A simple guide to bird ID in Scotland

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A simple guide to bird ID in Scotland

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Get yourself Big Garden Birdwatch ready with this handy guide to bird ID in Scotland. The species included on this list were the ten most common birds recorded during last year’s birdwatch. Take a look through for a photo and simple description of each bird, to help you on your way to identifying them all with ease! Happy bird spotting and remember you can get involved with this year’s birdwatch by applying for your free pack here.

1. House sparrow

Male house sparrow

House sparrows are small, plump birds with relatively thick bills. The male has a streaky, chestnut brown back. They also have a bib, dull white cheeks and dark grey crown, with pale grey underparts. 

Female house sparrow

The females are a bit paler in colour and have no grey crown. They have a distinct straw-coloured stripe above and behind the eye. Noisy and gregarious, you’ll likely see these birds feeding from the ground in your garden or from hanging feeders if you have them. They also like to loaf about in hedges giving their distinctive chirruping call.

2. Starling


Starlings are bigger than a house sparrow, but smaller than a blackbird. They’re stocky birds with chunky legs and a pointed bill that is yellow in the breeding season but dark in colour in winter. At a distance, they look black, but when viewed more closely, you can see that they are actually very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. Their wings are almost triangular, while their tails are short and square-ended. You may see them flying as part of flock, on a feeder or hopping along the ground, often noisy and aggressive. 

3. Chaffinch


One of the most common birds in Scotland, the chaffinch is also one of our most colourful finches. The males have a blue-grey head, pinky chest and cheeks, and a streaky chestnut back. The female is a duller version of the male, without the pink. The patterned plumage of a chaffinch helps them to blend in when feeding on the ground and so they become most obvious when they fly – revealing a flash of white on the wings and tail feathers.

Chaffinches are about the size of a house sparrow, are quite plump with a medium sized bill, and are found in relative abundance across the whole of the Scottish mainland. 

4. Blackbird


Another species that can be found across the whole of the country is the blackbird. The male lives up to the name but, a bit confusingly, the females are dark brown rather than black – often with spots or streaks on their breast. Their bright orange-yellow bills and eye rings make these birds stand out though, meaning they are one of the easier garden birds to identify. 

5. Blue tit


Blue tits are a relatively common garden bird species with up to 750,000 pairs nesting in Scotland. They have a blue tail, wings and cap – the latter is sometimes raised to form a small crest. They have a green back, yellow underparts, white cheeks and a black line through the eye. In winter, family flocks join up with other tits as they search for food. A garden with four or five blue tits at a feeder at any one time may be feeding 20 or more.

6. Robin


Perhaps the most recognisable garden bird of all and of course the UK’s national bird, as voted for by the public, the robin comes in at number six. The first thing you’ll notice is this bird’s bright red breast, neck and face, followed swiftly by their prominent, large black eyes. Robins have long dark legs and the remainder of their plumage is a mix in colour of olive-brown, grey and white. You’ll also be glad to hear the males and females of this species are identical!

7. Woodpigeon


The cooing call and noisy clatter of woodpigeon wings are familiar sounds in Scotland’s towns, cities and woodlands. This is the country’s largest and most common pigeon, recognisable by its grey plumage with white wing and neck patches. You’ll notice the neck also has a green and purple sheen, and the chest a pink flush. Over 600,000 woodpigeons nest in Scotland, with numbers growing to 1.5 million over winter.  

8. Goldfinch


These gorgeous little finches are instantly recognisable with their bright red face and yellow wing patch. Goldfinches are very sociable, usually seen moving in groups outside of the breeding season. They can be found anywhere that there are scattered bushes and trees or rough ground with thistles, although they are less common in the far north of Scotland.

Goldfinches are smaller and slimmer than chaffinches and have a particularly bouncy flight. They seem to be particularly keen on niger seeds so look out for them on your feeders if you’ve stocked up on those!

9. Great tit


Great tits are the largest species of tit found in the UK. They are green and yellow with a striking glossy black head and white cheeks. In winter they join together with blue tits and others to form roaming flocks which scour gardens for food. Great tits can be quite aggressive at the bird table though, and will often fight off smaller tits to get to the food. 

10. Feral pigeon


Feral pigeons (also known as ‘town pigeons’) are descended from wild rock doves which are the ancestor of domestic pigeons the world over. They are smaller than woodpigeons and are most commonly spotted in town or city centres, hunting for scraps of food on the streets. Feral pigeons come in all shades - some are more of a blue colour while others are darker, almost black. They can also be coloured with pale grey, dull brick-red or cinnamon-brown. The feral pigeon rounded off the top ten in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

To get involved in the 2017 Big Garden Birdwatch sign up for your free pack on our website

Comments
  • Just to add, greenfinches, which disappeared a few years ago, have reappeared in numbers in Aberdeen. One did die in my garden this year, but this is no no more than other species, and I have resumed feeding.