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Frequently Asked Questions

This document is a source of information for readers of the Usenet news group uk.rec.birdwatching, covering questions which come up frequently in the group (plus one or two questions which perhaps should be asked a bit more frequently!). It is recommended that new participants should read this before posting to the group.

This FAQ is only an official document to the extent that it is commented on, corrected and accepted by the contributors to the group. Please let the author know of any corrections needed or improvements you would like to suggest.

The FAQ is based largely, but not exclusively, on postings in the group. Some parts are copied verbatim – with editing for spellign etc – and for these I have credited the author.


  1. What is the purpose of this news group?
    1. A few don’ts
    2. The birdwatcher’s code of conduct

  2. What books and magazines are recommended for birding?
    1. Field Guides
    2. Location Guides
    3. Magazines
  3. Optical equipment – what can you recommend?
    1. Binoculars and telescopes
    2. Straight versus angled telescopes
    3. Zoom versus fixed-focus lenses
    4. Tripods
  4. Where can I see some birds in London?
    1. How about the rest of the UK?
    2. ... and the rest of the world?
  5. Garden birds
    1. What bird feeders should I use, and where?
    2. What food do you recommend for feeding?
    3. Are some peanuts dangerous?
    4. When should I stop feeding?
    5. Which direction should nestboxes face?
    6. How do I set about making a nestbox?
  6. What CD-ROMs about birds are worth buying?
  7. I have seen a bird I can’t identify – how can I get help?

  8. Where can I find bird resources on the Internet?
    1. Information on UK rarities
    2. Travel reports
    3. Tide-tables
    4. Web sites covering specific areas in Britain
    5. Songs
    6. Pictures
    7. Web cameras
    8. Previous postings to uk.rec.birdwatching
    9. Links to other web sites
    10. Lists of bird names
    11. Translations of bird names
    12. FAQs
    13. News groups
    14. Bird organisations

  9. What on earth is a “gropper”?
  10. What is jizz and where does the word come from?
  11. How do I stop birds from pecking at my windows?
  12. A bird has flown into my living-room – what should I do?
  13. I have found an abandoned baby bird. What should I do with it?
  14. What is the situation with rare breeding birds?
  15. I’ve seen what I think is someone breaking the law. What should I do?
  16. How do I submit records to the recorder?
  17. Is there an e-mail address for reporting ringing recoveries?
  18. What birds can I count for my list?

  19. Did I just hear a Nightingale singing last night in the middle of winter?
  20. I just saw a bird like a Red Kite by the M40. Is this possible?
  21. I just saw a bird that looked like a Little Egret. Is this possible?
  22. I just saw something that looked like a hummingbird. Is this possible?
  23. I just saw a large flock of Pied Wagtails. Is this unusual?
  24. I just saw a Blackcap in winter – is that unusual?
  25. What is a Caspian Gull?
  26. Why does one never find dead birds?
  27. How do I stop cats from attacking birds in my garden?
  28. Magpies – the scourge of songbirds?
    1. And how about Sparrowhawks?
  29. I just saw a Magpie in a cage. Is that legal?
  30. Wind farms - good or bad?
  31. Disabled Birders Association
  32. Where are the abundance charts?
  33. What mosquito repellents are good?
  34. What is the collective noun for ... ?
  35. Who wrote this FAQ?

What is the purpose of this news group?

This group is for the discussion of birdwatching matters of interest to birders in the United Kingdom. The topics that this can include are many and varied, such as sightings, good birding locations, optical equipment, literature, identification problems, biology of birds as related to birdwatching (for example behaviour or plumage), feeding wild birds, nestboxes, birding software, bird photography and so on.

At you can read the charter of the group. (You may somewhere encounter a different charter. In 1998 a new charter was agreed within the group, but never received the blessing, due to a misunderstanding. It has now been agreed to stick with the old charter.)

If you are a newcomer to Usenet, please read the semi-official articles about etiquette in the newsgroup news.announce.newusers before you post. You will also find useful information about Usenet in general, and the UK hierarchy in particular, at

To clear up one frequently recurring issue: this group is for topics relevant to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Something of a problem on the group is the number of people who see the word “bird” in the title and dive into a posting without checking what the group is for. The net being what it is, most of them are American, which has generated a certain aversion to questions about hummingbird feeders and Purple Martin nests (much though most of us would love to find a Ruby-throat or a Purple Martin in our gardens).

On the other hand, it happens not infrequently that regular contributors also post messages which are not strictly on-topic, such as notes on foreign trips, or on other wild animals such as butterflies or mammals. Even more frequently, discussions which start on UK birds wander amicably off into related subjects, and sometimes even subjects where the ornithological relationship is pretty tenuous.

The dividing line between a bit of welcome variation and an irritating off-topic post defies definition. It is politely suggested that you stick closely to the charter until you’ve followed the group long enough to be able to judge what is likely to be of interest.

It is certainly not the case that the group is restricted to UK birders, and relevant contributions from other countries are very welcome.

A few don’ts

Without wanting to give the impression of laying down the law, your chances of making friends in the group will be much improved if you avoid doing the following.

As with all Usenet text news groups:

Please no messages all in CAPITAL LETTERS – this is generally considered impolite in the same way that shouting is.

The group is not intended for discussion of cage birds (try rec.pets.birds) or falconry (try

It is also not intended for commercial advertising. However a brief (3-4 lines, say) factual, once-off advertisement referring to a web site for further information is unlikely to cause offence – provided that what you are selling is relevant to UK birders, of course.

Private advertising (e.g. by someone who has just bought new binoculars and wants to sell the old ones) is OK. If you wish to publicise your web site, the recommended way is a brief ‘sig’ (signature file) under your postings. Frequent posts for the sole purpose of advertising your site are not appreciated.

VERY IMPORTANT: please do not give information on the nesting sites of rare birds in the UK! Unfortunately the UK suffers badly – worse than most countries – from egg thieves, who are keen to get hold of this sort of information. For more information, see the question What is the situation with rare breeding birds?

