Whenever we stop to admire the garden or watch the world go by on a country walk, there is a good chance that a small bird will appear. Many will flit on by, possibly in a flock, as we try and figure out what they were. Others are a little kinder by showing themselves in the open for longer. There are many small birds of the UK right across the country in various landscapes. So, what are the smallest British birds?
As a general rule, the smallest birds in the UK fall into the following list:
- Little Auk
- Little Grebe
- Little Owl
But there are multiple birds that fall into some of the categories above, so what are they? Keep reading and I will explain more!
Birds In The UK
The following guide highlights a series of families and individual bird species that are on the smaller side. Some of these are incredibly small and hard to spot, while others are more conspicuous with their bright plumage and their behaviour. You will see many garden birds on your feeders and maybe nesting in boxes. But, there are many more species across different habitats out in the wild.
The Smallest Garden Birds In The UK
The first place to start when talking about some of the smallest species in the UK is with those that come to visit us in our gardens. Many species will nest in hedges and boxes out of sight and take food from feeders. Some are so small that we barely feel a thing when they take food from our hands.
There are many species of tit in the UK and several may be common visitors to your garden. The Blue Tit is most common and easy to recognise with its blue and yellow plumage. But, Great Tits, Coal Tits, and Long-Tailed Tits are also possible visitors.
The latter is easy to recognise with fluffy bodies and long tails and the former is another possible inhabitant of nest boxes. Willow, Marsh, and Bearded Tits are also present in the UK but unlikely in gardens.
Similarly, there are many species of finch in the UK and a handful may come to feed in gardens. Goldfinches are classed as being among the most common garden birds now, but it isn’t that rare to get Chaffinches either.
Goldfinches have cute ringed faces and gather in flocks and male Chaffinches are striking with their blue and pink tones. You should also be on the lookout for Greenfinches, who used to be common feeder-birds. Out in the countryside, you may get the rarer sighting of a Bullfinch or Hawfinch.
The Eurasian Robin is one of the most popular garden birds that we have because of its temperament and its appearance. The bright red breast of this bird makes it a joy to spot and its song is also a delight. They are often seen following gardeners around to pick up any insects disturbed in the soil.
You are also likely to see the same Robin each time because they are such territorial birds. These birds will take advantage of supplemental feeding and nest sites to make a garden a long-term home.
Wrens are one of the smallest resident birds you will find in the garden. They are often falsely believed to be the smallest in the country, but that honour goes to a bird mentioned later on. The wren is a feisty little bird with a loud machine-gun-fire alarm call and high energy level.
You can watch them flying around, chasing down insects and spiders around the garden and darting back to their nests in the undergrowth. Their round bodies and upright tails make this little bird easy to recognise.
This is just a starting point with the birds that can appear in a garden. Naturally, House Sparrows are a part of this group two, as are the similar Dunnock. Then there are those that are a little bigger like the thrush family.
Other Small Birds In Woodlands And Farmlands
Then there are all of the other species that you can find in wilder areas, like parks, farmland areas, woodland, or maybe even around town. Some of these can go by unseen with ease as they hide in undergrowth or crops, while others make themselves known singing on perches or foraging in flocks for food.
Warblers aren’t uncommon around the British countryside and many species are making their homes in various habitats. The only problem here is that they aren’t always the easiest birds to identify. Typically speaking, these birds have light brown backs and wings, pale underparts, and a stripe on or near the eye.
Tones vary, with some more olive and some more chestnut. The Garden Warbler and related Chiffchaff may make an appearance in a garden. It is also a good idea to look out for Reed Warblers in the wetland or for the Grasshopper or Cetti’s Warbler.
Buntings are similar to warblers in that there are many forms across the countryside of the UK, with each filling its own role. They are different from the warblers in that they have a stockier build and thicker bills. There is also much more variation in their plumage.
The Corn Bunting is a possible sighting around farmland and is quite drab in appearance, whereas the rare Cirl Bunting is a colourful sight on the few breeding grounds in southern England. Again, a Reed Bunting is a reedbed specialist alongside the Reed Warbler.
Wagtails are brilliant little birds that get their name from the way they wag their tails as they search for food. There are three species within the UK. The most common one is the Pied Wagtail, which makes it home in cities and towns and may visit gardens occasionally.
You can sometimes find large roosts of these in trees in a warmer spots. Out of town, there is the water-loving Grey Wagtail and the farmland Yellow Wagtail. It is unclear why they wag these long tails the way that they do, but it makes them very endearing.
