5 birds to find in October

October is peak migration month for many birds. And many birders like to spend an October ‘Big Day’ or ‘Bird Race’ when the mix of pre-departure summer visitors and just arriving winterers means avian biodiversity reaches a maximum. Here are five species you may like to see during October.

by Mark Cureton |

Little Owl

This tiny owl is is a naturalised bird in the UK, introduced in the 19th Century. They are native across continental Europe and into Asia, but look perfectly natural in a British setting, so don’t get the grumpy reception afforded to say the Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose or (dare we mention it?) the Ring-necked Parakeet. Most of the nearly 6,000 breeding pairs are in England, but they have now crept over the Scottish border and are also in North and South Wales. Little Owls are birds of farmland, parkland, orchards etc. They often nest in hollows in trees such as oaks and willows, and can often be seen perching in the pen during the day. Look for a small (just a bit bigger than a starling), rounded brown blob, half the size you’d expect from an owl!

Curlew © Arterra Picture Library/Alamy*


Like other birds in the genus Numenius, the Curlew is a much declined bird. But there are still an estimated 65,000 breeding pairs (on moors and other damp grassland habitats) and perhaps 140,000 individuals wintering around our coastal wetlands, damp meadows and estuaries. Enjoy them while you can; and they are hugely enjoyable birds to watch. They are massive (for waders) with absurdly long bills, and one of the most evocative calls of any bird. But they are often passed over for scarcer fare. Instead of ignoring them, this month, take some time to enjoy Curlews.

Hawfinch © Danita Delimont/Alamy*


It may seem extraordinary that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Hawfinches wintering in the UK. It seems very high for a bird which most of us hardly, if ever, see. For such a large, distinctive finch, they are amazingly elusive. Of course, it helps that they are the colour of leaf litter, and can sit still on a forest floor of leaves and disappear; and they are secretive and shy (even if they can be bold and obvious on the continent!). Also, the high pitched call is not only beyond the range of many of us to even hear, it is sharp and hard to locate precisely (and even easily ignored by the unwary). Given anything like a decent view, and this mighty-billed passerine is unmistakable.

Cirl Bunting ©David Chapman/Alamy*

Cirl Bunting

Though not exactly rare (with perhaps 1,000 pairs nesting in the country), the Cirl Bunting is one of our most localised birds. It only breeds in parts of southern Devon and adjacent Cornwall (where it has been introduced) and that is it. You are highly unlikely to encounter one anywhere else in the country. So if you want this bird on your list, this month (or at any time), get yourself down to south Devon and look carefully at every Yellowhammer-like bird.

Jay © Mike Lane/Alamy*


There are two times of year when Jay’s are particularly interesting: spring, when carrying out all sorts of courtship shenanigans,; and autumn, when acorns become their obsession. In fact, most Jays you encounter at this time of year will either be carrying acorns in their bill, or seeking acorns to bury! They are resident birds, in the UK, but some birds also come across for the winter, from the continent.

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