Rare British Bird List | Red Listed Species UK | 2020

rare british bird robin

Many of the now rare British bird species included within this list were once a common sight, flitting in droves from the fields and hedgerows across our diverse little Island.

Unfortunately, due to factors such as widespread habitat loss, dozens of species have undergone rapid declines in their populations, now finding themselves facing the very real threat of extinction.

We’ve put together this short overview of just a handful of these rare British birds (With a full list included for reference), hoping to show just how preacarious their populations currently are.

Fortuanetly, we can all do our bit to help reverse this ominous trend, and in turn hopefully save these unique species from being lost to the history books.

So, without further ado – Let’s take a look.


Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

 rare british bird lesser spotted woodpecker

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 1-2,000 Pairs
Wingspan: 25-27cm
Length: 14-15cm

Once a common sight amongst our ancient broadleaf woodlands, this rare British bird has been on a steady decline since at least the 1970’s. Theories differ as to why the decline of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has been so dramatic, however the loss of established woodland habitat, increased pressure from neighbouring species and overmanagement of alternative habitat have certainly played their respective parts.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers diet mainly consists of insects and larvae, harvested from below the surface of trees using their probing beaks. Although both sexes sport the same black and white colouring, you can easily tell them apart due to the males distinctive red crown, while the female is completely void of colour. 

This rare British bird can be tricky to spot – even if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the vicinity of one – due to their love of heights. They’ll usually be spotted towards the top of the canopy, often creeping and fluttering from branch to branch – so make sure to bring your binoculars! 

As of 2020, the remaining populations of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are highly localised, predominantly concentrated in the South-East. Small populations are also known to reside in Yorkshire and parts of Wales, with very little or no activity noted across the rest of the country.

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the Wildlife Trust for more information on their ongoing work.  


Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail British Bird

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 15,000
Wingspan:  23-27cm
Length: 15-17cm

A summer visitor to our shores, the Yellow Wagtail’s bobbing little walk is a real delight to watch should you be lucky enough to catch sight of it. Feeding mainly on small insects, this rare British bird spends much of its time on the ground, picking away at its lunch as it bobs its way gracefully from one place to another.

They can be easily confused with the slightly more common (Yet still red-listed!), full-time resident Grey Wagtail, which also has striking yellow plumage on its breast. To differentiate between the two, look at the overall colouring, including the birds back and wings. 

Yellow Wagtails will show a Yellow / Green colouring, whereas Grey Wagtails will show a Grey / Yellow colouring, with the grey usually being more predominant. 

Yellow Wagtail populations are reasonably spread out across much of the UK, preferring moist environments where possible such as lowland meadows, river valleys and grazing marshes. 

Unfortunately, this rare British bird has seen its number decline rapidly over the past few decades, down over 70% at last count. A familiar story of habitat loss is thought to be the main culprit, with much of their preferred meadow being transitioned towards productive arable farmland. 

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the Wildlife Trust for more information on their ongoing work.


Red-Backed Shrike

rare british bird red backed shrike

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 2-3 Pairs
Wingspan:  24-27cm
Length: 16-17cm

A seasonal visitor and once common sight on our shores, this rare British bird had become all but extinct in the UK by the late 1980’s. Sporadic breeding programmes have since struggled to reestablish a small population, with little success outside of a tiny population known to reside in Southern England.

The Red-Backed Shrike is a relatively large, distinctively marked songbird, carnivorous in nature and capable of hunting small mammals. The male of the species is easily recognisable should you be lucky enough to catch sight of one, their blue / grey head and black mask making them look like an old-timey bandit. 

This rare British bird is still very much on the precipice of complete extinction from our shores, with their hopes now in the hands of the dedicated conservationists looking to establish a breeding foothold for them going forward into the future. Here’s hoping they find success.

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the RSPB for more information on their ongoing work.


Wood Warbler

rare british bird  wood warbler

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 6000 Pairs
Wingspan:  19-24cm
Length: 12-15cm

Still a relatively common sight across much of mainland Europe, the Wood Warblers reduced numbers here at home are now mainly concentrated in the deciduous woods of West Wales throughout their Summer visit, although small populations can be found scattered across the rest of the country.

Their distinctive song is as recognisable as their vibrant yellow & green colouring, and they can usually be spotted through the bulk of Summer high in the canopy of broadleaf forests. Can be distinguished from the often confused Willow Warbler through the distinction between its coloured back and white underbelly. 

