Autumn's bird migration - winter arrives from across the North Sea

Saturday 27 October 2012, 22:34

Paul Stancliffe Paul Stancliffe BTO

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With the wind coming from the east all week, hundreds of thousands of ‘winter visitors’ began to arrive on our east coast. Amongst the travellers, thrushes were well represented. Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird and Ring Ouzel all arrived in force. Almost 22,000 Redwings were counted at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire on Monday alone. Other late autumn migrants arrived with them, including ‘falls’of Robin and Goldcrest and a large movement of finches that mostly involved Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Brambling. Black Redstarts were also quite widespread.

brambling by john-harding Brambling by John Harding

The last few days have seen some of these birds begin to move west and this is definitely something to keep an eye out for this weekend. On my ten minute walk into the headquarters of the BTO this morning I observed several flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare flying over, so this weekend could be a good time to take part in the BTO Winter Thrushes Survey.

On Thursday the wind took on a more northerly element and prompted an increase in the number of redpolls on the move. Given the origin of the wind it is not too surprising that a few Arctic Redpolls were found amongst them. Although these colder Arctic winds have quite a wintry feel about them, Swallows and House Martin are still moving through some south coast sites in double figures.

With the first widespread frosts for this weekend and early next week, we could see some of these finches and thrushes moving into our gardens. Skylark, Woodpigeon, Lapwing and Golden Plover could begin their first ‘cold weather’ movements and could be seen almost anywhere.

little auk by andy mason
Little Auk by Andy Mason

For those planning a visit to the coast, this weekend could see a large movement of Little Auks. This diminutive Arctic relative of the Guillemot can often be seen on inland waters too, particularly when there has been a large movement or after high winds.

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    Comment number 1.

    Why is it that birds chose to migrate? Is it just because of food sourses and cold weather or are there other reasons behind it?

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    Comment number 2.

    Dear Vivki. You have hit the nail on the head. Birds migrate when a food source becomes unreliable, usually as a consequence of cold weather. With us experiencing milder winters we are seeing a few more species that would ordinarily head south for the winter, and have even had Swallows successfully overwinter in the UK. Of course if we get a cold snap, with frost and snow they find it very difficult to survive. However, if they do survive they have a much shorter and less arduous journey back to their breeding area.

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    Comment number 3.

    Thank you Paul. I was also wondering about how birds are able to navigate on their long migratory journeys. I'm particularly interested in how they are able to sense the magnetic field. I've heard that it's to do with a chemical found in birds' brains and bills. Do you know what chemical this is and how it works?

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    Comment number 4.

    One morning last week I looked out of the window and realised I had a garden full of great tits, there must have been at least 15, they were on all my feeders and sitting on the washing line. The garden was full for about 5 minutes and then they all took off again. I'm normally lucky to get one great tit so this was quite rare for me, would they have been migrating?

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    Comment number 5.

    seen a brambling for the first time earlier in the week
    really bueatiful bird,was feeding with some green finches and some gold
    finches helped identify thsnks to rspb lochwinnoch.
    bird was spotted in belmont area of ayr

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    Comment number 6.

    Here in NW Norfolk the hedgerows have been full of visiting redwing, fieldfare, thrushes, blackbirds etc feasting on the autumn bounty of berries. I was so disappointed to see a local farming steadily cutting back these same hegerows this morning whilst they are still holding stacks of fruit and the food that will help many of these birds survive the winter. Am I missing something here? do these hedges have to be cut now for some reason? can't it be put back a few months? The same farmer does leave a wide margin for wildlife around the fields which makes it all the more frustrating to see him/her doing this (vandalism?)


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