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How to Attract Rare Birds to Your Garden

Written By Richie Alston


Creating a haven for rare birds in your UK garden is easier than you might think. By providing the right food, shelter, and environment, you can attract these beautiful creatures right to your doorstep. 

The key is to understand what specific birds like and need to thrive.

Personally, I also keep my garden free from pesticides, which helps ensure a natural food supply for the birds. Small changes can make a big impact, and soon, you’ll be spotting rare birds enjoying your outdoor space.

Understanding UK Bird Species

Attracting rare birds to your garden starts with knowing about the different bird species you might encounter. First, you need to grasp the difference between native birds and those that migrate.

Native vs Migratory Birds

Native birds live in the UK all year round. They include species like the Robin, which is easy to spot with its red breast, and the Blackbird, known for its melodious song. You might also see Blue Tits flitting about, particularly if you have bird feeders.

Migratory birds, on the other hand, travel to and from the UK depending on the season.

For instance, the Swallow arrives in spring and stays until September. Waxwings might visit in winter, though they’re not here every year. Their movements depend on food availability.

But what rare UK bird species should you be looking for in your garden?

Native Birds

These are the birds that are here year-round. They never leave the UK so can be a little easier to spot if they have the right habitat:


The Hawfinch can be most commonly spotted in the UK woodlands, particularly in areas with mature trees such as the Forest of Dean or the New Forest. They are large finches with powerful bills and distinctive, stout bodies.

Hawfinches are most likely to be seen during the winter months when they are foraging for seeds and fruit.


Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

This small woodpecker is most likely to be seen in ancient woodlands and mature deciduous forests, particularly in the south of England, such as in the woodlands of Surrey or Kent.

It is black and white with a red crown and is often seen in the spring during breeding season when it is drumming to mark its territory. They prefer habitats with old trees which are essential for nesting.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Willow Tit

The Willow Tit can be found in wet woodland areas, damp scrub, and young plantations, often in northern and central England, such as in the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales.

This small passerine bird has a distinctive black cap and a white cheek. They are more commonly seen in the winter months when they are foraging in small mixed-species flocks. Their favoured habitats include wet woodlands and areas with dense undergrowth.

Willow Tit

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting

Corn Buntings are most commonly seen in the arable farmlands of eastern and southern England, such as the fields of East Anglia or the South Downs. They are stocky buntings with streaky brown plumage and a distinctive jangling song.

They are more visible in the spring and summer months when males are singing from perches to attract mates. Their favoured habitats include open farmland with hedgerows and cereal crops.

Corn Bunting


The Nightjar is best spotted in heathlands and open woodlands during summer evenings and nights, particularly in areas such as the New Forest or the Surrey Heaths.

It has cryptic, mottled plumage that helps it blend into its surroundings during the day. Nightjars are most active at dusk and dawn during the summer breeding season. Their favoured habitats include heathlands, moorlands, and young conifer plantations.


Cirl Bunting

Cirl Buntings are primarily found in the coastal farmlands of South Devon, particularly around the areas of Prawle Point and the South Hams.

They have a distinctive yellow face with black stripes and greenish underparts. They are most visible during the breeding season in the spring and summer. Their favoured habitats include mixed farmland with hedgerows and areas with scattered trees.

Cirl Bunting

Migratory Birds

There are, of course, plenty of rare migratory birds that can only be spotted during certain periods of the year. Have a look out for these stunning birds:


Wrynecks are migratory woodpeckers that can be spotted during their spring and autumn migration, particularly along the south coast of England, such as at Portland Bill in Dorset or Dungeness in Kent.

They have cryptic, brownish plumage and a distinctive twisting neck motion. They favour habitats such as woodland edges, orchards, and scrubby areas.


Ring Ouzel

The Ring Ouzel can be seen during the spring and autumn migration in upland areas of the UK, such as the Scottish Highlands, the Peak District, and the North York Moors.

They resemble a blackbird but have a distinctive white crescent on their chest. They are more visible during the breeding season from April to July. Their favored habitats include rocky uplands, heather moorlands, and mountainsides.

