The UK is a wonderful spot in the world to find some wonderful birds. Not only do we have a great number of different species, but we have an almost unprecedented diversity of species.
This means that we're lucky enough to see such humble birds as pigeons, and such vibrant birds as kingfishers.
In this article, we're going to take you through some of the most common garden birds in the UK, as well as some other birds that, while they're not necessarily garden birds, are certainly beautiful, and are numerous enough that they're undoubtedly worth a mention.
So, without further ado, let's talk about the most populous garden birds in Britain!
House Sparrows - 5.2M in the UK
House sparrows are fascinating birds to learn about since they're so often considered to be such merciless opportunists.
From their ability to eat nearly anything to their desire to use nearly anything for their nests, they virtually took over the world, leeching off the waste that humans can produce.
Interestingly, though, there was a recorded drop in population by as much as 71% between 1977 and 2008.
The numbers have fluctuated up and down since then, with the current number standing them as the most common bird in the UK.
House sparrows are fairly simple birds, with a grey-white breast and brown-black wings and back. They're particularly small, around the size of a tennis ball, and can often be seen eating from garden feeders.
They're a little more likely to be heard than seen, though, with a loud and gregarious call that is ubiquitous in the UK. It can be heard everywhere from gardens to woodland, and everywhere in between.
These birds can be found throughout the entirety of the UK, from the tip of Cornwall to the tip of Scotland.
As they're so small, though, they tend to stay away from any particularly cold regions, such as the highlands of Scotland.
Their changing numbers
Interestingly, during that decrease in numbers between 1977 and 2008, the main decrease was seen in England, with general increases being seen in all other UK countries.
The population of sparrows now seems to be leaving cities themselves and moving their way toward towns and villages. The exact reason for this is unclear, though it's likely to be because of poor food availability in dense urban areas.
Wood Pigeon - 5M in the UK
The wood pigeon is the most common pigeon in the UK, and it's perhaps the one on this list that will surprise you the least - they live everywhere, and eat everything!
It's common to see wood pigeons in towns and cities swooping down to eat something that a pedestrian may have dropped. However, when out and about in the world, it's a little more likely for them to seek out cabbages and sprouts, or even smaller crops like peas and grain.
These birds are a little larger than you likely expect since they're typically quite far away when you see them. They're grey birds, with white neck patches and wing patches, which, combined with their size, makes them fairly easy to spot in flight.
Non-urban wood pigeons
In the countryside, they're typically quite shy birds. They prefer to rummage through grass and earth to find food, such as sunflower hearts and seeds.
In cities, though, they can be essentially tame or, in some cases, a little aggressive. While they aren't as aggressive as seagulls, they can come quite close!
Their call is a gentle cooing noise that most people will find entirely recognizable. The more recognizable noise, perhaps, is the loud clapping noise that their wings make as they take off and fly away - their wings meet under their bellies, making that clapping noise in quick succession.
Blackbird - 4.9M in the UK
Blackbirds are creatures that you can sometimes see on bird feeders, but they're a little rarer than some other, smaller birds.
The male blackbird is precisely that - a black bird. A female blackbird, though, is a little more of a colourful bird. It's brown, with plenty of spots and streaks on its breast.
The most notable feature of blackbirds, though, is the bright orange-yellow beak and matching eye-ring.
They're very easy to spot and are quite eye-catching in some circumstances. These bright colors are particularly noticeable against the black and dark brown of their feathers.
What blackbirds eat
Unlike the house sparrow, which commonly eats seeds, blackbirds eat mostly insects and worms. They're larger than some of the other birds on this list, so they typically enjoy the extra protein that an insect or two can bring them.
They do eat berries and fruit, however, when they're in season on bushes and trees.
Generally, larger birds eat insects, and smaller birds eat seeds. Blue tits eat insects, however, which makes them the exception to this rule, since they're quite small indeed.
Blackbirds live for several years, which means that they can be seen year-round all across the UK.
As with some other birds, though, they tend to stay away from the highlands of Scotland, since it can get so cold there. Birds typically have little in the way of body fat, so they can struggle to stay warm in winter.
Meadow Pipit - 2.3M in the UK
The meadow pipit is a bird that you may not know the name of, but that you've certainly seen! They are quite visually distinctive, with a while belly, striped with dark brown pinstriping, and yellow rings around their eyes. Their wings are a mixture of light and dark brown, and their beak and legs are orange.
