Big Schools’ Birdwatch 2015 via @RSPB_Learning

5 January - 13 February via the RSPB

A guide to the top 20 school birds

We’ve gathered together a list of the top 20 birds seen during Big Schools’ Birdwatch 2014.

Blackbird – the blackbird kept the top spot again this year. 90 per cent of schools reported seeing blackbirds with an average of nearly six being seen at each school. The male blackbird is black with a bright yellow bill, while the female is brown often with spots and streaks on its breast. Blackbirds have a long tail and often hop along the ground with their tail up. They feed on berries, scraps and apples, and search for worms on lawns.

Starling – Relegated again to second place, an average of 4.3 starlings were seen in school grounds in 2013. Starlings are noisy characters usually seen foraging in small flocks. At a distance, starlings look black, but close up you can see they have green and purple, glossy feathers, covered in white and buff spots. Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. Noisy and sociable, starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks. Starlings feed on insects such as spiders, craneflies and leatherjackets. They will also feed from seed and nut feeders and probe into lawns and playing fields for worms and grubs.

Carrion crow – On average 3.6 carrion crows were seen per school. The all-black carrion crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds. It will come to school grounds for food and although often cautious initially, they soon learn when it is safe, and will return repeatedly to take advantage of whatever is on offer. They are solitary, usually found alone or in pairs.

Woodpigeon – Woodpigeons are the UK’s largest and commonest pigeon. They have a small, round, grey head, greyish back, tail and wings with a pink breast and white neck patch. In flight, they have distinctive white wing patches and the tail has a dark band at the end. Their call is a cooing sound. Woodpigeons feed on grain, seeds and scraps and on berries and buds. 62 per cent of schools reported seeing woodpigeons with an average of four being seen per school.

House sparrow – An average of 3.3 house sparrows were seen per school. House sparrows are often seen in small flocks. Males have a grey crown, black bib, reddish-brown back streaked with black, and grey breast and belly, while females have brown, streaky backs and are buff below. They feed on seeds, grains and scraps on the ground and on bird tables. House sparrows also feed from nut feeders. House sparrows are sedentary, rarely moving more than two kilometres from their birthplace.

Black-headed gull – Not really a black-headed bird, more chocolate-brown. In fact, for much of the year, it has a white head. It only gets its black head in summer. It is most definitely not a ‘seagull’ and is found commonly almost anywhere inland. Black-headed gulls are sociable, quarrelsome, noisy birds, usually seen in small groups or flocks, often gathering into larger parties where there is plenty of food, or when they are roosting. On average, 4.2 black-headed gulls were seen in 2013 in school grounds with 74 per cent of schools recording them.

Blue tit – Its colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green make the blue tit one of the most attractive school birds. An agile bird, the blue tit is most often seen flitting on bird feeders. Blue tits will feed on seeds and scraps from bird tables and feeders. In winter, family flocks of blue tits are joined by great tits, long-tailed tits and other woodland species, as they search for food. Schools recorded an average of three blue tits in 2013.

Common gull – Schools saw an average of 2.2 common gulls. It looks like a small, gentler version of the herring gull, with greenish legs and a yellow bill. Despite its name, it is not at all common in some inland areas, though often abundant on the coast and in some eastern counties. They are now seen more often in towns and on housing estates in winter.

Magpie – From a distance, the magpie appears black and white, although close up a subtle blue and green sheen can be seen. It is often seen in pairs or small groups. It is a noisy bird with a harsh, chattering call. Magpies seem to be jacks-of-all-trades – scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers; their challenging, almost arrogant attitude has won them few friends. An average of 2.3 magpies were seen in school grounds in 2013.

Robin – The UK’s favourite bird – with its bright orange-red breast it is familiar throughout the year and especially at Christmas! Males and females look identical, and young birds have no red breast and are spotted with golden brown. Robins sing nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights. In 2013, 26 per cent of schools reported seeing robins with an average of 1.9 per school.

Feral pigeon – Feral, or town, pigeons come in many different colours and patterns. People bred them as racing pigeons or to show off their different colours, but ones that were lost or escaped now nest in towns and cities. Feral pigeons come twelfth in our list, with an average of 1.5 seen per school. In many city and town schools, feral pigeons may be the most common bird, but you won’t find so many in country areas.

Chaffinch – The chaffinch is arguably the most colourful of the UK’s finches. Its patterned plumage helps it to blend in when feeding on the ground and it becomes most obvious when it flies, revealing a flash of white on the wings and white outer tail feathers. It does not feed openly on bird feeders – it prefers to hop about under the bird table or under the hedge. You’ll usually hear chaffinches before you see them, with their loud song and varied calls. There was an average of 1.7 chaffinches per school in 2013.

Jackdaw – On average, 1.3 jackdaws were seen per school. Jackdaws are quite acrobatic fliers and flocks will often chase and tumble together in flight. A small black crow with a grey neck and pale eyes. It is sociable and usually seen in pairs or larger groups. On the ground, it both walks and hops.

Great tit – Each school saw an average of 1.3 great tits. Bigger than the blue tit, the great tit has a black and white head, bright yellow breast with a bold, black stripe running down it, and a green back. The black breast stripe is wider on the male. They feed on seeds and scraps on the ground, on bird tables and from nut feeders. 10per cent of schools reported seeing them.

Collared dove – This dove is mainly buff coloured with a thin, black half collar, and a long, white tail with a black base. Collared doves originally came from southern Asia and spread naturally from there. The species was first recorded in Britain in 1953 and has since become a common UK garden bird. They feed on seeds and scraps, both on the ground and on bird tables. There was an average of 0.9 collared doves per school and 56 per cent of schools reported seeing them in 2013.

Herring gull – Herring gulls are large, noisy gulls found throughout the year around our coasts and inland around rubbish tips, fields, large reservoirs and lakes, especially during winter. Adults have light grey backs, white under parts, and black wing tips with white ‘mirrors’. Their legs are pink, with webbed feet and they have heavy, slightly hooked bills marked with a red spot. Young birds are mottled brown. In 2013 there was an average of 0.8 seen per school.

Coal tit – An active and very agile bird, schools recorded an average of 0.6 coal tits. Not as colourful as some of its relatives, the coal tit has a distinctive grey back, black cap, and white patch at the back of its neck. A regular visitor to most peanut feeders, they will take and store food for eating later.

Rook – Bare, greyish-white face, thinner beak and peaked head make it distinguishable from the carrion crow. Rooks are very sociable birds, and you’re not likely to see one on its own. They feed and roost in flocks in winter, often together with jackdaws. Rooks are most usually seen in flocks in open fields, or feeding in small groups along a roadside. They will come into town parks and villages but largely keep clear of the middle of big towns and cities. The rook completes the top twenty for the Big Schools Birdwatch 2013 with an average of 0.6 seen per school.

Long tailed tit – The long-tailed tit is easily recognisable with its distinctive colouring, a tail that is bigger than its body, and its undulating flight. Gregarious and noisy residents, long- tailed tits are most usually noticed in small, excitable flocks of about 20 birds. Like most tits, they rove woods and hedgerows, but are also seen anywhere with suitable bushes. 22 per cent of schools reported long-tailed tits in 2013.

Pied wagtail – A delightful small, long-tailed and rather sprightly black and white bird. When not standing and frantically wagging its tail up and down it can be seen dashing about over lawns, car parks and playgrounds in search of food. It frequently calls when in its undulating flight and often gathers at dusk to form large roosts in city centres. An average of 0.4 pied wagtails were recorded in 2013.

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