5 birds to find in December

How many will see this month?

Short-eared Owl

by Mike Roberts |

Short-eared Owl

Our most harrier-like owl, an impression enhanced by its endearing habit of flying around while the sun is still well above the horizon. Shorties are magnificent, buoyant, graceful hunters of rough grassland, floating around on very long wings (for owls). They are similar to (largely nocturnal) Long-eared Owls, but the pale trailing edge to the wings, the better-defined dark wing tips and the contrast between dark breast and whitish belly, plus the different facial pattern, all help to make ID straightforward if the views are good enough…

Bittern

Bittern

All our herons are beautiful birds, but the Bittern takes the trophy. Of course the mystery associated with this shy reedbed dweller gives it an extra degree of desirability. But, like many cryptically patterned birds, they are exceptionally pleasing on the eye, anyhow. Bitterns in flight often give the impression of something quite different, like an owl or a Buzzard, before you realise what you are looking at; they are surprisingly compact and chunky for such a long-necked bird. If it freezes over this month, then Bitterns may slide out on the ice. Otherwise, a typical view is a quick flight over the reeds.

Tundra Bean Goose

Bean Goose

You may or may not know, but the official British List, managed by the British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) contains two birds call ‘bean goose’: Tundra Bean Goose and Taiga Bean Goose. Both are scarce visitors (with fewer than 500 of each wintering each year). The former [left] are similar to Pink-footed Geese, but slightly bigger, browner, and with a longer bill, with some orange (not pink) and orange legs and feet. Taigas are bigger still, with longer necks and longer bills with more orange. Both species have dark wings (lacking the Pink-foot’s grey) and mostly dark tails with a thin white trailing edge (there’s a lot more white on a Pink-footed Goose’s).

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

The tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is frighteningly scarce these days, with fewer than 2,000 pairs in England and Wales (they are practically unheard of in Scotland). Being only the size of a sparrow, they can be very tough to see even where they occur, especially when there are leaves on the trees. December, then, at least offers clearer views, and even at this time of year, you may hear drumming on a sunny day, which along with the Kestrel-like voice, helps betray their presence. The drum is longer, less explosive, more even and rattling than that of the much more common Great Spotted Woodpecker. Crucially (apart from the size), Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have no red on the underparts (and females no red at all) and have barred backs, and not white shoulder patches.

Lapland Bunting

Lapland Bunting

Five species of bunting regularly breed in the UK (Corn, Reed, Snow, and Cirl Buntings and Yellowhammer). Additionally, the oft-forgotten Lapland Bunting is a regular, though scarce, winterer. They are big, chunky, long-winged buntings, spending much time shuffling around (often in small flocks) on stubble fields or on shingly or gravelly areas near the coast. Long-winged, with a distinctive ‘open face’, and black-lined ear-coverts, and on males, a bit of a spotted ‘bib’.

All images Alamy

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