Broads birdlife top 12
Nestled in the flatlands between the North Sea and Norwich, the Norfolk Broads are one of the UK's most important areas for wildlife. The shallow lakes, marshes, fens, reedbeds and damp woodlands of the Broads contain more than 11,000 different types of plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals. You’ll only see a fraction of these (unless you’re having a very productive day!), but we’ve highlighted (in no particular order) some of the area’s key birds for you to keep an eye out for.
The marsh harrier is one of the largest and most spectacular birds of prey to be found in Norfolk. With an impressive four-foot (c. 120-cm) wingspan, the species is slightly larger and longer-winged than the similar (but more rounded-looking) buzzard. Males have distinctive black-and-grey upperwings, which contrast with their chestnut back; females and young birds are a more uniform chocolate brown, with a creamy head and face.
In flight the species has a distinctive silhouette, holding their wings in a shallow, streamlined ‘v’. Like the avocet, marsh harriers were wiped out in England during the 19th century, but since the 1970s have made a remarkable comeback in East Anglia due to determined conservation efforts. Around 450 pairs are found across the UK today, a similar figure to the number of golden eagles found in Scotland!
The bearded tit is not actually a true tit, but more closely related to the Lark family; its other common name is the bearded reedling, which reflects its exclusive attachment to reedbeds. Usually the first sign of the presence of a bearded tit is its 'pinging' call, before a long-tailed, orangey songbird flicks across the reeds. Males have a grey head and distinctive drooping black ‘moustache’. With patience, and a bit of luck, good views can be had as they feed among the reed stems, often in small family groups.
This strange, cryptic member of the Heron family has one of its UK strongholds among the Broads. Listen out for their ‘booming’ calls – like someone blowing across the top of a bottle – from early March until June (dawn and dusk are the best times). You could catch a glimpse of one in flight at any time of day or year, as they flap quickly above the reedbeds, but these are very secretive birds that seldom emerge from the reeds. If they do their light, straw-toned base colour, which is exotically streaked with darker, almost-black, lines and chevrons, blends effortlessly into its surroundings. Approximately 100 pairs breed each year in the UK, with around a quarter of these found in Norfolk.
The smaller, more-refined cousin of the coot, moorhens can be distinguished from their ‘bald’ relative by their red-and-yellow bill, greenish legs, and white markings on the flanks. Moorhens also have a white undertail, which can actually be quite easy to see given their habit of flicking their tail as they skulk around the edges of pools and reedbeds.
Swallows are one of our most cherished summer migrants and a true herald of spring, as they usually arrive with the first signs of clement weather. They spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, returning to the UK in late March and early April. They have a distinctive long, forked tail that gives them an unmistakeable silhouette in flight. And it’s in flight that you usually see them, as these insectivorous birds spend much of their time on the wing, hunting for flies.
Plumage-wise, their upperparts are a glossy dark-blue, with a contrasting deep-red throat and creamy underparts. Once you get the hang of it they’re pretty easy to tell apart from the other hirundines (swallow-like birds): house martins have a white rump; sand martins are brown and white, with both martins lacking long tail-streamers; swifts (not actually hirundines, but similar in shape) are larger and a uniform black colour.
Birds on the coast top 12
Norfolk has the best birdwatching in the UK, and a wide range of coastal nature reserves from which to observe.
Birds in the Broads top 12
You can spot Herons in the unique man-made Norfolk Broads National Park - maybe even an elusive Bittern.
Birds in the Brecks top 12
With its own unique microclimate, the Brecks attracts a range of birds, from Hobbies to Nightjars.