And finally, please don’t post messages which say “just a test” – there are special test groups like uk.test for that. If you want specifically to test your use of this group, how about posting a message about birds?

The birdwatcher’s code of conduct

This code should be familiar to all birdwatchers. It has been drafted after consultation between the BOU, RSPB, BTO, SOC, WWT and editors of BB.

  1. The welfare of the birds must come first.
  2. Habitat must be protected.
  3. Keep disturbance to birds and their habitat to a minimum.
  4. When you find a rare bird think carefully about whom you should tell.
  5. Do not harass rare migrants.
  6. Abide by the bird protection laws at all times.
  7. Respect the rights of landowners.
  8. Respect the rights of other people in the countryside.
  9. Make your records available to the local bird recorder.
  10. Behave abroad as you would when birdwatching at home.

Full copies, with detailed explanation, may be obtained from the RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds, SG19 2DL

What books are recommended for birding?

Field Guides

See the separate Field Guide FAQ.

Location Guides

The “Where to Watch Birds in ...” series of location guides, published by Helm, seem to be generally well thought of. The series covers practically the whole of the UK, and several other European countries as well.

Further there is The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook, compiled by John Pemberton and published by the Buckingham Press at about 13. "It includes details of over 500 reserves open to the public in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, plus a few in the Republic of Ireland, including names, addresses and phone numbers of wardens and an indication of what can be seen and when. And this is just a small proportion of the excellent and up-to-date information contained in the book.” (Malcolm Ogilvie)

Birding Magazines

How do the birding magazines compare?

Bird Watching is the most populist of the titles and is aimed largely, but not exclusively, at less experienced birdwatchers. Topics covered regularly include garden birding, birdwatching walks and a round-up of the previous month’s sightings. It has mainly mainstream identification articles rather than rarer birds.

Birdwatch is aimed more at serious birders with more emphasis on identification and rarities.

Birding World is aimed even more at serious birders and twitchers – more id articles, foreign birding, rare birds etc.

British Birds is more scientific in nature, consisting mainly of a series of papers on a wide range of topics. There are also annual surveys of rare breeding birds, feral birds etc written by Malcolm Ogilvie. Bird behaviour also features strongly.

The first two can usually be found in W.H.Smith or similar shops, while the other two will send you a sample copy – see their respective web-sites. British Birds offers discounts to members of the RSPB and BTO.

Lastly one should perhaps mention Birds, which you get by joining the RSPB, and which seems to have a readership evenly divided between people who love it and people who hate it! It is of course strongly conservation oriented. Identification articles tend to be aimed at beginners.

(Based on a contribution by Gordon Hamlett.)

Optical equipment – what can you recommend?

Binoculars and telescopes

Undoubtedly the leading makes of optical equipment for birding – the ones that the majority of keen birders own, and many of the rest would like to own – are, in no particular order, Leica (formerly Leitz), Zeiss, Swarovski and Kowa. All make equipment which is optically outstanding and robust enough to withstand intensive use in the field. However, they have prices to match. (The top-of-the-range Nikons and Questar are also top makes, but have even higher prices.)

It is unlikely that a new birder would wish to immediately purchase top-of-the-line equipment in any case. Of course there is a lot of more modestly priced but good kit available. In fact, compared to as little as 25 years ago, the general standard of optical equipment is remarkably high. But there is also some cheap rubbish around (and just possibly some expensive rubbish as well). So look before you leap.

A useful introduction to optics for birding is the Optics FAQ.

A few things to bear in mind when choosing binoculars (or a scope) are:

Other URLs which may be useful are:

Straight versus angled telescopes

With some telescopes the eye-piece directly faces the direction of view, while with others the eye-piece is angled downwards at 45 degrees. Which is better?

The answer is that it basically comes down to personal preference. There is no difference in optical quality. The most important difference is that an angled scope requires the tripod head to be lower than for a straight scope.

The advantages of straight scopes are:

On the other hand, for angled scopes:

Zoom versus fixed-focus lenses

This is a much-discussed issue. The advantages of a zoom lens on a telescope are fairly obvious. The disadvantages are that the zoom is more expensive than a fixed-focus lens (though usually cheaper than two lenses), the optical quality is lower, and the field of view is narrower. Having said that, the best zooms nowadays are very good, and many people find the quality loss to be negligible. It comes down to personal preference again: go to a supplier where you can compare the two lenses for yourself.

On one point however, practically all birders agree: zoom binoculars are not worth bothering with.


In contrast to the situation with optical equipment, with tripods there is no clear handful of brand leaders.

My own experience is that Manfrotto tripods are decently stable, but rather heavy and slow to put up; Velbon and Vanguard tripods are quick to put up and very portable, but can’t cope with much more than a light breeze. The Swarovski tripod, which is a development of one of the Manfrotto models, is a decided improvement in terms of quick putting up (once you've done an initial adjustment of the clips, which is a bit fiddly), but the carrying strap is unsatisfactory.

There are some enthusiastic users of Benbo tripods in the group. These have a design permitting them to be put up in a wide variety of positions. A couple of people have also recommended Uni-Loc, whose range is a development of the Benbo.

Slik tripods have received mixed reviews, with some positive comments, but also complaints about the legs being difficult to lock into position.

A more detailed answer was:

Ian Middleton wrote:
>Any advice on buying a tripod to be used with a Kowa TSN3 telescope?
>I’ve seen some brochures (Manfrotto and Cullmann) but am somewhat
>bewildered by the range of options. I want something that’s steady,
>and can be used seated on the ground as well as standing up.

“I don’t like Cullmann at all. Manfrotto makes fairly decent tripods, try the Manfrotto 144 (quite stable and not too heavy) or the Manfrotto 55C. Both are pretty good.

