocky warbler that is primarily a summer visitor to the UK, although more and more individuals are spending the winter here. The male has mainly grey-brown plumage with a round black cap and a pale grey neck collar that can be seen from the rear.
The female is similar but has a bright rusty coloured cap. Both sexes have grey legs and feet and a square tail that it jerks and flicks upwards.
Male blackcaps can be heard singing from the tops of bushes and trees. It has a sharp, unmusical call, but a melodious, warbling song that rises in speed and volume before finishing with a flourish of fluty notes.
Blackcaps can be found in any wooded areas, such as evergreen forests, coniferous woodlands, and orchards, as well as parks and gardens. It can be spotted foraging for insects in the summer and berries and fruit in the winter.
The nightingale is a secretive bird that arrives in the UK in April and leaves again in August. It looks a little like a large robin but without the red breast and has a pale reddish brown head with a dark eye and white eye-ring, a grey neck, and rufous rump and tail. Male and females look the same. It is an active bird and hops on long legs with its tail raised.
It spends its time hiding in bushes and thickets and can often be heard rather than seen. It has a loud, rich, warbling song that includes clear, fluty phrases, with variations in pace, pitch, and quality. It sings both day and night usually under cover but sometimes from an exposed perch.
Nightingales are found in open woodland with dense patches of vegetation, as well as cultivated areas and occasionally parks and gardens. It forages mainly on the ground picking through leaf litter for insects but will sometime chase them through the air.
The tawny owl is the most common large owl in the UK but is nocturnal so can be hard to see. It is about the size of a wood pigeon and has a rounded head and short tail. Its cryptic plumage is mainly rufous with darker bars and it has a line of white spots along the shoulder. The round facial disk is pale and it has dark eyes, and feathers on its legs and toes.
When flying it appears paler and flies on broad wings with quick wingbeats, interspersed with glides and hovers. It hunts from dusk till dawn, mainly on small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews, usually from a perch and locating the prey by sound. It will sometimes take fish from the surface of water.
Tawny owls make a variety of calls including hoots and contact calls which sounds like a sharp ‘ke-wick’.
Tawny owls inhabit semi-open forests and woodlands, as well as parks and gardens with large trees. White droppings underneath its roost indicate its presence, as well small birds mobbing nearby.
The goshawk is a rare, powerful bird of prey that can often be confused with the more common sparrowhawk. It has grey upperparts and white underparts with dark bars and a broad white vent. The dark head is long with a distinctive white stripe above the eye, and the hooked bill is black with a yellow cere. The female is browner and larger than the male and has yellow-orange eyes, whereas the male has orange-red eyes.
It flies fully stretched with flat wings that sweep upwards and during breeding season performs ‘sky-dances’ consisting of a series of shallow dives and deep, undulating fights. It eats mainly small birds and mammals including grouse, corvids, hares, and rabbits which it hunts by flying low over the ground or from hidden perches.
During breeding season, it is fairly vocal, producing rapid, repeated calls, turning its head from side to side to throw its voice. Females will produce a high-pitched whine when the male approaches the nest.
Goshawks can be spotted in woodland and forests with paths and glades for it to hunt along. They can also be found in nearby open areas, hunting over the countryside.
The treecreeper is a small, active bird with dark brown mottled upperparts and white underparts. It has a white stripe over its eyes and its long, slender bill curves downwards which it uses to glean spiders and insects from the crevices in the bark of a tree. Male treecreepers feed mainly from the lower parts of the tree, whereas females use the upper parts.
It spends its time climbing, often spiralling, trees using its stiff tail feathers for support, and can also be spotted clinging to the underside of branches. It spends little time on the ground as it can’t walk very well, and it has a weak, hesitant flight.
It has a thin, high-pitched song with a flourish at the end. Its call is similar but shorter with a slight trill.
It can be found in coniferous and deciduous woods and forests, as well as parks and gardens with mature trees.
The hawfinch is a large, stocky, striking finch but it can be shy and hard to spot. It has brown upperparts and black wings with a white shoulder parts, pinkish underparts, and a brown tail with a white tip. Its head is yellowy-brown with a black chin and mask, and a huge blue-grey or pink conical bill with a dark tip. The female is duller than the male with less pink below.
