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Blickling woods

Woods birdlife top 12

Away from the big skies of its coast, Norfolk boasts an impressive rural landscape dotted with large areas of deciduous woodland. These include: NWT Foxley Wood, between Norwich and Fakenham, Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland; NWT Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe; NWT Wayland Wood near Watton, the supposed setting for the ‘Babes in the Wood’ legend; and NWT Thursford Wood just outside Fakenham, which contains some of the oldest oak trees in the county.

As well as their impressive trees, these sites also have wonderful displays of spring wildflowers (such as bluebells and ransoms), large numbers of butterflies and other insects, and secretive mammals such as foxes, deer, and even a few badgers. However, Norfolk’s woodlands are a great place to go looking for birds, and although it can sometimes be hard to spot them among the leaves it’s definitely a challenge worth taking on!

Norfolk Wildlife Trust

More birds in Norfolk

Foxley Wood

Ashwellthorpe

Wayland Wood

Thursford Wood 

 

Treecreeper

Treecreeper by Elizabeth Dack
The treecreeper is a delightful, unobtrusive species, and actually much more widespread around the county than people realise. Their cryptically patterned brown upperparts blend in well with the tree trunks on which they can be found creeping upwards in characteristic fashion. The best giveaway of their presence is their thin, high-pitched call, though their white underparts contrast nicely against the brown of the bark. Found in most areas of woodland (for instance NWT Foxley, Ashwellthorpe and Wayland woods), treecreepers can also be found in cemeteries and mature gardens (though they won’t ever visit your garden bird feeder).

Nuthatch

Nuthatch by Danny Shurey

Nuthatches are similar to treecreepers in that they spend much of their time moving vertically along tree trunks – though nuthatches tend to move down rather than up! In appearance they are pretty easy to identify, with their slate-grey upperparts and chestnut underparts. They also have a neat black stripe through their eye and possess a sharp, dagger-like bill. Shape-wise they’re rather squat-looking, particularly in flight, when their short tails give them an unusual silhouette. Nuthatches are noisy birds and, as well as their loud calls, can often be heard tapping gently on trees. They have quite a patchy distribution around the county, but where they do occur they can be very confiding – try Sandringham or Sheringham Park, where tame individuals can even be seen from the café.

Sandringham estate

Sheringham Park

Great spotted woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker by Peter Mallett

A spectacular woodland bird that – once you learn its short, sharp ‘tcheck’ call – is actually easier to spot than you’d think. ‘Great spots’ (as they’re often known by birders) are black-and-white in plumage and about the size of a blackbird. Both sexes have a bright scarlet undertail, with males sporting a subtle red patch on the back of their neck; young birds have a bright red cap, and are more buff in their overall colouring. ‘Great spots’ are increasing visitors to bird tables and feeders though their smaller, sparrow-sized relative, the lesser spotted woodpecker, has undergone massive recent declines across the country. As a result any pied woodpecker that you see in Norfolk is likely to be great spotted. Listen out in spring for the distinctive ‘drumming’ of the male bird – actually him hammering with his powerful beak on a tree trunk or branch – which he performs in order to attract a mate.

Jay

Jay by Peter Mallett

These striking birds are actually members of the Crow family. They’re similar in size to jackdaws, but very different in appearance. Their plumage is mainly pinkish-brown in colour, with a paler, black-streaked head; they also have a distinctive black moustache and tail, with both pale-blue and white patches on their mainly black wings. In flight their striking white rumps really stand out. Jays are found in woodlands and parks, as well as being increasingly common garden visitors. Their calls are distinctive, hoarse screeches. Like other crows, jays are thought to be extremely intelligent; they have an excellent memory, which they use to remember the whereabouts of the acorns that they store and bury for leaner times.