Alternatively have a look at Gitzo. I know they’re not that widespread in the UK, but they are generally speaking better than the Manfrottos – they seem to be the most commonly used tripods among professional photographers. Extremely well-made, very stable for the weight, very reliable. The models I’d consider are the Gitzo 224 and the Gitzo 226. My old Gitzo 224 is more than 12 years old and still going strongly, despite some considerable abuse. My lightweight Gitzo Sport (out of production, unfortunately) lasted 11 years before I managed to break it. However, I don’t think there are many tripods that would have survived that situation.

>What is the best type of head to use?
The best head is in my opinion the Manfrotto 128. It does have its faults, but there isn’t anything better on the market at the moment. All the better heads are way too heavy.”

(Hermann Oldenburg)

Where can I see some birds in London?

This question could of course equally well be posed for any part of the UK, but London seems to crop up particularly frequently, presumably due to the number of people who come for brief visits.

Hyde Park is centrally located and a good spot to find some of the commoner species. Other recommended spots, a bit further out, include:

Note that most of the ducks in St James’ Park are captive.

You can find further information at the Central London RSPB Members Group.

How about the rest of the UK?

If you like, you can check out tips that have already been given for other areas using Google (see question Previous postings to uk.rec.birdwatching). Otherwise feel free to ask the group – that’s one of the reasons the group is here. Do try to be reasonably specific about where you are interested in (just saying “Scotland” is not terribly specific...) and approximately how long you will be visiting (so that people don’t give long lists of sites to someone who only has a day to spend anyway). Also mention if you are dependent on public transport.

... and the rest of the world?

Although questions about good birding spots in the rest of the world are not strictly on-topic, requests for information are in fact usually answered, sometimes in great detail. Note however that for the Americas, especially North America, you will almost certainly do better in the news group rec.birds. See also Where can I find travel reports on the WWW?

Garden birds

What bird feeders should I use, and where?

You should consider both ground-feeding birds (use a bird table, or simply spread food on the ground) and climbing feeders such as tits (use a hanging feeder).

Don’t be disheartened if the birds don’t immediately find the food. It may take several days or even weeks before they change their feeding routes to include your garden. Spreading food around on the ground (including large items like bits of bread and apples) may make it more visible to them.

Distribute your feeders around the garden. If they are close together, one or two particularly aggressive birds may keep the others away.

Provision of cover (bushes and trees) is a tricky issue. Birds like to have cover to retreat to in case of danger, but on the other hand cats like to have cover in order to sneak up on birds! It is probably best to place the feeders something like a couple of metres from the nearest bushes. One way of avoiding trouble with cats is to have the feeders suspended on wire at above the height a cat can jump.

A good way of feeding is to provide suitable shrubs. Almost any berry-bearing shrubs will do, but hawthorn, holly, rowan, yew, firethorn (Pyracantha) and Berberis are particularly good. See the Wildlife Gardening site for further suggestions.

In addition, Goldfinches are very fond of teasels. “They also like burdock, if you dare incur the wrath of your neighbours by allowing one to grow.” (Richard Candeland)

What food do you recommend for feeding?

Peanuts are a perennial favourite, but black sunflower seed and sunflower seed hearts, or mixtures containing these, are also recommended.

Buying in bulk is a lot cheaper than buying small packets at supermarkets etc. A couple of contributors have recommended CJ Wildbird food. (You may like to read their “Feeding Tips” page.) Buying from a local seed merchant may well be the cheapest option.

A seed cake made of seeds and nuts embedded in fat is usually much appreciated. If you have any old apples going a bit soft, thrushes (especially Blackbirds) like them. Sultanas are also worth trying. Bread is not ideal, but tossing out a bit of bread occasionally is unlikely to do any harm.


A real treat for many birds is live mealworms, if you can (a) face them and (b) afford them. Apparently you can even tempt woodpeckers into the garden by hiding mealworms in holes drilled in logs.

You may be able to get them from, for example, pet shops which deal in the more exotic animals (especially reptiles and amphibians). They can also be obtained from: CJ Wildbird food, Livefoods Direct (site under reconstruction when last checked) and Jacobi Jayne.

Maggots, e.g. from an angling shop, are not however recommended. Mealworms (like caterpillars) feed on vegetable matter. Maggots feed on rotting meat and apparently can cause digestive problems; they also pose a risk of disease.

Are some peanuts dangerous?

Yes. Peanuts can be infected by Aspergillus fungi which produce highly dangerous aflotoxins. The fungi flourish if the peanuts are kept in warm damp conditions – this can occur in the tropical locations in which they are grown.

The legal limit for the toxins in peanuts for feeding to wild birds is 20 ppb (parts per billion), compared to 2 ppb in peanuts for human consumption. Unfortunately some nuts on the market (tests by trading standards inspectors suggest around 20% to 25%) have levels above this, and some are far above.

It is impossible to tell whether peanuts are infected by inspecting them; they require expensive biochemical tests. The only way to be sure that peanuts for the bird-table are safe is to buy them from a supplier who tests all batches. Suppliers known to do this include the RSPB, C.J. Wildbird Foods and Jacobi Jayne.

It has also been suggested that you will be safe buying nuts from pet-shops who breed their own (nut-eating) birds. But it is always wise to ask the seller how he knows his nuts are safe. If the answers are vague, go elsewhere.

For a more general health problem associated with bird-table feeding see the page on bird deaths.

When should I stop feeding?

It is sometimes recommended to stop putting food out for birds at the beginning of the breeding season, as nestlings can choke to death on, for example, peanuts. However informed opinion now is that you can carry on the whole year round. This is because parent birds will only give such food to their nestlings if there is a severe shortage of other food, and the nestlings are at risk of starving anyway.

Indeed, feeding during the breeding season can be just as valuable as feeding during the winter. The parents use the food provided to feed themselves quickly, and then have more time available to find suitable food for their offspring. To reduce the risk of any harm to nestlings further, provide peanuts in mesh feeders (not loose on the bird table), so that the birds can only remove a small bit at a time.

Which direction should nestboxes face?

"Away from the wall. :-)

No honestly – keep it:

It also depends where in the country you are – in Anglia an East wind is bitter – in Aberystwyth an East wind is warm!

