by John | Jul 19, 2013 |

Birdwatching - 10 Species To Get You Started


With its wide variety of habitats - encompassing woodland, heathland, reedbed, saltmarsh, estuaries, shingle beaches and low cliffs - the Suffolk Coast is one of the UK's prime destinations for bird watching.

Read our guide on ten species to get you started:

1. Avocet

Very distinct in appearance, the avocet is a patterned black and white wader with a long, curved-up beak said to resemble a shoemaker’s tool. The avocet was chosen as the logo for the RSPB, testament to how symbolic it is of the UK's bird protection movement.

Did you know? The avocet was extinct in Britain until 1947, when it returned to Minsmere in Suffolk. It is now fairly widespread in eastern England, and continues to spread further west and north.

Where and when to see it: The famous scrape at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve hosts a large colony of avocets, which can be seen at close quarters from the hides overlooking the man-made wetland from early spring until autumn. And RSPB Havergate Island is an important breeding place for the species, which is found here in good numbers throughout the year.

2. Bearded Tit

This brown, long-tailed bird is usually seen flying speedily across the top of a reedbed. A sociable and quite noisy species, you can identify the male from its ‘moustache’ as opposed to a 'beard’.

Did you know? There were only four pairs of bearded tits left in the UK after the cold winter of 1947, but they are now found in reedbeds throughout eastern and southern England.

Where and when to see it: The bearded tit is only found in reedbeds, therefore head to RSPB Minsmere (where the reedbeds are the third largest in England) or Walberswick Marshes. The species can be seen all year round.

3. Bittern

The bittern is a thickset heron, characterised by its all-over bright, pale, buffy-brown plumage covered with dark streaks and bars.

Did you know? The bittern is a very rare bird indeed (a ‘Red List’ species in fact) but numbers are on the increase thanks to the work of the RSPB. From a low of 11 males nationally in 1997, there are now more than 100 booming males.

Where and when to see it: The secretive bittern isn’t the easiest bird to see, although RSPB Minsmere offers a better chance than most places - all year round. In springtime you can hear the bitterns ‘booming’, or watch parents making feeding flights in summertime.

4. Common Tern

This silvery grey and white coloured bird has a long tail, hence the nickname ‘sea swallow’. Graceful in flight, it will often hover over water before plunging for a fish.

Did you know? The species breeds on shingle beaches, rocky islands and saltmarshes along coasts, on islands in gravel pits and rivers and also on artificial rafts at reservoirs. Common terns are very noisy in company.

Where and when to see it: Common terns are summer visitors to many coastal wetlands and estuaries. RSPB Minsmere and RSPB Havergate Island are good places to try.

5. Dartford Warbler

A small, dark in colour, long-tailed bird often seen as a small flying shape which bobs between bushes.

Did you know? An ‘Amber List’ species, there were just a few pairs in the UK during the 1960s but the population has since recovered. The species returned to breed in Suffolk during the mid 1990s - after a 50 year absence.

Where and when to see it: A bird you might see all year round on many of Suffolk’s Sandlings heaths. Try Dunwich Heath or Westleton Heath for your best chances.

6. Green Woodpecker

This species is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain and has a heavy-looking body with short tail. Colour wise, it is distinctively greeny-grey on its upper parts with bright green rump and partly red head.

Did you know? The green woodpecker is a lowland species which breeds in open deciduous woodland, parks, orchards and farmland. It can also be seen feeding on heaths, downland and pasture.

Where and when to see it: A common bird throughout the year in Suffolk, you might see one in the woodland areas at RSPB Minsmere or RSPB North Warren, or your local golf course!

7. Marsh Harrier

This is the largest of harriers, with a heavier build, broader wings and absence of white on the rump. It is also recognisable for its long tail and light flight. Females tend to be larger than males and have creamy heads.

Did you know? The marsh harrier’s future in the UK is now more secure than at any other time during the last century. There was just one pair of marsh harriers at Minsmere in 1971; this had increased to 350 pairs in Britain by 2005.

Where and when to see it: RSPB Minsmere and RSPB North Warren. Formerly mainly summer visitors, marsh harriers can now be seen throughout the year hunting over coastal marshes and farmland.

8. Nightingale

The nightingale is just slightly larger than the robin and has a robust, broad-tailed, rather plain brown appearance.

Did you know? Famous for their sweet melodies (day and night), nightingales are very secretive in nature and extremely local in their distribution in the UK, with the highest densities found in the south east.

Where and when to see it: Suffolk is one of the top five or six counties in which to observe this delightful little bird and the Minsmere and North Warren RSPB reserves are both good places for sightings. Nightingales arrive in April, sing until late May/early June then return to Africa, so time your visit carefully.

9. Nightjar


A nocturnal bird, the nightjar is similar in shape to a kestrel or cuckoo - with pointed wings and a long tail. The bird’s grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage keeps it well camouflaged during daytime hours.

Did you know? The nightjar is known for its silent flight and mythical ability to steal milk from goats, hence its generic name - Caprimulgus - which in Latin translates as ‘goat-milker.’

Where and when to see it:  These evocative birds arrive in the UK from mid-May and mainly leave in August. Dusk on a warm, serene June evening affords the best chance of hearing and seeing one. They can be heard over most Sandlings heaths and forestry clearings. Try Westleton Heath or RSPB Snape Warren for your best chance.

10. Woodlark

Quite similar in appearance to the skylark, this streaky brown bird has a short tail, buffy-white eye stripe and well developed crest on its crown.

Did you know? Now a ‘Red List’ species owing to recent population declines, the woodlark breeds mainly in eastern and southern England and its generic name - Lullula - derives from its fluty song.

Where and when to see it: Suffolk heaths offer a good chance of spotting a woodlark; try Westleton Heath or RSPB Snape Warren, especially on warm spring mornings.  

What is the significance of classification as a ‘Red List’, ‘Amber List’ or ‘Green List’ species?

Birds in the UK can be split in to three categories of conservation importance - red, amber and green. Red is the highest conservation priority (with species needing urgent action), amber is the next most critical group and green list means there is no identified threat to the population’s status.

For more information on where to go on the Suffolk Coast to bird watch, read our article here.

Liz Ewing

With thanks to Ian Barthorpe of RSPB Minsmere

Remember to keep up to date with all of our articles as we post them by following us on Twitter @VisitSuffolk, or by liking the Suffolk Cottage Holidays facebook page!

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