Ring Ouzel

Red-backed Shrike

This migratory bird breeds in Europe and is a rare visitor to the UK, mostly spotted on the east coast during the spring and autumn migration, particularly in places like Spurn Point in Yorkshire or the Norfolk coast.

They have a distinctive black mask, a reddish-brown back, and a hooked beak. They favour habitats such as scrublands, heathlands, and coastal dunes.

Red-backed Shrike

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatchers are summer visitors to the UK, most commonly seen in western areas such as Wales, the Lake District, and parts of Scotland.

Males are black and white, while females are browner. They are most visible during the breeding season from April to July. Their favored habitats include mature woodlands with plenty of nesting sites such as tree holes.

Pied Flycatcher

Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat

To attract rare birds to your garden, you need to provide the right plants, water sources, and places for shelter and nesting. Each of these elements plays a key role in making birds feel safe and welcome.

Plant Choices

Choosing the right plants is essential.

Native plants are the best because they offer the familiar food and habitat that local birds need. I suggest planting berry-producing shrubs like hawthorn and rowan. They provide food in the colder months.

Diverse plant heights also create a layered environment. Trees, bushes, and ground cover plants cater to different bird species.


  • Oak (Quercus robur)
  • Birch (Betula pendula)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Willow (Salix spp.)


  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
  • Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
  • Dogwood (Cornus sanguine)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)


  • Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)
  • Wild Rose (Rosa canina)
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Juniper (Juniperus communis)
  • Broom (Cytisus scoparius)


  • Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • Red Campion (Silene dioica)
  • Cowslip (Primula veris)
  • Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Remember to avoid using pesticides and insecticides (including the deadly slug pellets). They can harm the very birds you’re trying to attract!

Water Features

Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Installing a birdbath is simple and effective. Ensure it’s shallow (2-3 inches deep) and has a rough surface to avoid slipping.

A small pond is more valuable to birds because it attracts insects like dragonflies, which birds eat. Adding native aquatic plants around the pond gives it a natural look but, more importantly, hiding spots.

Use a fountain or dripper to keep the water moving; this attracts more birds and prevents mosquitoes.

Shelter and Nesting Sites

Birds need safe spots for shelter and nesting.

Planting dense shrubs gives them a place to hide from predators like cats. Hedges and bushes provide that needed cover.

Installing bird boxes helps too. Make sure they’re the right size with the correct entrance holes for specific birds. Blue tits prefer small boxes while robins like open-front designs.

It’s important that you keep them clean and free from parasites. This increases the chances of birds using them year after year.

Creating piles with twigs and branches provides additional cover, mimics their natural environment, and offers more nesting materials.

Feeding Practices

To attract rare birds, it’s important to choose the right feeders, offer seasonal food, and keep everything clean.

Types of Feeders

Different birds prefer different types of feeders. I have found that tube feeders are great for small birds like finches and blue tits. They can easily perch on the small holes.

To attract robins and blackbirds, tray feeders work well. These birds like to hop around and enjoy open spaces.

Suet feeders are also a hit, especially in winter. These attract woodpeckers and starlings.

Placing a variety of feeders around your garden can attract a wider range of birds.

Seasonal Food Types

Birds need different foods depending on the season.

During spring and summer, I offer mealworms for protein. They help birds, especially nesting ones, to raise their young. In autumn, seeds and nuts are a good choice. They help birds build up fat for winter. In winter, high-energy foods like suet, sunflower hearts, and peanuts are crucial. They provide the energy birds need to survive the cold.

Remember, some foods can spoil faster in warmer months, so keep an eye on what you put out.

Maintenance and Hygiene

Keeping feeders clean is essential. Dirty feeders can spread diseases among birds.

I clean my feeders every two weeks with a mild disinfectant. Rinse them thoroughly and let them dry before refilling.

Don’t forget to clean under feeders too.

Old food can build up and attract pests. Regularly check and remove any mouldy or damp food. This simple step keeps the birds healthy and happy.

Share Your Rare Birds

If you do manage to spot some of the rare birds I’ve listed above (or some which I have missed) then please do let me know below or drop a comment on Facebook.

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