Just really don’t worry about the exact direction. I’ve plonked nest boxes up all over my garden and it is pot luck really if they are used or not!” (James Cracknell)

How do I set about making a nestbox?

Information, and plans for various types of box, can be found at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Other sources which have been recommended are:

“Bird Boxes And Feeders For The Garden” by David Mackenzie, published by Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd
ISBN 1 861108 065 4. (15)

“Nestboxes” by Chris du Feu – BTO Guide 23, published by the British Trust for Ornithology. It can be ordered by ringing the BTO on 01842 750050. (about 5)

For nestboxes for owls and other birds of prey, a booklet is available from the Hawk & Owl Trust.

What CD-ROMs about birds are worth buying?

Some answers which have been given to this are:

  1. “Avoid the CD-ROM ‘Birds of Europe version 2.0’ produced by the Expert Centre for Taxonomic Identification and published by Springer-verlag, Heidelberg, 1996, price 43 GBP. I reviewed it for British Birds and concluded my review thus:

    ‘The first edition of Birds of Europe was extremely primitive. This second edition, although incorporating much new material, cannot be recommended. The CD-ROM Guide to all the birds of Europe, produced in a set of 5 CDs by Bird Guides of Ewden, 1996, for 149 GBP was much better though by no means perfect, especially at that price’.” (Malcolm Ogilvie)

  2. “FWIW I was given the Birdguides CD-ROM Guide to British Birds at Christmas and have found it thoroughly absorbing. I have a number of excellent field guides but find it an excellent addition. It aids identification through selection of identified features, habitat, mannerisms etc then listing likely species to consider. Many, though not all, of the video clips are very helpful as, of course, are the songs and calls. The facility to compare species side by side is also very handy. Also the quiz has helped me brush up on some less familiar species.” (Hedley Wright)

  3. The CD-ROM Birds of the Western Palearctic contains the full text of the nine-volume book, widely regarded as the most authoritative work on the birds of this area. Early versions often gave installation problems, but it appears these have now been solved.
    “Only the occasional bug prevents me from comparing certain species on distribution maps (but this isn’t a major problem). My personal analysis of the CD ROM is that it is very useful and I enjoy being able to jump from concise descriptions to full BWP descriptions where required. I tend to use the CD more than I use my Concise books due to the added features of sound and video footage. These features however, are sometimes sadly lacking with some species having no sound recordings or video footage (something I find hard to understand when it is a common species featured on other CD ROMS). On the whole it is a good CD ROM which has saved me the time and money it would take to track down all nine volumes of BWP and though owning and thumbing through a good reference book is immensely satisfying, this CD is less heavy and more information on species more easily accessed than the BWP books”. (Gillian Catton)

I have seen a bird I can’t identify – how can I get help?

Probably the best way is if you can get a decent photograph of it and scan it in. However please do NOT post it directly to the group. Many people have news-readers which cannot handle binaries, and other people do not want their telephone bills increased by downloading large files.

Load it on a web-site, and post a message to the group giving the URL.

Failing this, post as detailed a description of the bird as you can, including comparisons with similar birds.

In either case, don’t forget to supply any other relevant information, such as where you saw it (both geographically and whether it was e.g. in a small garden or a wood), what it was doing (running around on the ground, perching in the top of a tree ...) any calls heard etc.

Where can I find bird resources on the Internet?

Where can I find information on UK rarities on the WWW?


“There’s an article on the Bucks Bird Club web site which covers Bird Twitching Information on the Internet – written by Yours Sincerely so be careful what you say about it!” (Elaine Cook)

Where can I find travel reports on the WWW?

Here are some good sites:


Are there any tide-tables on the net?

Yes – lots.

Admiralty tide service (one week ahead). (23 Ports around UK & Ireland for 14 days in advance).

Alphatide (Worldwide)

WXTide: downloadable program covering 9000 locations worldwide (but not the UK, for copyright reasons).

How about web sites covering specific areas in Britain?

Here are a few that happened to come to my attention. Some are linked into the UK birding web ring, which links numerous sites together.

Scotland Midlands
General (Paul Doyle) Rutland Water
Montrose Basin (Andy Wakelin) West Midlands
  West Midlands (Andy Thomas)
North-West England Southern England
St Helens Buckinghamshire
Dee Estuary (Richard Smith) Hertfordshire
Sunderland point Sussex

Site with many links: Fat-birder


Some sites with bird song recordings, or links to them:

Flemish Institute for Nature Conservation Western Palearctic Bird Sounds (Quite a few broken links reported though).
Suoni & Canti (Italian / English) Wildsong (requires Real Audio)
The Virtual Bird Nature Trail
Animal Sound Recordings "de clubsands"

And mainly non-European ones:

Animal Sounds (world-wide collection) Greg Kunkel
About Birding


Birds of Britain (online bird guide)
Flemish Institute for Nature Conservation (online bird guide)
RSPB images
Andy Harmer
Greg Scott

Web cameras

Live coverage of birds, mostly nests (so spring/summer only):

Stork 1 Stork 2 Stork 3
Peregrine 1 Peregrine 2  
House Sparrows Blue Tits (David Jones)

And some links to other cameras:

View Nesting Birds Wild Birds Unlimited

Previous postings to uk.rec.birdwatching

Most news servers keep postings for only a few days, or a couple of weeks at most. To find out what has previously been said about a subject here (or in any other news group) you can use what used to be, but has now been taken over by Google. Go to the Usenet advanced search and enter what you are looking for.

Posts in which the author has set the X-No-Archive flag to 'Yes' are not archived however.

Links to other web sites

The following have lots of links. Follow them all and you’ll find (eventually!) a good fraction of all the birding info available on the web.

Bird links to the World Bird Links Europe
Bird Links UK
Birding.Start4all Fat Birder
Google birding Yahoo Birding

Some of the other sites mentioned in this FAQ also have links pages. If you are looking for something specific there are always the search engines; I find Google particularly good.