These small birds are very common throughout the UK, and are one of the small garden birds that likely help your crops in the great scheme of things - they eat flies, beetles, and moths, meaning that there are fewer of those little pests to get at your garden.
The meadow pipit is generally not seen at bird feeders but may be noticed in areas of streets or estates that are a little danker and darker since that's where bugs are likely to be.
Meadow pipits are some of the only birds that engage in UK-specific migration patterns. Like the house sparrow, they can be found throughout the UK all year round. Unlike the house sparrow, there are regions in the north of Scotland that they go to in the summer, and regions in the south of England that they go to in the winter.
They're exceptionally small, which means that they follow the heat and the bugs across the country.
Some pipits do migrate to mainland Europe, finding warmer weather there in the winter, for which they're more ideally suited.
Generally, these birds are considered British garden birds in the sense that you're quite likely to see them on a patio.
They'll track down insects with ease, often at a grass/patio border.
Pheasant - 2.3M in the UK
Unless you have an utterly enormous back garden, there's no chance that you would consider pheasants to be garden birds.
They're exceptionally common in the UK, so we wanted to be sure to mention them here.
Pheasants are quite large game birds. They're chestnut to golden-brown, with certain individual spots of black markings across their body.
Their heads are typically a dark green color with red eye patches. The females are actually a little less colorful, having a mottled coloration, with brown and black throughout their feathers.
Pheasants can be wild animals and typically wander the countryside seeking out seeds, grain, shoots, and insects if that's the case.
They can also be domesticated and are typically used for sport shooting.
These birds were introduced to the UK, rather than being a native breed, which means that they can sometimes seem a little out of place.
These birds can be found all over the UK, they're very hardy and resilient.
They're less common in the far north and west of Scotland since the climate in those areas can be a little harsher.
They're typically not seen in urban areas, or up hills or mountains at all. When spotting them in the countryside, they're typically seen near woodland edges or hedgerows.
This means that a country house that has acres of garden may have several pheasants, while a smaller house may not. This makes them garden birds, but only just.
Black-headed Gull - 2.2M in the UK
Black-headed gulls are some of the first birds on this list that you're unlikely to know immediately. They essentially look quite simple - a red beak and legs, white and grey feathers, with a black tip on the end of their wings. They also look as though they've just dunked their face into a pot of ink.
For most of the year, these gulls have a white head, and it's only in the summer that their head is black. They're typically not seagulls and are instead found inland, where they can be loud and irritating.
These gulls are one of the gulls that truly give gulls their bad name. They're very sociable and unafraid, meaning that they're typically very happy to come right up to you or interact with people in a town. They're likely to want a piece of something that you might happen to be eating, and a crowd of them won't be ashamed of trying to beg for some from you.
These birds are social creatures
These birds are notable in how social they are - they often gather into large groups, squeaking among themselves. This can happen around a notable food source (which is the likely cause of a large number of them in your garden), though it also happens when they're roosting.
These birds will eat nearly anything, including food from bird feeders. They'll take worms and insects as a large part of their diet, but they'll be perfectly happy eating fish and carrion, which is a little unappealing to see.
Starling - 1.7M in the UK
Starlings have some beautiful coloration - a black undertone, with white pinstriping on their belly, and yellow-green pinstriping on their back and wings.
These birds are smaller than blackbirds, typically a little large than blue tits, though. They have a short tail and a pointy head, looking dark black at a distance. As they come closer, perhaps to sit on your garden fence, they're revealed to be particularly glossy, having a sheen of purples and greens.
They walk and run very rapidly, their little legs moving in a blur. Their flight is similarly quick, with them flitting to and fro very rapidly in nearly any situation.
They have a notable two-tone whistle, which can be heard in chorus for a lot of the year - they spend a lot of their time in flocks, as both social birds and gregarious ones.
These birds are a common garden bird indeed, although there has been a decline in numbers in other areas. This means that ornithologists may encourage you to attract birds like the starling to your garden so that we can be sure the numbers are fairly consistent throughout the UK.
