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Bird Watching (UK) - - December Id Challenge -


Here is a rather non­de­script grey­ish brown bird with hints of green­ish-yel­low here and there. The bill is a big clue, be­ing quite a chunky, tri­an­gu­lar, spar­row-like seedeater type. This sug­gests it is ei­ther a spar­row, finch or bunt­ing. But the cut­ting edge is too ‘smooth’ for a bunt­ing. The colours have too much green for a spar­row. This is a finch. The green tones rule out sev­eral finches, such as Goldfinch, red­polls, Lin­net and fe­male Chaffinch, and the bird is clearly not a Bullfinch or a Hawfinch. We are left with Siskin, Green­finch and Cross­bill. The bill is too thick for Siskin and there are no trans­verse wing-bars. The bill is not crossed or deep enough for Cross­bill. This is a Green­finch and the heavy streak­ing sug­gests it is a ju­ve­nile.

KEY FEA­TURES †Seed-eater's stumpy bill †Green­ish yel­low tones in some parts of plumage †Streaked belly †Over­all grey-green plumage


This bird is par­tially hid­den be­hind some veg­e­ta­tion just to in­crease the chal­lenge, slightly. It looks to be a spar­row-like, dully coloured bird, just pok­ing its head out for a quick look. But that dark bill is too thin for a spar­row, be­ing more like that of an in­sect-eater, such as a Robin or one of the war­blers. But the plumage is essen­tially spar­row-like, be­ing grey and brown. The crown is streaked with dark lines above a broad, blue-grey su­per­cil­ium. The cheeks, bor­dered by grey, are brown with pale streaks and the breast and belly are a sim­i­lar grey, with some brown speck­ling, which be­comes the dom­i­nant colour of the flanks. This bird is one of the very com­mon birds about which we re­ceive a lot of ID Q&A letters. It is the hum­ble Dun­nock.

KEY FEA­TURES †Thin, dark, in­sect-eater’s bill †Grey and brown plumage, like a spar­row †Streaked crown and brown cheeks †Grey breast and flanks streaked with brown


Even at brief look, you can eas­ily see this is a thrush; the long tail, gen­tle curves, small head and strong straight bill are all pro-thrush. We have five com­mon thrushes in the UK dur­ing win­ter: Song and Mis­tle Thrushes, Black­bird, Red­wing and Field­fare. The lat­ter two win­ter visitors are strik­ing birds: Red­wings have ob­vi­ous bold white su­per­cilia and a white sub­mous­tachial stripe; Field­fares have grey heads and rumps. So, we can rule th­ese out. The speck­led breast sug­gests this may be ei­ther Song or Mis­tle Thrush. But the tone of the bird looks too dark ru­fous brown and the breast and belly are just a bit too richly coloured and the face too ‘plain’, the legs too dark. This is a ‘pale’ fe­male Black­bird, made paler by the snow.

KEY FEA­TURES †Typ­i­cal thrush shape and pro­por­tions †Brown back and wings †Speck­led breast on orange ochre back­ground †Plain face pat­tern


There are no prizes for point­ing out the bird perched in this tree is one of the doves or pi­geons. Th­ese two words are some­what in­ter­change­able, but gen­er­ally, the larger species are called pi­geons, the smaller doves. The struc­ture and shape is the give­away: tiny head, steep fore­head, pi­geon bill, big fat body, long wings. The pre­dom­i­nantly grey and pink plumage sug­gests this is one of the Columba pi­geons (or doves): Wood­pi­geon, Stock Dove or Feral Pi­geon (aka Rock Dove). Feral Pi­geons have red eyes and dark bills (not pale and pink as here) and are usu­ally more well marked than this bird. Stock Doves have dark eyes and pale-tipped pink bills. This bird is a Wood­pi­geon (note white in wing): a ju­ve­nile, lack­ing an adult’s white col­lar.

KEY FEA­TURES †Typ­i­cal pi­geon or dove build †Grey and pink plumage sug­gests a Columba pi­geon †Pale eye di­ag­nos­tic †White in wing di­ag­nos­tic


This black bird can only re­al­is­ti­cally (based on its plumage) be ei­ther one of the black corvids (crows) or a Black­bird. But the shape is all wrong for a Black­bird, and the bill looks quite ro­bust, rather than fine and thrush-like. Also, it has an ob­vi­ously pale iris and Black­birds have dark eyes. In fact this pale iris is a di­ag­nos­tic fea­ture which iden­ti­fies the bird in it­self. Nei­ther Rooks, Car­rion Crows or Ravens have pale eyes. Also, none of th­ese have grey necks and heads. In­deed, nei­ther does the grey-and-black Hooded Crow, which has a black head, tail and wings. The only Bri­tish bird with this com­bi­na­tion of plumage pat­tern and pale eye is the lit­tle Jack­daw.

KEY FEA­TURES †Largely black plumage †Grey on nape and up­per breast †White eye †Black bill and legs


This is a slightly sneaky one. It is ob­vi­ously a bird cling­ing to a ver­ti­cal bit of tree in the man­ner of a wood­pecker, or per­haps a Nuthatch or Treecreeper. The bill is a bit fine for a wood­pecker, and we don’t have any brown species with a pale su­per­cil­ium. Nuthatches have ro­bust, wood­pecker-like bills and black ‘ban­dit’ masks ‘through’ and be­yond the eye. So, per­haps, this is a Treecreeper. The bill shape is about right and Treecreep­ers are brown with paler un­der­parts and they use their tails as prop against trees. But, hang on, Treecreeper un­der­parts are white, not buff-brown; their brown up­per­parts are not spot­ted and streaked with white. This cheeky im­pos­tor is a Wren, us­ing its small size to cling to some bark to pick off a tiny invertebrate.

KEY FEA­TURES †Long-thin, slightly down­curved bill †Pale su­per­cil­ium †Red­dish brown up­per­parts, paler brown-buff un­der­parts †Barred wing edge and flanks

Thin, though ‘thick-based’, in­sect-eater’s bill Spar­row-like grey­brown plumage Streaked crown and brown cheeks

Over­all, dull, grey-green, slightly streaked plumage Chunky, spar­row-like seedeater’s bill Hints of yel­low-green here and there

Over­all, dark brown plumage Clas­sic thrush pro­por­tions, with small head, and long bill Speck­led chest has richly coloured ‘back­ground’

Brown plumage Thin, slightly down­curved bill Some bar­ring on flank and wing

White eye Thick corvid bill Plumage wholly black and grey

Pale eye Di­ag­nos­tic white in wing Clas­sic tiny head/ big body, pi­geon pro­por­tions

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