Lists of bird names

The official British List is available from the BOU.

You can also download the complete Sibley & Monroe list of all the birds in the world from the Environmental Information System of India. (Note: this is over 600 Kbytes).

There are also downloadable lists of British and European bird names available on a separate page of this site.

Translations of bird names

The following site translates bird names between several European languages: Bird Names – A translation index

And this works on larger chunks of text: Babelbird

And this one has name lists, and includes no less than 25 languages: Multilingual North European Bird Dictionary

While this one has all the birds of the world, and 15 languages: Multilingual Bird Search Engine


For other views on life, try:
the rec.birds FAQs

News groups

Other more or less related Usenet news groups that you might possibly like to visit are:

rec.birds (In principle a world-wide birding group; in practice overwhelmingly North American.)

Bird organisations

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
British Trust for Ornithology Rare Breeding Birds Panel
British Ornithologists Union

And while we are at it:


What on earth is a “gropper”?

Like many other activities, birding has its own technical terminology and its own slang. Here are a few terms that have come up in the group (slang terms in quotation marks):

bonxie Great Skua (Shetland name, now in more widespread use)
corvid crow, rook, magpie, jay or other member of the family Corvidae
“dip” fail to see a bird you had hoped to see
“gropper” Grasshopper Warbler
“hippo” warbler of the genus Hippolais (e.g. Icterine or Melodious warbler)
hirundine swallow or martin
jizz see below
leucistic a bird with an abnormal plumage containing less than the usual amount of pigment, giving it a washed-out appearance.
“LRP” Little Ringed Plover
“mipit” Meadow Pipit
“oyc” oystercatcher
Palearctic Biologists divide the world into seven regions, each with its own characteristic fauna. The Palearctic (“old north”) covers approximately the Old World north of the tropics. The Western Palearctic comprises Europe, including European Russia, the Middle East (but excluding most of the Arabian peninsula) and Africa north of the Sahara.
passerine Birds are classified into 27 orders, such as the Columbiformes (pigeons) and Piciformes (woodpeckers). One particularly large order contains about as many species as all the others put together. This is the Passeriformes, literally meaning “sparrow-like”, whose members are referred to as perching birds, or songbirds, or passerines. They include most of the common garden birds, such as finches, tits, thrushes and warblers, and also families such as the larks, swallows (but not swifts!) and crows.
pelagic relating to or frequenting the open ocean
“plastic” a bird that has escaped from captivity
raptor bird of prey – falcon, hawk, buzzard etc
“ringo” Ring Ouzel
“twitch” Make a special journey to see a particular rare bird. See also the origin of this word.

Other terms can be looked up in the Birdwatchers Dictionary by Peter Weaver, which is available on the Bird On site.

For anatomical terms such as coverts, culmen, lores, tertials etc, it would be best to consult the diagrams in a good field guide.

What is jizz and where does the word come from?

The jizz of a bird refers to its general characteristics, especially its shape, posture and behaviour, as opposed to specific field marks. It is sometimes said to be a slang term, but is so widely used that it is better considered to be an ordinary word, especially as there is no (more widely used) synonym for it.

The origin of the word has given rise to much speculation. However the earliest known reference in print is in Thomas Coward’s book “Bird Haunts and Nature Memories”, first published in 1922. He devotes a full chapter to ‘jizz’ and describes it thus: “if we are walking on the road and see, far ahead, someone whom we recognise although we can neither distinguish features nor particular clothes, we may be certain that we are not mistaken; there is something in the walk, the general appearance which is familiar; it is in fact, that individual’s jizz. Coward attributed the word to the west-coast fishermen of Ireland who when asked how they could, at a glance, name various wild creatures which dwelt on or visited their rocks or shores, would reply “by their jizz”. (With thanks to Tony Usher).

This clearly disproves the oft-made claim that the term derives from a second world war Air Force term: “General Impression of (Size and) Shape”. In fact there is a distinct lack of evidence that this term ever actually existed: all the references to it currently found by Google are on birding or general acronym pages, not pages on airmanship or military history.

How do I stop birds from pecking at my windows?

They are probably attacking their reflections. They think that their reflection is a rival and try to drive it away. One way of dealing with this is to make the reflection less prominent by putting something pale inside the windows, such as pale paper. If you go outside and look in, you should be able to judge how effective this is. Alternatively, sticking a silhouette of a raptor on the window may help to keep the birds away. You may also be able to put something up outside the windows as a temporary measure.

A bird has flown into my living-room – what should I do?

Admittedly one thing you probably will not be doing is switching on the computer and consulting the FAQ! However, here are some suggestions which may help in an emergency.

I have found an abandoned baby bird. What should I do with it?

If it is in immediate danger, such as the middle of a road, move it (or shoo it) to the nearest available safe spot.

Otherwise you should probably do nothing. If this seems defeatist, consider the following.

First ask yourself if you are certain it has been abandoned. Could it not just be waiting for a parent to return with food?

If it has fallen out of a nest, it may seem sensible to try to put it back in the nest. In some cases the parents may continue to look after it. The problem is that you may cause the other nestlings to desert the nest, in which case you have caused more harm than good.

Further, the natural mortality of young birds is enormous. The three or broods of four young Blackbirds reared in your garden every summer will probably only result in one or two young birds surviving to the end of the following winter. Any efforts on your part to save a single chick have very little effect.

Rearing any small bird is both difficult and very time-consuming, even if you can obtain the correct food. Large quantities of insects or caterpillars are easier for the parent birds to find than for you.

In addition, with a few exceptions, rearing a wild bird is illegal unless you can guarantee that you will be able to release it back into the wild. For some rarer species, for example birds of prey, only registered keepers may attempt to do this.

What is the situation with rare breeding birds?

Rare breeding birds in the UK are afforded the protection of Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This means that special penalties are in force should the bird be disturbed while breeding – at any stage. European law may also be protecting that bird, so be aware.