The declining numbers of this rare British bird are still somewhat of a mystery, with various theories currently being tested. The common theme of habitat loss is likely to play a major role, with more than half of Britain’s old forests lost over the past few decades and many more on life support. 

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the Wildlife Trust for more information on their ongoing work.


Hawfinch 

rare british bird hawfinch

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 500-1000 Pairs
Wingspan:  29-33cm
Length: 17-18cm

Famously elusive, the Hawfinch is the UK’s largest finch, growing up to a whopping 18cm long. You’d think their distinctive looks and size would make them easy to spot, however that’s far from the case.

This rare British bird is elusive. Even if you were lucky enough to find yourself in the vicinity of one, their quiet song and shy nature generally make catching a glimpse of a wild Hawfinch a real task. 

Unfortunately their numbers have been on a sharp decline, with only a scattered few breeding populations maintaining their meagre numbers. Small populations are known across the breadth of the UK, however the main body of this rare British bird can now be found in the South-East. 

The precise reason for the decline in their numbers is as yet unknown, however habitat loss and increased competition from species such as Crows & Grey Squirrels are thought to have played their part. 

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the Wildlife Trust for more information on their ongoing work.


Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer bird

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 700,000 Pairs
Wingspan:  23-29cm
Length: 16cm

Although still showing reasonably strong population numbers, Yellowhammers have declined by around 50% over the past couple of decades – owing primarily to a mixture of habitat loss and scarce access to preferred food-sources. 

A beautifully distinctive rare British bird, the Yellowhammer can be identified through its vibrant red/brown plumage and bright yellow head and underbelly. They remain in the country year-round and can be spotted predominantly in open countryside, particularly preferring lowland hedgerows.

The Yellowhammers diet relies largely on grass seeds outside of their breeding season, a drop in the availability of which has been pinned as the prime culprit for their sharply declining numbers. 

Efforts are underway to work with farmers to maintain both their land and hedgerows in a more sustainable way, in an effort to help out our many struggling rare British birds – The Yellowhammer included.

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the RSPB for more information on their ongoing work.


Capercaillie

Capercaillie

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 1250 Birds
Wingspan:  87-125cm
Length: 60-87cm

A huge woodland grouse native to old Scottish pine forests, this rare British bird has once again found itself facing a very real threat of complete extinction from our shores. 

Unfortunately, this is nothing new for the Capercaillie, having become extinct from the UK once before in the mid 1700’s. Their later reintroduction from Swedish Capercaillie populations gave hope for a brighter future, however that future now once again balances on a knife-edge.

The largest member of the Grouse family, the Capercaillie is easily recognisable not only by its size but also by its blue-tinged breast and white-patched shoulders. In fact, this rare British bird had such an imposing figure, it’s original Gaelic name ‘Capall-Coille’ directly translates as ‘Horse of the forest’. 

Conservation work is underway to ensure this magnificent bird avoids facing that same awful fate a second time, with habitat restoration and sustainable forestry practices seen as key to reversing their ominous decline.

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the Forestry & Land Scotland for more information on their ongoing work.


Turtle Dove

rare british bird Turtle Dove

Fact Sheet:

Population: ~ 14,000 Pairs
Wingspan:  47-53cm
Length: 26-28cm

One of the daintiest members of the Dove family, this rare British bird has exhibited a dramatic drop in population numbers over the past few decades, both here in the UK and across Continental Europe. 

The distinctive purr of this seasonal visitor to our shores has been a fundamental part of the British summer backdrop, their arrival marking its beginning and their departure its winding down. 

Unfortunately, with Turtle Dove populations down more than 95% since 1995, this rare British bird could face complete extinction without widespread intervention from conservation groups across the globe.

And thankfully for both these magnificent little birds and us, the wider bird-spotting public – this is exactly what is underway, with a range of groups working tirelessly to reverse the decline of this increasingly rare summer sight. 

If you’d like to learn more about conservation efforts specifically focusing on this rare British bird, check out the RSPB for more information on their ongoing work.


Complete Rare British Bird List – Red Listed Species

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Wrapping Things Up

And there we have it, a brief look at the current plight of our rare British birds.

As always I hope this guide has been useful. If you’d like to be kept in the loop of whatever comes next from us here at the EcoGeeks then please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter below.

Have a great day.