It has a hard, dry, clicking call which is often heard in flight, and a quiet song with no musical notes.
Hawfinches feed mainly on seeds from tall trees such as hornbeam, beech, maple, elm, and in particular, wild cherries, using its powerful bill to crack open the shells. It may also take insects in the summer to feed its young.
Look out for them in old woodland, as well as orchards and parks, sitting upright on the top of a tree or foraging on the ground.
Lesser spotted woodpecker
The lesser spotted woodpecker is a small, dainty bird and the UK’s least common woodpecker. It is about the size of a sparrow with blurred, black and white bars on the upperparts and off-white underparts with fine dark streaks. There is no red under the tail which distinguishes it from the great spotted woodpecker. Males have a red cap, while females have a buff cap.
It flutters between the upper branches of trees and has a deeply undulating flight over longer distances. In flight its long wings and tail are more obvious.
Its drum, which can be heard in spring is a long rattle, which it often repeats twice in quick succession, and its call is a distinctive, nasal “pee-pee-pee”
It feeds primarily on insects and spiders, using its long tongue to reach into the crevices of trees. In autumn it will also eat nuts, berries, and fruit.
Lesser spotted woodpeckers are found mainly in the south of England. The best time to see them is in spring in deciduous open woodland, orchards, parks, and gardens.
The capercaillie is a huge woodland grouse, about the size of a turkey. It was reintroduced to forests in Scotland following extinction in the UK in the mid-18th century, due to a loss of its woodland habitat.
The male is mostly dark grey or black with blue and green iridescence, dark brown wings, and a white shoulder patch. It has a large, pale yellow bill and a distinctive red eyebrow. Its tail has white marks which show when it is raised in a fan shape during display. The female has brown upperparts with black bars and paler underparts with bars on the belly. The breast is rusty-brown with no bars and she has a small, dark bill.
It will quickly burst from the ground, rising directly and noisily, before settling into a fast agile, silent flight with powerful, deep wingbeats and disappearing into trees. They eat a variety of plant matter including buds, berries, leaves, and pine needles which they take from trees in winter and from the ground in summer.
In breeding season, capercaillies form leks when males can become very aggressive. During displays, which occur mainly at dawn, they drop their wings and lift their tails while making a popping sound.
Capercaillies are confined to native pinewoods and commercial plantations in Scotland.
The wood warbler is a stocky, warbler with long, dropped wings, and a short boar tail. It is a summer visitor, arriving in the UK in April and leaving in September. It has bright green upperparts, a pale lemon yellow breast, and white belly. The wings have contrasting dark brown feathers edged with yellowy-green. On the head there is a long yellow stripe above the eye and a darker stripe through the eye. The legs and feet are brown or pink and the bill is dark grey. Male and females look similar.
It is easily located by two distinct songs; a high-pitched metallic trill that becomes more frequent, and a series of descending piping notes. As it sings it quivers its wings and tail.
At the beginning of breeding season, the male wood warbler performs a song flight to attract a mate, flying fast with shallow wingbeats between perches. The female will return a soft contact call before the male slowly flies towards her.
Wood warblers eat mainly insects, spiders, and some fruit. It catches prey in flight or by foraging in the canopy and undergrowth of forests, sometimes in pairs or mixed flocks.
Look out for these scarce visitors in oak, beech, and larch woods in closed canopies where there is little shrub cover.
The nightjar is a slender, flat-headed bird with a long tail, and very short bill and legs. It has highly camouflaged plumage that helps it blend in with the branches of trees and logs on which it spends much of its time perching.
Its grey-brown upperparts are streaked, barred, mottled and marbled with darker brown and black, its grey tail is barred black, and its underparts and face are reddish-brown with fine black marks and a line of pale spots along its shoulder. It has large, black eyes which are wide and round at night and held in a narrow slit during the day.
It is active from dusk till dawn when it can be seen flying on long, tapered wings performing swoops, glides, and spins, catching insects, such as moths and beetles. Its courtship display involves butterfly-like movements and wing claps.
It has a nasal, mechanical call and its song is an extended, vibrating, churring song, that frequently changes pitch.
As nocturnal birds, nightjars can be difficult to spot in the day. Look out for them in the evening in woodland clearings, moorland, heathland, and sand dunes.