While starlings may be seen in gardens regularly, it's quite unlikely that you'll see them on a bird feeder. They typically eat invertebrates and fruit. This means that they've got no real reason to find themselves on a bird feeder, which is typically stocked with sunflower seeds, nuts, and very occasionally mealworms. They'll get a better meal out of the soil, in most cases.
Goldfinch - 1.7M in the UK
The goldfinch is a very common and popular UK bird, with a red patch on its face, a bright yellow wing patch, and a notable black hood, it's easy to spot and encouraging to see.
These small birds are exceptionally bright and sociable, which works in their favor during breeding season - they may breed in loose colonies, which means more goldfinches in quick succession.
They're considered to have a very sweet song, and it's one that you'd be certain to recognize - a high-pitched trilling-style noise, which can be heard in most places throughout the UK.
They have long, fine beaks, which can be quite rare to see in smaller birds. These beaks are adapted to help them pull tiny seeds out of dense or spiny shrubbery, such as thistles. Their fondness for seeds can be seen in the number of them sitting at the average bird feeder - more and more are coming to eat there over time.
The goldfinch is the first bird on this list that typically migrates to mainland Europe in the winter. While the meadow pipit sometimes engages in migration, the goldfinch does so much more reliably. They may migrate as far south as Spain, in search of milder climates in the winter.
Jackdaw - 1.5M in the UK
The jackdaw is a member of the crow family, which cuts an intimidating silhouette. They've got a pronounced forehead, and a fairly short beak, which allows them to look quite similar to other corvids, though perhaps a little less menacing.
A distinctive feature of this bird is the silvery sheen that can be spotted on the back of its head. This is something easily spotted since the sun is always shining directly down, onto the head of a jackdaw. This coloration is in stark contrast to other birds, such as the blue tit, which have coloration on their undersides, while having camouflaged upper halves.
Jackdaws have very distinctive calls, which are often described as having a 'tchack' sound. The noise is notable in a common UK chorus as it's a little deeper than other birds, and doesn't involve holding a note, while other bird calls do.
The jackdaw also has some interesting nesting procedures. It typically doesn't nest in trees, as small birds like a blue tit might. Rather, it nests in chimneys, buildings, rock crevices, and holes in the trunk of trees. Jackdaws often do this as they're a little more robust than other birds. This gives them an odd sense of confidence, allowing them to nest in slightly more approachable spots.
Jackdaws can be spotted throughout the year. They have all sorts of different nests and locations that they're likely to visit, from a bird feeder to an abandoned factory. An interesting part of their annual behavior is that they will often meet up with other carrion crows in the autumn and winter. They'll then roost as one since there is safety in numbers.
Snipe - 1M in the UK
Snipes are something that you most certainly won't see on a bird feeder. Unless you have a small estate all to yourself, you're not likely to consider them British garden birds, either. However, it is worth considering them, since they're large wading birds, which can have a large impact upon the world around them, including garden birds.
Snipes have long, straight bills regardless of sex, and both sexes have mottled brown across them with paler buff stripes on their back.
There has long been a breeding species in the UK, much like the blue tit, or other wild birds. There are around eighty thousand breeding pairs in the UK, with there being around a million birds in total that winter in the UK. The reason that the numbers swell to such high margins is that Northern European birds tend to join UK birds during the winter.
The population of snipe has decreased a little over time. While they don't seem to be in any immediate danger, the decrease of wetlands has meant that they're slowly decreasing in number. This has meant that they're an Amber species, according to the RSPB - birds that require concern, but not immediate assistance.
Where can they be spotted?
Snipes can be seen throughout the UK all year round, but there are a number of different spots where they may be likely to be found. During the breeding season, the best place to spot them is on moorland - typically during early mornings. During those mornings, males will give their 'drumming' display, in an attempt to attract birds to mate with them. In winter, though, these birds can typically be found around the edges of pools in wetlands. Since snipe go for insects and invertebrates as their main food source, they tend to gravitate toward wetlands that have a good level of vegetation in them - under vegetated land will have fewer bugs, and thus, fewer snipe.
Rook - 0.9M in the UK
The rook is another bird in the crow family, and it's another one that cuts a slightly chilling figure in the air. It has a bare face, that's typically greyish white in color. On top of that, they have a thing beak and a pointy head - those are the things that make them distinguishable from the carrion crows of the UK.