Common buzzard

Common buzzard by Peter Mallett
Twenty years ago buzzards were quite a scarce sight in Norfolk. Today though these large birds of prey can be found across the county. On warm days look out for their distinctive silhouette – with their broad, rounded wings and tail – as they soar high above you. They can often be heard too though, a rather cat-like ‘mew’ call. The only confusion species are the marsh harrier (more likely if you at nature reserves along the coast such as NWT Cley Marshes, or in the Broads) and, recently, the introduced red kite; kites though are still much scarcer in Norfolk, and relatively easy to tell apart due to their longer wings and distinctive forked tail.

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk by Mark Ollett
This is another bird of prey that seems to be doing well in Norfolk. Similar in size to a kestrel, but with more-rounded wings, the sparrowhawk is a bird of woods rather than open country. Females are brown and noticeably larger than the grey males. Unlike kestrels, sparrowhawks don’t hover. However, they do have a distinctive ‘flap-flap-glide’ way of flying, as well as a low, dashing flight when they’re chasing other birds such as pigeons and doves, or smaller garden birds – bird tables are attractive to sparrowhawks too, but not for the seeds you put out!

Marsh tit

Marsh tit by Elizabeth Dack

The marsh tit is a dapper, but rather monochrome, member of the Tit family. It’s mainly a woodland species, though a few do visit suitably located gardens. Marsh tits have a glossy black cap, white cheeks and a small black moustache, which contrast with the rest of their buffy-brown plumage. The species is very difficult to distinguish from the similar willow tit – ornithologists didn’t even recognise them as different species in Britain until the end of the 19th century – though in Norfolk most are likely to be marsh as willow tits have almost disappeared from the county. The best way to tell the two apart is by their calls: listen out for the distinctive sneeze-like ‘pitchou’ call of the marsh tit. The smaller coal tit can be distinguished by the white stripe down the centre of its black cap.

Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit by Elizabeth Dack
A tiny-bodied bundle of energy and character, long-tailed tits are always a delight. Their plumage is a mixture of black, white and pink, but what really stands out is that long, thin tail! Long-tailed tits are excitable, sociable birds, usually seen in small flocks (sometimes with other species too) that are there one minute but gone the next.

Wren

Wren by Jo Garbutt
The wren is a common species in woodlands, scrub and gardens. However, it’s not always that easy to see, due to its small size and skulking behaviour. Wrens are compact little birds that sport dark brown plumage above, with slightly paler, streaked plumage below; they have a contrastingly pale stripe above the eye and their stubby tails are often held cocked at a right angle to their bodies. Although wrens are one of our smallest species they are also one of noisiest, with a powerful trilling song and loud, scolding calls.

Song thrush

Song thrush by Amy Lewis
Thirty years ago song thrushes were among our commonest garden birds, but their numbers have declined considerably so that today it’s a treat to see one or two occasionally in your garden. However, if you go down to the woods there’s every chance you’ll happen upon one of these pretty brown, speckled songbirds. Song thrushes are beautiful to look at, with an even more beautiful song full of rich, repeated phrases. As well as inspiring Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’, the species also features prominently in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Redwing

Redwing by Jon Hawkins
Another member of the Thrush family, the redwing breeds in northern Europe (including Iceland, and above the Arctic Circle), before migrating south to winter in the UK and central/southern Europe. They are often seen in mixed flocks on agricultural fields alongside the larger grey-and-brown fieldfare, or feeding on their own among the leaf litter of our winter woodlands. Redwings are slightly smaller than song thrushes, with a distinctive creamy stripe above the eye, orange-red flank patches, and a streaked (not spotted) breast.

Blackcap

Blackcap by Amy Lewis
Arriving back in late March and early April, blackcaps are among our earliest-returning migrants. A member of the Warbler family, the blackcap's superb bubbling song is one of most musical woodland sounds in spring and early summer. As their name suggests, males have a jet-black cap, whereas females have a chestnut one; the rest of their plumage is a greyish-brown. Blackcaps are quite secretive, hiding themselves away in thickets, but even if you don’t manage to see one on a spring woodland walk you will almost certainly hear that stunning song.

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