Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or new to the hobby, you’ll be surprised by the variety of rare birds you might spot at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s sites around the UK
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity that manages a network of wetland reserves across the UK. These reserves are home to a wide variety of birdlife, including some of the rarest species found in the UK.
Wetlands are important habitats for birds, providing food, water, and nesting sites. Sadly, these habitats are under threat from environmental factors, including climate change, pollution and development making the work of WWT to protect them all the more important. Through restoring existing wetlands, creating new ones and educating the public about the importance of these unique biomes, WWT is helping to conserve some of the most fascinating and rare bird species you can see in the UK.
As a Boundless member you can take advantage of unlimited access to all ten WWT sites, plus you can bring a friend and up to six children completely free of charge. Find out more here: boundless.co.uk/wwt
Some of the rarest birds that you can find at WWT sites include:
This small shorebird is a scarce visitor to the UK, with only a handful of sightings each year. It is most likely to be seen on wet grassland, mudflats, and shores during the spring and autumn migration. The white-rumped sandpiper is a small bird, measuring around 15 centimetres in length with a long, thin bill and short legs. A shy but beautiful bird, this sandpiper can be difficult to spot. If you’re very lucky, the best place to see a white-rumped sandpiper is likely at WWT Slimbridge, which had one visitor this spring (though it’s important to note that this sighting was a very rare occurrence).
This wading bird is another rare visitor to the UK. It is most likely to be seen on coastal wetlands, such as those at WWT Slimbridge, London, Steart, Washington, Welney and Martin Mere. The ruff is another member of the sandpiper family, and is known for its distinctive breeding plumage. During the breeding season, the male ruff develops a large, elaborate ruff around its neck. This ruff is used to attract mates. A large bird, measuring around 30 centimetres in length, the ruff is identifiable by its long, thin bill and long legs.
This swallow is another infrequent visitor to the UK, and is most likely to be seen in southern England during the summer months. It is attracted to open areas with plenty of insects, such as meadows, fields, and open woodland. The red-rumped swallow is a member of the swallow family, and it is known for its distinctive red rump patch. Measuring around 15 centimetres in length this small bird has a long, forked tail and a black head and throat. A fast-flying species, you’re most likely to see this swallow darting between trees or shrubs like those found at WWT London (where visits have been recorded over the last few summers).
Most likely to be seen in northern England and Scotland during the summer months (and likely to appear here more frequently as summers get warmer) this small flycatcher with bright plumage is a rare bird you’ll want to check off your list. Attracted to open woodlands with plenty of insects, such as birch and pinewoods like those at WWT Slimbridge (where one has visited in June this year) and Martin Mere, the white-spotted bluethroat is known for its distinctive white spots on its brilliant blue throat. These spots are often hidden when the bird is perched, but they are visible when the bird is singing.
This large wading bird is sadly a declining species in the UK, and is now only seen regularly in a few areas, including at WWT Caerlaverock, WWT Welney and WWT Steart Marshes. It is attracted to wet grasslands, marshes, and estuaries. The curlew is a member of the sandpiper family, and is known for its long, curved bill which it uses to probe for food in the mud. A large bird, measuring around 50 centimetres in length, you can identify the curlew by its long legs, brown upperparts and paler underside.
A large and quite spectacular bird that (on very rare occasions in the winter months) pays a visit to southern England, having been spotted at WWT Slimbridge, the Purple Heron is easily recognisable for its unusual plumage. Attracted to wetlands, such as lakes and reservoirs, the purple heron’s distinctive purple plumage and significant size make it reasonably easy-spot. Spending most of its year in southern Africa this beautiful bird is well worth trying to find with your binoculars if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
pBoundless membership grants you the opportunity to make the most of unlimited entry to all ten WWT sites. Plus, you can bring along a friend and up to six children, all without any additional cost. For further details, visit boundless.co.uk/wwt.
Another occasional guest of the UK’s wetlands, lakes and reservoirs is the red-necked grebe, which can sometimes be spotted in the distance visiting WWT Caerlaverock. The red-necked grebe is a member of the grebe family, and is known for its distinctive breeding plumage. During the breeding season, the male red-necked grebe develops a red neck and breast which it uses to attract mates. If you’re lucky you might even spot a chick being carried on the mothers back prior to it fledging.
The willow tit is another winter visitor to England where it feeds off woodland insects found in birch and pine forests. Recognisable for its distinctive black head and throat, this small, secretive bird has dramatically declined in the UK over the last 2 decades and is now classified as a red-listed species. WWT Washington Wetland Centre are fortunate to have a small population of willow tit on the reserve and work hard to maintain its woodland habitat to encourage breeding and conserve the species in the wild.
A large member of the heron family, the bittern is a very rare resident of the UK, typically found in wetland areas of southern England and Wales including at WWT London, Slimbridge and Martin Mere. Another species that’s unfortunately in decline in the UK as a result of habitat loss, Bitterns are elusive creatures that are a popular spot for seasoned twitchers. Around 75 centimetres in length, these birds are identified by their long, thin necks, large bills and dappled plumage, and are known for their distinctive ‘booming’ call which they use to establish territories and attract mates from late January.
This small wading bird is another species that has struggled in the UK over the last few decades, the golden plover is now only seen regularly in a few areas, such as WWT Slimbridge and WWT Martin Mere. Measuring up to 25 cm in length the golden plover has black and white plumage and a distinctive golden breast. The golden plover is a fast-flying bird, and it is often seen darting between trees and undergrowth or occasionally among large lapwing murmurations in late winter early spring, they’re smaller and look like they’re twinkling when very high up. It’s typically found in open areas, such as grasslands, marshes, and estuaries where it feeds on insects, seeds, and berries.
In addition to these 10 species, there are many other rare birds that can be seen at WWT sites. With a little patience and a keen eye, you may be surprised at what you can find.
Boundless membership grants you the opportunity to make the most of unlimited entry to all ten WWT sites. Plus, you can bring along a friend and up to six children, all without any additional cost. For further details, visit boundless.co.uk/wwt.
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