BTO migration blog

Spring and autumn are exciting times for anyone who watches birds. Here on this blog we will make predictions about when to expect migrant arrivals and departures, so that you know when and where to see these well-travelled birds.



Thursday, 15 February 2018

Finches on the move?


The last week has seen the number of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Siskins build in a few BTO staff member’s gardens here in Thetford. It has been a very quiet winter for all three so we are almost certainly experiencing a movement of these birds through the area. Presumably these are birds that have been wintering south and west of here and are moving north and east in preparation for the forthcoming breeding season. The BirdTrack graphs for Chaffinch and Goldfinch show the upturn of both species well. It is interesting to note that Chaffinch is well below its historical average, probably as a result of fewer birds crossing the North Sea last autumn.




All of the satellite tagged Cuckoos that we are currently following have made a move north; Selborne currently leads the pack and has moved further west in the last couple of days into Guinea. In 2017 he crossed the Sahara on 25 March, having arrived in West Africa on 2 February. It is fascinating to think that along with the Cuckoos many of our summer migrants will already be on their way back too. House Martin and Swallow have already been recorded in southern Europe.
Follow the Cuckoos here as they make their way back.



Closer to home, Red-throated Divers are on the move, with double figure counts past several coastal watchpoints and Wigeon numbers are also beginning to build at east coast sites.

Red-throated Diver by Andy Mason

With lots of birds redistributing around the country now is a great time to look for rarer geese amongst the flocks of commoner species. Flocks of Pink-footed Geese are worth checking for Tundra Bean, and Red-breasted Geese have been known to associate with them too.

Iceland Gull by Scott Mayson

White winged gulls are also on the cards as they too begin to move back north, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls can turn up almost anywhere at this time.

Scott Mayson and Paul Stancliffe

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Migration underway

It might only be the end of January and the days might still be short but some of our birds have already begun their spring migration. Fieldfare and Redwing have started moving north and east, with numbers beginning to build in eastern Britain. Siskins have started to turn up at garden feeding stations as they too make their way back north, and the first of the BTO satellite-tagged Cuckoos has begun the long journey back to the UK.

Cuckoo PJ spent most of the winter in Angola but since leaving there last week he has travelled 1,600 km (1,000 miles) north and is now in Cameroon. He should head west from here before once again turning north and crossing the mighty Sahara. You can follow him as he makes his way back home during the next couple of months.


Auks are also on the move and Guillemots and Razorbills could be back prospecting on their breeding ledges any day now. Look out for them at coastal watch points.

Guillemot by Sarah Kelman

One of the biggest surprises of the autumn 2017 migration was the unprecedented arrival of Hawfinches into Britain. The exact number is difficult to calculate as the birds are so widespread and mobile, but it is thought in excess of 1,000 birds have arrived here and that the true figure might even be as high as 5,000. The estimated breeding population is only 500 – 1,000 pairs, so this is an incredible increase. The BirdTrack graph shows how spectacular this arrival was compared to the historical average for the species, and they are still being seen across the UK. Some of the largest concentrations are currently to be found in Surrey, Sussex and Shropshire.

Hawfinch BirdTrack reporting rate 2017 almost quadrupled

It’s only a matter of time before the wintering geese and wildfowl begin to head north and east too. February is the peak month for Pintail, Goldeneye and White-fronted Goose all of which will be steadily heading to the breeding grounds in Northern and Eastern Europe. Male Goldeneyes at this time of the year can often be seen performing their display which involves throwing their heads backwards, then forwards – extending the neck as they do so – in readiness for the breeding season ahead. Other wildfowl will be getting in to flocks ready to depart when the weather is favourable, with some heading across Europe whilst others,such as Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese, will be heading to Iceland and Greenland for the summer months.

Scott Mayson, BirdTrack Organiser, and Paul Stancliffe, Media Manager