A male blackbird in a garden

Male blackbirds, as their name suggests, are almost entirely black, whereas females are brown. Both have yellow beaks and eye-rings, and dark legs. © Reuben van Kuik via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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British garden birds: spring and summer highlights

As spring arrives, our gardens begin to transform. With earlier sunrises and warmer temperatures, birds suddenly seem louder and livelier - you may even spot a few new faces.

Find out about common garden bird species you're likely to spot this spring and summer and what they may be up to.

Many of the birds seen in Britain's urban gardens can be spotted all year round, but their activity changes with the arrival of warmer weather.

Here are some birds and behaviours to look and listen out for between April and September.

The dawn chorus

Birds can be heard throughout the year, but on spring and early summer mornings they seem to be louder and more persistent.

A robin perched on a plant

European robins are present in Britain all year, but their red breast stands out more in winter. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable. © Andrew Alexander via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

This birdsong is known as the dawn chorus. It's generally produced by male songbirds (passerines) that are looking for a mate. Once they have found one, they tend to sing less, however songbirds also use their voices to help them establish and maintain their territory.

Birds you might hear include robins, blackbirds, wrens, song thrushes, blackcaps, chiffchaffs, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and coal tits.

Learn how to recognise common birdsongs and calls >

Why do birds sing?

Singing takes a lot of energy, so it is the strongest males that produce the best sounds. Females tend to choose the male that sings best to be their mate, as his prowess suggests he will be able to defend his territory and help raise their offspring.

Among the first birds to start and last to stop singing each day are robins (Erithacus rubecula). Although most birds mainly sing in summer, most robins in Britain use their voices to defend their territories all year round.

A goldcrest perched on a branch

Goldcrests have greyish-green bodies. Both sexes have a yellow crest, although in males it tends to be more orange-toned. This species can be distinguished from firecrests by the lack of a white stripe above their eyes. © Francesco Veronesi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One bird you may not hear, but is probably singing, is the goldcrest (Regulus regulus). This little bird is one of the smallest to visit Britain's gardens. Their song is quiet and can be so high-pitched that some people have difficulty hearing it.

Birds don’t just communicate by singing. Bird calls, which are not musical, can be used as warnings and to try and drive a danger away. They are also used to share a location with other birds.

The breeding season begins

The dawn chorus is strongly tied to the beginning of the breeding season. At this time of year, birds are searching for a mate and building nests in preparation for the next generation.

A wren perched on a branch with an insect in its beak

Wrens are small, round birds with a short tail that they sometimes hold almost vertically. These brown birds may be tiny, but their voices are surprisingly loud. © Andreas Eichler via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the most prolific nest builders is the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). This is Britain's most common breeding bird and a visitor to most gardens.

Nest building

Male wrens prepare several nests, and the female decides which one to use. The males are polygamous, with several brooding females nesting within their territory. Although they mostly nest in woodland, wrens may also use gardens, hedgerows or even sea cliffs.

Female goldcrests will often lay a second clutch of eggs before the first have fledged (meaning before the chicks have developed flight feathers that will enable them to leave the nest). The male continues to care for the first brood whilst the female begins building a new nest. Their nests are usually made of twigs, spider webs and moss and can be found in gardens and woodland.

Blackbirds (Turdus merula) are naturally found in wooded areas, but they are a common sight in gardens. Nesting in urban areas may improve chick survival rate due to there being fewer predators than in their natural environment, even though there are often more eggs per nest in woodland areas.

A goldfinch perched on a branch

Goldfinches have a bright yellow wing patch and a red face. Their beaks are long and tweezer-like to help them extract small seeds, such as from thistles and teasels. You may spot goldfinches at bird feeders filled with niger seeds. © Francis C. Franklin via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

These birds generally maintain the same territory throughout their life, but they are busiest defending it against other blackbirds during spring and summer.

As a female goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) constructs a nest, a male accompanies her, although he doesn't contribute to the build. When the female is roosting, she remains on the nest whilst the male forages and feeds her. They nest later in the season than other birds, usually in tall trees.

Finding food

Two species of woodpecker can be seen in British gardens, the greater spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and the green woodpecker (Picus viridis). These birds are quite different in their approach to finding a meal.