Schedule 1 birds are listed at

We would ask on uk.r.b that you refrain from mentioning breeding sites of these birds unless the site has been published by a conservation agency and is fully protected. For example, Osprey at Loch Garten and Avocet at Minsmere. If in doubt – don’t shout!

Should you believe you have found a schedule 1 bird breeding, phone the RSPB on 01787 680551 or contact your county recorder – if you need the address of your recorder, see How do I submit records to the recorder? (In case of difficulty you can also e-mail the Rare Breeding Birds Panel secretary – – but it is much preferred that reports go via the county recorder). The findings of the RBBP are published in British Birds on an annual basis. The BTO breeding birds atlas contains the public information that is available on these birds.

All information on schedule 1 should be treated in confidence. Remember the more people know, the greater the threats to these birds. People who wish to vandalise nest sites, egg collectors etc. will stop at nothing – and some of them do go out armed. You also put members of the public at risk and not just the bird.

If you think a schedule 1 bird is under threat use the phone and call 999 and please mention that they are listed in law by the Dept. of the Environment as being afforded special protection.
(James Cracknell)

I’ve seen what I think is someone breaking the law. What should I do?

Perhaps you have seen someone taking eggs, destroying a nest, using an air rifle to shoot at birds, or rock-climbing in a seabird colony. For birds not on Schedule 1, or where the damage has already been done, ringing 999 is not appropriate.

“Virtually every police force in the country has one or more Wildlife Liaison Officers. Phone your local police station and ask how you can get in touch with the nearest WLO. If it is a serious crime, e.g. you have found what you think is a poisoned bird of prey, it may also be worth phoning the RSPB (01767-680551).” (Malcolm Ogilvie)

How do I submit records to the recorder?

As you probably saw above, in the Birdwatcher’s code of conduct one of the rules is “Make your records available to the local bird recorder”. As well as the intrinsic interest of knowing what birds have occurred where, these records are important as a conservation tool.

How does one do this? First of all, you of course need to know who your local recorder is. You can find this out from The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook (see Location Guides). The British Birds magazine also now has the list of recorders on its site. Some of the recorders even participate in this group from time to time.

Next: for which birds should you submit records? Obviously any bird which is scarce in the county concerned. (If it is a bird that is rare anywhere in the UK you should also submit the record to the national Rarities Committee.) Don’t assume that someone else will send the record in – very frequently everyone else has made the same assumption! Do however make sure you are quite sure of the identification, and include identification notes.

But records on common birds are also valuable if you have done a detailed survey of an area, or if you intend to monitor the fortunes of a species year by year.

And what layout does one use? There is no nationwide standard. Some recorders have their own forms.
“If there are no forms available, or you don’t have access, then I would suggest the following:

  1. List the birds in systematic order, i.e. as in the County Bird Report, which will normally follow the order in the Collins Guide. Also look at the County Report to see what they want reported, this can vary with each species, and what species they require descriptions or notes for.
  2. Define the period you are covering. Often either monthly or six-monthly or, if you wish to give your recorder headaches, yearly. (:=
  3. Within each species, if you have watched at various sites put sites into alphabetical order and then records within date order within each of these.
  4. If breeding state this, and if it is a complete survey of an area make this clear.
  5. Give the number of birds seen and in a notes area other relevant information. Try and be concise and unambiguous in any notes.”

(Tony Morris, LNHS Kent Sector Ornithology Recorder)

Is there an e-mail address for reporting ringing recoveries?

Contact the British Trust for Ornithology in the first instance – e-mail

Include the following information:

  1. ring number – check it very carefully;
  2. date, time;
  3. place, including grid reference if possible;
  4. how the bird died and approximately how long ago, if you can tell;
  5. if the bird is colour ringed, the sequence of rings on the leg, e.g.
    left – dark red above dark blue
    right – metal above light blue.

You can also submit details of colour ringed birds you have seen alive in the field, not just dead ones.

If you can provide further information on a bird, such as age/sex, it’s all worthwhile data.

Don’t forget to include a postal address in your message so the person whose project it is can get back to you by the usual mail system!

Be patient after sending in ringing details. At certain times of year the Ringing Office can get up to two months in arrears in dealing with recoveries. Also don’t necessarily even expect an e-mail acknowledgement.

(with thanks to Paul Winter and Malcolm Ogilvie)

More information on ringing can be found at:
Colour-ring birding

What birds can I count for my list?

Most birders keep lists of the birds they have seen. Some birders have strong views about what can be included on such lists: e.g. whether introduced species can be counted, or species that you have only heard singing, but not seen, or birds that might perhaps have escaped from captivity.

There is actually a good reason for counting birds that you have only heard: there are numerous shy species that are relatively easy to hear (Water Rail, Grasshopper Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler etc) but hard to see without disturbing the bird. It is better to be satisfied with hearing the bird than to disturb it for the sake of a tick on your list – particularly bearing in mind that you are likely to have to disturb several of these expert skulkers before you get a view of a single one.

But on the whole I think I am speaking for the majority of the group if I say: count whatever you like! (But expect some funny looks if you start counting birds you’ve seen on television.)

Did I just hear a Nightingale singing last night in the middle of winter?

Sorry to disappoint you, but no. In mid-winter Nightingales are in Africa and are not singing. Actually, contrary to popular opinion, Nightingales are not by any means the only birds which sing at night. Common mid-winter singers include Robin, Wren and Song Thrush. Of these, Robins seem particularly prone to singing at night under street lights.

Incidentally, a common summer night singer is the Sedge Warbler.

I just saw a bird like a Red Kite by the M40. Is this possible?

The short answer is: yes.

The longer answer goes something like: yes, but they haven’t come from Wales under their own steam. There has been a release program in the Chilterns, with birds introduced from Wales, Sweden and Spain. The releases took place from 1989 to 1994. The birds have done well and have become quite common in the area where the M40 cuts through the hills, and are slowly spreading further afield.

Releases have also taken place elsewhere in the UK.

I just saw a bird that looked like a Little Egret. Is this possible?