Kinglets are the European term for two of the smallest birds on the continent. The Goldcrest is a tiny bird weighing about the same as a 10p piece. Yet, it will travel long distances to breed and find better sources of food. They are generally woodland birds, but gardens with mature trees may find that they have regular visitors too.
In parts of southern England, they are now a year-round resident. They have a bright yellow stripe on their head, which shouldn’t be confused with the orange-yellow stripe of the related Firecrest. You may be lucky enough to see both over the winter.
This is just a small introduction to the many different species you can find in the wild. Twites and Linnets are also fun to look out for on the open ground. Treecreepers are a small camouflaged rarity. Also, you might be lucky enough to see the aerial display of the Sky Lark.
Small Wading Birds In The UK
Another place where you can see some of the smallest species of birds in the UK is out on mudflats and coastal waters. Wading birds come in all different shapes and sizes so that more species can coexist in the same area. Each species will have its own speciality for feeding and can be found at different parts of the tide line. This is why some have stubby bills and others long probing ones and why there are some relatively small waders with disproportionately long legs.
Sanderlings are one of the smallest waders in the UK and are great fun to watch when you come across a group of them on the shore. They will run in and out of the surf, snatching up anything that drifts in. This is one of the best ways of identifying these birds without binoculars.
With them, you will see that they are very white underneath with dark legs and a medium-sized dark beak. Neither legs nor bills are large because of these feeding habits. They are migratory birds, so don’t expect to see them all year.
There are a few different species of Plover in the UK. The Little Ringed Plover is the smallest, which can be tricky to spot among shingles and stones until it moves. It looks a lot like its bigger cousin, the Ringed Plover, with a black ring on the neck and a patch above the bill.
We also get other visitors, including the Grey Plover and the Golden Plover. Both birds look bland and like other waders while here in their winter plumage but have impressive breeding plumage with black undersides and speckled backs.
The Turnstone is another one that is fun to watch. These birds live up to their names by turning over stones on beaches and shorelines to pick at an insect.
They will also do this to dead creatures, but Turnstone was a nicer name than Turncorpse. Breeding birds have mottled chestnut back and black bibs. Look out for them on harbours and beaches in seaside towns where they can get quite tame and provide a good sighting.
Elsewhere on the shoreline, you can also find an array of Sandpipers, and some are more common than others. The shapes and markers can be similar at times, especially between the Common and Green Sandpipers. Purple Sandpipers are darker, while the Curlew Sandpiper lives up to its name with an unusual bill. The odd one out is the Marsh Sandpiper, which looks annoyingly similar to a Greenshank.
Again, other species work the shoreline that could be described as small. The Redshank is a good example because while it is much taller than others to wade in deeper water, the body size isn’t that big. Other migrants can appear, such as Stints.
Other Unique Small Birds Of The UK
Finally, we should take a moment to consider some of the other unusual birds that certainly aren’t big and are easily dwarfed by related species in their habitat. Some of these are remarkably small, considering their environment and families.
The Kingfisher is an oddity in the United Kingdom because there are no other species like it in the country. There are other Kingfishers across the world, but none here. There are also no other UK birds that have these colours.
The most common sightings of Kingfishers are of streaks of electric blue dashing along rivers or under bridges. If you are lucky, you may see one perched by the water or on a boat getting ready to fish.
As the name suggests, this is the smallest of the Auk family. It is much smaller than its cousins, the Guillemot and Razorbill and looks like a compact version of them.
They sometimes appear in the North Sea but are unlikely further south. They are smaller than you would expect and comparable to a Starling. Amazingly, they survive on open water.
The Little Grebe is another compact little bird, only this one is more at home on lakes and ponds. It is much smaller than the Great Crested Grebe. But, they aren’t hard to spot because of their behaviour.
If you see a little round ball of feathers diving beneath the survive, especially in winter, you may be in luck. Another tell-tell sign is their “laughing” call.
Finally, we have a bird that isn’t that little compared to the other birds on this list. It is massive against something like a Goldcrest. However, it is tiny relative to a lot of other owls.
The Little Owl is a small brown owl that can be seen during the day if you find a regular hunting ground or nesting site. They are cute, but their sharp eyes and expression can make them look unimpressed at being spotted.
This is just a small selection of the many small species in the UK. But, it is a reminder that not only should we pay attention to the smaller creatures that may pass by unnoticed, rather than just the flashier larger birds, but also that the country has a lot to find.
- How Long Do Blackbirds Live?
- Parakeets In The U.K. – How Did They Get Here?
- When Do Blue Tits Nest?
- Where Do Kestrels Nest In the UK?
- The Difference Between Female And Male Blackbirds