Despite being a woodpecker, the green one isn't often observed drumming on trees. It spends more time on the ground, foraging for ants and other invertebrates which it licks up with its sticky tongue. This species is being seen in gardens more and more. 

A green woodpecker on a lawn

Male and female green woodpeckers can be told apart by their moustachial stripe (a streak beginning at the base of the beak). A male's stripe has a red centre, whereas a female's is entirely black - this image is of a male. © hadera.baltica via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In spring and summer, the greater spotted woodpecker's diet is primarily made up of invertebrates, but it also raids the nests of other birds for chicks and eggs. It is a visitor to gardens and parks in most parts of Britain.

Blackbirds are often seen hopping across lawns on the hunt for earthworms. However, in summer, parched gardens can cause a dramatic decrease in worms, leaving blackbirds and other species struggling to feed themselves and their chicks.

A woodpecker on a tree feeds another woodpecker in a tree hollow

Male greater spotter woodpeckers can be distinguished from females by the red patch on the back of their head. These birds are often spotted in parks and gardens across most of Britain. © Daniel Grothe via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Summer visitors

A number of birds that spend winter in warmer climates fly back to Britain as the temperatures increase here. A few of them make their way to towns and cities.

Swifts (Apus apus) migrate to Britain in summer to breed, usually arriving in late April or early May. The birds we see spend their winters in Africa.

These birds spend most of their time soaring across the sky. They naturally nest in holes on sea-cliffs, but they have also adapted to urban life, choosing to roost in nooks and crannies on the sides of buildings.

They are aerial experts and feed on the wing, chasing down flying insects. 

A swift holding onto a brick wall

A swift's plumage is almost entirely dark brown, except for a small white throat patch. They're sometimes spotted in urban areas, nesting in holes on the sides of buildings. © XJochemx.nl via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) are also summer visitors, arriving from Africa in April. These birds breed in Britain and usually raise two or three broods.

Swallows seem to choose their mates based on their long tails. A study published in 1992 found that male swallows with long, symmetrical tail feathers mated earlier than those with short, asymmetric tails.

They can be spotted nesting in the eaves of buildings and perched in flocks on telephone wires - however, as with many species of bird, you're more likely to spot them in quieter, rural areas. 

Swallows have glossy blue-black heads, wings and backs, white undersides and chestnut-coloured faces. © Russ via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Permanent residents

Many birds can be seen in urban park and gardens in the UK all year round.

Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) both have resident populations, but additional birds migrate to Britain from Europe for winter.

Coal tits (Periparus ater), blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and sparrows (Passer domesticus) are non-migratory and are regular visitors to gardens. You might spot a coal tit flitting to and from a bird feeder, taking food and hiding it for later.

Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica) are commonly associated with city centres and are sometimes referred to as street pigeons or city pigeons. However, they also visit parks and gardens. 

A collage of three pigeon species - a woodpigeon, a feral pigeon and a collared dove

Feral pigeons (centre) are very common in gardens, but there are a few similar-looking birds that you may also spot in your garden, including woodpigeons (left) and collared doves (right). © (L-R) Badics via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), Andrew Butko via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), Jacob Spinks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Feral pigeons are closely related to the rock dove (Columba livia), naturally a coastal-dwelling species, and often use building ledges as a substitute for cliffs.

Two other species of pigeon occasionally visit gardens in Britain - the woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) and the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) - but they are seen more regularly in rural areas.

The arrival of autumn

In August there is usually a decrease in the number of birds in gardens - it can happen quite suddenly. This is attributed to the sudden abundance of wild fruits and berries elsewhere. Birds often only return to gardens in large numbers when the first frosts occur in autumn.

To maximise your chance of seeing birds in your garden all year round, it's worth planting shrubs and trees such as cotoneaster, crab apples and rowan (if you have the space), flowers with abundant seedheads such as sunflowers and teasels, and encouraging climbing plants such as honeysuckle and ivy.

Another option is to hang a bird feeder. Follow our step-by-step guide on how to make a seed feeder from a reused plastic bottle. In winter, you can provide birds with the extra energy they need by adding homemade fat balls.