Yes. Until recently the Little Egret was a rare bird in the UK, and it is shown as such in many bird books. There has been something of an invasion in the past few years, and it is now fairly common in parts of southern Britain. A roost on Thorney Island has reached well over 250 egrets.

Note that Great White Egrets are also turning up more often nowadays. And while Cattle Egrets are still rare, they are less rare than they used to be.

I just saw something that looked like a hummingbird. Is this possible?

If you are in the UK – or indeed anywhere in Europe – this is highly unlikely, although it is just possible that one has escaped from an aviary. It is far more likely that you, like many other people, have been fooled by the Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum. There is a photograph of it on the UK moths site.

Compare this to a typical hummingbird such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird; to get an idea of the back colour see another photo on the USGS site. This is incidentally the one species which might just turn up in Western Europe one day – though probably only if it receives assistance from a ship.

I just saw a large flock of Pied Wagtails. Is this unusual?

No – at least in winter – this is not at all unusual.

“Pied Wagtails have the interesting habit of roosting communally at night during the winter months, often in very urban situations. It is assumed this is a survival strategy, based on the fact that overnight temperatures are several degrees warmer in town centres than out in the country. You can also often see them around motorway service areas, where they seem particularly attracted to poplar trees.

In Cheltenham there are long-established winter roost sites in trees in the town centre, where the birds mostly use quite small trees, often overhanging the road or pavement. Once settled, they seem quite unaffected by the closeness of traffic or people. The numbers can be huge; once the flurry of arrival at dusk is over, they sit quite still, and from below look like cotton wool balls stuck to the branches – they are also quite unnoticed by passers-by.

Last year I counted the birds nightly for 6 weeks. (!) The maximum number on one night was 774 birds, and the largest collection in a single tree was 522 – approximately.” (Mike Sutcliffe)

I just saw a Blackcap in winter – is that unusual?

Not any longer it isn’t. It is true that the Blackcaps which breed in the UK fly south for the winter: mostly to the Mediterranean area, with a few crossing the Sahara. As far as is known, none of them stay for the winter. They are however replaced by birds from Austria and southern Germany, which fly north-west for the winter to the UK. It may seem odd for birds to fly north for the winter, but they survive well in the mild UK winters and benefit from not having to cross the Alps.

This is a habit that started in the last few decades and developed rapidly. Initially largely confined to southern England, they now overwinter practically throughout the British Isles. Recently a few have taken to overwintering in the west of the Netherlands as well.

What is a Caspian Gull?

This question frequently comes up, as the Caspian Gull is not mentioned in many field guides.

The reason for this is that it is not generally regarded as a separate species. It is the nominate race of Yellow-legged Gull, Larus cachinnans cachinnans, as opposed to the western race Larus cachinnans michahellis. (Both were until recently considered to be races of the Herring Gull – and still are by some people).

However other people have very recently taken the view that it is a full species. Larus cachinnans is then the Caspian Gull, and the Yellow-legged Gull becomes Larus michahellis. The Caspian Gull is also sometimes called Steppe Gull or Pontic Gull.

For photographs of Caspian and related gulls, see Rudy Offereins’ site.

Why does one never find dead birds?

An example of this question: "I have always wondered what happens to birds when they die. Of the thousands of birds that I have lived around over the years I have never seen the remains of any bird other than one who has died from unnatural causes."

When birds get old or sick, quite a lot are caught by predators - hawks, foxes etc. (These predators then retreat to a secluded spot to eat their meal in peace.) The others mostly retreat into cover, such as dense bushes or reed-beds. Occasionally they die in the open, but a freshly dead bird makes a good meal, so they are usually quickly found and disposed of by scavengers, such as gulls and crows. That's why you don't often come across dead birds.

How do I stop cats from attacking birds in my garden?

This is undoubtedly a Frequently Asked Question, so here are several answers. The FAQ editor however offers no guarantees of success!

“The best cat-deterrent is a dog. Our very old, fat and lazy golden retriever hates cats, and all we need do is open the backdoor and say “Cat!!!” She’s never caught one yet.... but the neighbourhood cats have learned not to come into our garden!” (Tina MacDonald)

“I found that a collar with a bell was pretty effective – didn’t stop my cat hunting but reduced his success rate from one a month to none at all – until one day he came in with a young feral pigeon and no collar! ... a resident cat with a bell and a low tolerance of other cats can be an excellent cat deterrent.” (Jane Barton)

Note however that it has also been suggested that some cats have mastered the art of creeping up without their bell ringing, and that in this case giving them two bells is effective.

“Try hosing the cat(s) from a hidden point. If they don’t actually see you doing it they may associate the garden with an unpleasant drenching, and henceforth avoid it. Does the cat(s) no harm whatsoever ... If you get seen by the cat(s) the er ... “cat’s out of the bag” and it won’t work any more except if you are there all the time to keep hosing the cat(s).” (Peter Gallagher)

“We’ve heard that planting a wormwood border can be effective at keeping out mammals. I’ve seen dogs take a sniff and disappear quite quickly.” (Kevin Heath)

“I have used an electronic cat deterrent purchased from RSPB shops and can confirm it is VERY effective. For around 9 months now we have had NO CATS in the garden at all. I would urge you to use the mains adapter otherwise it will cost a fortune in batteries. Check out your local RSPB reserve with a shop, total cost around 75 but what price the life of a bird?” (Brian Ludwig)

“The Catwatch electronic thingy is effective provided the cat is not deaf (more common than you might think) AND is appropriately sited. The IR sensor doesn’t work if it or a cat is obscured by leaves, so it is best to direct the sensor at an open area that the cat(s) must cross, and move it every few days so they don’t learn a safe route. If the cats are moving through a shrubbery you should co-opt the men who say ‘Nee!’ instead (or place the sensor in the shrubs at a point where the cats walk toward it). But... it doesn’t live forever. Ours stopped working after about three years.