Rooks are very sociable and clever, which means that you're exceptionally unlikely to ever see a rook on its own. They'll usually be spotted with other rooks or, sometimes, jackdaws. This is a little less common, though it typically occurs in winter - when they roost in flocks.
Rooks are notable in that while they'll happily visit a bird feeder, they'll eat essentially anything that they can track down. From the normal things like insects and worms to the slightly more horrid things, like carrion or small mammals, crows are true omnivores.
Rooks are found everywhere throughout the UK and are exceptionally common. The only place that they are reliably absent from is the far northwest of Scotland. They sometimes steer clear of the dead center of extremely large cities, but they would live there if forced to.
This extreme omni-specialized lifestyle is something that makes them quite unique among British birds. When compared to a blue tit, for example, it's like comparing an opera singer and a metal band. While they both sing, they're virtually different species.
Collared Doves - 0.8M in the UK
Collared doves are quite a sweet bird, really. -they're a pale pink and brown color, having quite a distinctive black collar around their neck. Their name suggests this, of course, but it's quite striking to see in person as the collar is quite thin but very visible.
Their cooing call is very monotonous and is something ubiquitous in the UK. They're commonly found in pairs or in flocks, but they're commonly found everywhere, to boot. They're simple birds and are what you might consider being a pigeon, depending on the wildlife near you. While they certainly don't resemble most types of pigeon, they're not a dissimilar bird species, in terms of behavior and call.
Common Gull - 0.7M in the UK
The common gull is, as the name suggests, perhaps the most common type of gull. As when you consider the blue tit, the term 'common gull' likely conjures a type of basic image - white breast, grey wings, black wingtips, and yellow legs and beak. That's precisely what a common gull looks like.
The common gull is notable in that it isn't common in the center of the British isles. Instead, it's most common on coastlines, and in some Eastern counties of the UK. That's where they have long lived and roosted naturally, although changing atmospheres and habitat availability means that they are seen in a number of different species.
Thanks to their unique call, they're one of few bird species that are commonly noticed in towns and housing estates throughout the winter. They take advantage of the heat and rubbish produced by homes to find safe places to live for the winter months.
Rock Dove - 0.5M in the UK
The rock dove is the more affectionate name for this bird. The other name is 'feral pigeon'! These birds are the traditional pigeons that you likely imagine when considering the word - they have orange scaly legs, grey and black plumage, and iridescent green and purple feathers at their necks.
The rock dove is the original domestic pigeon, and it has long been a part of life in a whole host of different places around the world. Originally, these birds were domesticated so that they could be bred for food. Over time, though, some pigeons have been able to establish breeding populations around the world.
An interesting thing about the nature of rock doves is that they can vary in color quite dramatically between different specific birds. Some rock doves may be a little bluer, while others could be a shade of brick red. Some colors are more common than others, of course, but because the birds are so widespread, evolution and selective breeding have wasted no time in creating subspecies style groups.
You've certainly seen these birds in your garden, though it's up for debate whether they're a pest or not. Some people might consider them to be such, going far enough to install spikes or noise repellent devices in order to reduce the number of pigeons near them. Whether you do that or not, they'll certainly find a way to eat from your bird feeders!
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 0.1M in the UK
The least common bird on this list, the great spotted woodpecker is one of the most beautiful ones that we've seen. It has black and white feathers across its back and wings, allowing it to be camouflaged from above. From beneath, though, it has a white face and belly, as well as a red rear, and a tiny red patch on the back of the head.
The red patch is only on males, and some additional redness (a crown) can be seen on young.
As this bird is around the size of a blackbird, the striking coloration makes it very easy to spot indeed!
This woodpecker spends most of its time sitting in branches or clinging to tree trunks. Unsurprisingly, it pecks at the wood of the tree, creating small holes in the trunks.
The presence of a woodpecker is commonly given away by the sound of the sharp and harsh drumming.
The contradictory behavior
Woodpeckers are very shy indeed, typically doing as much as they can to stay away from observers wherever possible. They will often try to scoot around a branch or tree trunk to stay away from observers, only to announce their presence by pecking.
We hope that this article has given you a handy rundown of some of the most common bird species in the UK! These species are all some of our favorites, and while not all of them are technically garden birds, they're certainly all impressive birds, to be sought out if you must.