Winged wonders: why you should go birdwatching in London


You may think of London as the ultimate urban metropolis –and why wouldn’t you? – but did you know that it sees more than 300 different species of bird across an entire year? Yes, it’s true. And it’s not just the clichéd pigeons of Trafalgar Square you’ll spot either – residents have recently reported sightings of ducks and even pheasants and woodcock in high streets and on balconies and roofs. Opinions vary as to why the UK capital should enjoy such a rich variety of avian visitors, but there’s no doubt about it, should you be coming to London soon, there’s myriad opportunities for birdwatching while you’re here.

Keel Billed Toucan Bird

Indeed, if you’re going to be in the capital at the end of the month, you might be even more inspired to get out your binoculars then as that’s when the annual Big Garden Birdwatch will be taking place, the one weekend each year when the British public’s asked to spend an hour counting the birds in their garden by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), so it might get a decent idea of the most prominent bird species to be found up and down the country.

The best advice the organization offers to see a bird– and this may seem obvious, but it’s as well to note it – is to remember to look around and to look up. Aside from that, good luck – these are just some of the locations you might wish to visit to maximize your bird-spotting chances:


Open spaces
Wide-open spaces, such as the Lee Valley, are great– indeed, more than 200 species, such as black-necked grebe and bittern, have been recorded by the London Wildlife Trust there. As far as the RSPB is concerned, Hampstead Heath, Wanstead Flats and Little Wormwood Scrubs are well worth paying a visit.

It’s rather obvious, but London’s major parks tend to be excellent locations for spotting different birds. It’s also rather obvious – but easy to forget – that to catch a sight of birds they’re best to visit in the very early morning before there’s much footfall. Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park, Richmond Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are all recommended. The other plus of doing a touch of birdwatching here is that most of them are in the heart of Central London – therefore perfectly located should you be staying in one of the best hotels in West End London.

However, the Royal parks aren’t the only green spaces in the capital that can be havens for birds. Don’t overlook the small local parks dotted here and there throughout the boroughs, many of which offer much-needed sanctuaries for wildlife, of course. A colony of house sparrows, for instance (a breed that’s been in decline by a huge two-thirds over the last 20 years) has now set up home in Islington’s Laycock Street Park.

Canals, waterways and wetlands
If swans are your thing, then London’s canals are perhaps your most likely places to catch a glimpse of this most elegant of large waterfowl, while herons, moorhens and coots can also be spotted on the capital’s canal network.

Elsewhere, the Thames itself is a great opportunity for birdwatching in London, offering the likes of waders, geese, gulls, ducks and cormorants. You might even catch sight of the elusive kingfisher should you give the river’s tributaries a go (such as the Brent, the Colne, the Crane, the Mardyke and the Wandle). Moreover, on the estuary, Barking Riverside or Crossness – both at low tide with exposed mudflats – are bound to offer water birds, while don’t forget that both the Lee Valley and Thames Valley are migratory routes for a good number of species.

When it comes to the wetlands, avocet, lapwing, ringed plover and marsh harrier are all spottable at Rainham Marshes, while Ingrebourne Marshes is popular with water rail, bittern and bearded tit. Also, last summer the London Wildlife Trust converted a Stoke Newington reservoir into what’s now known as Woodberry Wetlands – a new nature reserve that’s set to open this spring.

Overgrown and centuries-old established spots in their vicinities, a good number of London’s most well-known places of rest are hugely attractive for all sorts of wildlife. If you don’t mind birdwatching among the graves and tombstones then there’s a long list to choose from here –Highgate Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery, West Norwood Cemetery, Kensal Green Cemetery, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery and Abney Park Cemetery.

Utility sites
Finally, it may surprise some, but owing to utility sites being enclosed open spaces – so ensuring resident or visiting animals experience fewer disturbances from people (even dog walkers) – they can be ideal locations for nesting birds. Top of the list has to be Beddington Farmlands (next door to a waste site/ sewage farm) and the Wraysbury and Thames Water reservoirs (a good example of the latter’s is Walthamstow Marshes). Be aware, however, thatutility sites don’t tend to be popular among ground nesting birds, as they’re vulnerable to predators like rats and foxes, who are very at home in them.

The RSPB Birdwatch will take place on 30-31 January 2016. Register to take part, find your nearest event RSPB event here and be sure to check out the RSPB’s bird identifier, to make sure you really know which feathered friend you’ve just spied through your binoculars.