I’ve found cocoa shell mulch both attractive and effective at discouraging cats while it’s reasonably fresh, but once it’s over 6 months old they may come back.” (Sarah)

“I have heard that Lion (or any other large predator) poop works very well. Any plucky Tom trying his luck in your garden will take one whiff and think ‘I not exactly sure what sort of cat they’ve got in there, but I don’t intend finding out’. Contact your nearest zoo or wildlife park and ask for any spare lion dung (unless you live on Bodmin Moor, where hopefully the Beast may deposit some for free).” (Dave Nesbitt)

Magpies – the scourge of songbirds?

This is a controversial topic. Many people are under the impression that predation by Magpies is a major cause of population decreases in songbirds. How often one hears complaints that Magpies have all but wiped out the small birds in such-and-such an area, and the Magpies must be killed if we want to keep any songbirds at all. However field research by organisations such as the British Trust for Ornithology repeatedly shows that this is not the case. Certainly Magpies do take eggs and nestlings, but this is not the same as wiping out a population. Increases in Magpie populations may even coincide with increases in populations of smaller birds. The major cause of declining populations of small birds is the loss of suitable habitat.

It may however happen that Magpies cause significant losses in some small areas, particularly those of disturbed habitat where the cover for nesting birds may be insufficient and the nests easy for Magpies to reach. The fact that gardens are often just such areas means that Magpie predation is particularly visible. Culling Magpies here would however be ineffective because it would just provide a Magpie vacuum that would quickly be filled from outside.

In brief then, culling Magpies over a small area is ineffective and over a large area is unnecessary.

(And if trying to score points off someone in the pub, you could point out that Magpies are oscine passerines and thus are strictly speaking songbirds themselves).

And how about Sparrowhawks?

Research has a similar story to tell in the case of Sparrowhawks. The report of the UK Raptor Working Group, released in February 2000, summarised: “It has been suggested that the recovery of some birds of prey has caused declines of formerly common farmland birds. Although the declines of many formerly common songbirds have coincided with the recovery of Sparrowhawks, on the basis of evidence presented to the Working Group, we have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that birds of prey have affected population levels of British songbirds. These declines are rather a consequence of changing types of lowland agriculture.“

I just saw a Magpie in a cage. Is that legal?

‘Neil’ wrote:
“I was just checking for migrants on local farmland this morning and noticed a small cage trap with a Magpie in it (apparently lured in with a rabbit carcass). This was around 11:00 am. I returned around dusk to find two Magpies trapped and a third bird looking interested (I presume they will be in there all night). Does anyone know the current legal position and also, even if the traps are legal, at what point leaving birds in traps becomes illegal?”

It is legal to use cage traps to take certain birds. These are: Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Crow (Carrion and Hooded), Jackdaw, Jay, Rook, Magpie, House Sparrow and Starling. Trapping may only be carried out by an “authorised person”, which basically means the owner of the land or someone authorised by the owner.

Any other species of birds caught in the trap must be released unharmed. The trap must be checked at least every 24 hours, and any live decoy birds used must have food and water.

One trap is known as a Larsen trap. It has two compartments, one for the decoy bird and one for the bird to be trapped. The other allowed type is a crow trap – roughly a two-metre cube with a funnel in the roof.

It is not quite clear whether it is an offence to release birds from these traps. However, unless someone has set an unauthorised trap on your own land, it is recommended to leave them alone.

For further details see the page Trapping Birds.

Wind farms - good or bad?

In article <be2c4p$5vg$>, Paul writes
>What do folk think about wind farms?   Browsing through this months BBC
>Wildlife and Bird Watching, I found articles on this topic in both.  So 
>what's the verdict - good or bad?

“Both. Some good, some bad.

Sticking specifically to their effect or otherwise on birds, they can kill birds, though the numbers killed have only exceptionally been higher than about seven birds per turbine per year and are mostly much lower or nil. They can also have a potential effect on some breeding birds which use a lot of air space, e.g. golden eagle, hen harrier, which is why some wind farm proposals have been rejected and others erected some distance from their originally planned locations, which were too close to breeding sites.

I'm not aware of any direct benefits to birds of wind farms, while a discussion of their benefits or otherwise in reducing our dependence on other forms of power generation is off-topic for this newsgroup!” (Malcolm Ogilvie).

Disabled Birders Association

The Disabled Birders Association (DBA) may be of interest to some readers. It is now reachable on-line here.

Where are the abundance charts?

The question has been posed as to why one in the UK rarely comes across the abundance charts which are frequently used in American publications: these give the relative abundance of a species in the different weeks or months of the year in the form of bars of different thickness.

No-one seems to know for sure. However, to encourage their use, I have produced an Excel workbook with a macro which converts numeric data into appropriate bars. If you would like a copy you can e-mail me at

It needs the MS Line Draw font, which is nowadays supplied with Windows. If you do not have it, it can be downloaded from

What mosquito repellents are good?

“Mosquito Milk distributed by Searle is very good. Allegedly available in all Boots branches. I’ve just learned something today via Wanderlust magazine – 100% DEET is less effective than 50% DEET as it is oily and is very easily sweated off the skin. Mosquito milk is, IIRC, 35% DEET and has a small % of another ingredient. I have always found it to be very effective.” (Liz Leyden)

What is the collective noun for ... ?

A flock. It doesn’t matter which species of bird you’re talking about, “flock” will do fine. Various fanciful collective nouns have been dreamed up, such as a “charm” of Goldfinches, and some of these date back as far as the fifteenth century. However, apart from a handful of terms relating to gamebirds, such specific collective nouns were probably never in regular use. Certainly such terms are not nowadays used (apart from in quizzes and crosswords).

Who wrote this FAQ?

Stephen Poley
Barendrecht, Holland (but formerly of Stoke Gabriel, Devon)

With, of course, due thanks to all the members of the group who contributed material, suggestions and encouragement.

Why is the uk.rec.birdwatching FAQ written by someone who lives in Holland?

Since I started editing the uk.r.b FAQ, this seems to have become one of the questions which I have most frequently been asked! So I have produced a separate page: origins of this site.