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Our top 10 species to see in December

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Wednesday 29th November 2017 by bbowtblog

Top 10 species to see in DecemberTop 10 species to see in December. Photos by Margaret Holland and Donald Macauley

This month it's all about birds! We've been joined by many species that have come to the UK to escape the colder winter on the continent. From lakes and rivers, to hedgerows and car parks there is always somewhere to see some bird life.

1 Brambling

Bramblings can look like a chaffinch at first glance, and often form large flocks mixed with chaffinches so they can be tricky to spot. Keep an eye out for them in beech woodland where they feed on the beech mast, as is the male brambling in the photo above. Try woodland reserves in the Chilterns, such as Warburg Nature Reserve and Dancersend

Listening for brambling call amongst chaffinches is the best way to try and spot them. Have a listen to this from Xeno-Canto

2 Goldeneye

These distinctive ducks are seen on large lakes and rivers. Keep an eye out for them at Hosehill Lake and Calvert Jubilee. Goldeneyes nest in cavities in trees so their chicks have to perform a great leap of faith the day after hatching to leave the nest and reach the ground! The population increases massively in winter due to migrants from the continent.

3 Goosander

Goosander catch fish with their long, serrated bills - they are often called sawbills - including trout and salmon. Young goosanders need to eat over 30kg of fish before they reach adulthood. Their scientific name, Mergus merganser, roughly translates as plunging goose as they are often diving under water to hunt for fish. Calvert Jubilee and Foxcote Reservoir (permit required - see link) are great places to look for a whole range of water birds.

4 Hawfinch


Hawfinches are the UK's largest finch and are easily identified, once you find one, by their very large bill. The number of hawfinches increases in winter as birds arrive here to find food so keep an eye out, particularly in woodlands. There seems to be many hawfinches arriving in the UK this year so let us know if you see one. Follow the HawfinchesUK Twitter account for the latest news!

5 Pied wagtail

Pied wagtails are very distinctive as they walk along the ground with their wagging tails searching for food. At dusk in winter they gather in large flocks to roost. You can often see this in urban areas as the roost in trees near offices and shops. 

6 Pochard

A small number of pochard live in the UK all year round but you will see many more during the winter when the numbers increase as birds arrive from the continent. Pochards are on the British Trust for Ornithology's red list as a bird of conservation concern as numbers are falling. College Lake is one of the best sites to see a whole range of wintering birds in the Buckinghamshire. 

7 Short-eared owl

Short-eared owl

Unlike many species of owl, you may see short-eared owls hunting during the day as well as at dusk. In the winter our resident birds are joined by more from the continent. Look out for them hunting small mammals, and occasionally small birds, over wetlands and marshy grassland. They have piercing yellow eyes and streaky feathers that camouflage them well against the grassland. Their 'ears' are actually tufts of feathers.

8 Starling

Starlings form large flocks in winter as British birds are joined by others from the continent. Watching a murmuration of starlings wheeling and whirling across the sky is one of winter's highlights. In our area Thatcham Reeedbeds can be a good place to spot them as they gather at dusk before roosting.

9 Waxwing

Waxwings love berries! Later in December, look for these birds in hedgerows as they tuck into hawthorn and rowan. You may even spot them in supermarket car parks where they eat the berries of cotoneaster and pyracantha.

Every few years there’s what’s known as an irruption, when large numbers of waxwings arrive in the UK. Irruptions happen when the continental population is too large for the amount of food available, generally because there has been a successful breeding season. The birds flock here instead in search of food and we get a real winter treat. The WaxwingsUK Twitter account has all the latest sightings.

10 Wigeon

Look for 'whistling' wigeon on lakes, reservoirs and rivers and listen out for their distinctive whistling call. The males have a bold orange stripe along their heads while the females have a browner head and back. They eat vegetation and are often seen feeding on damp, marshy areas next to rivers and lakes.

Get started identifying different ducks and geese at College Lake, where you can ask reserve staff for help to tell them apart.

Things to do

  • See which of our nature reserves are at their best this season.
  • Find a nature reserve near you with the Wildilfe Trusts' Nature Finder app for iphone and Android
  • Share your photos of our reserves with us on Twitter and Facebook or upload them to our Flickr gallery
  • Oxfordshire photographer Andrew Marshall's book Photographing wildlife in the UK (published by Fotovue) includes advice on how to take great wildlife photographs. The book includes top locations for photographing wildlife and some images that were taken on BBOWT nature reserves (Greenham Common, Chimney Meadows, Foxholes and College Lake).
  • Sign up to our e-newsletter and stay up-to-date with our news about local wildlife
  • Our experts work with over 1,400 volunteers to look after over 80 nature reserves, four education centres and run hundreds of amazing events. We rely on the generosity of individuals, charitable trusts and businesses. Help us look after these precious places for your local wildlife by donating today.

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