Black and White Birds in the UK (Identification Guide)

Last updated: 13 March 2022

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Black and White Birds in the UK (Identification Guide)

Black and white birds are very common in our gardens in the UK. Identifying which species of bird the black and white visitor to your garden is can be tricky, though. In fact, even veteran bird watchers with years of experience can struggle to identify these birds.

Below, we have descriptions of all the black and white birds that call the UK home to help you find out which ones may be in your garden. We have all the common culprits like magpies and coal tits, as well as slightly rarer black and white birds like the lesser spotted woodpecker.

The most likely suspects

Magpie

Pica pica

Magpie
Magpie 1
Magpie flying

Magpie in flight

Magpie 2
Magpie flying 1

Magpie coming in to land

Length:

44cm to 46cm

Wingspan:

52cm to 60cm

Weight:

200g to 250g

Magpie alarm call

Simon Elliott, XC599983. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/599983.

Magpies are one of the most common black and white birds in the UK. They have mostly black and white feathers covering their bodies, but their tails and wings also have bluey, green, purple iridescent feathers too. Their beautiful iridescent wing and tail feathers are the easiest way to identify a magpie.

Pied Wagtail

Motacilla alba

Pied wagtail 3
Pied wagtail 2
Pied wagtail 1
Pied wagtail

Length:

18cm

Wingspan:

25cm to 30cm

Weight:

17g to 25g

Pied Wagtail call

Simon Elliott, XC596086. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/596086.

Pied wagtails can be found all across the UK, but they are more common in northern areas of Scotland. They tend to flock and gather in large roosts, usually near water, but the roots can be seen in town centres as well.

Pied wagtails look like a black and white photo; they have no colouring at all. Their wings and tails have streaks of white and black, and their bodies are mainly grey. They have a white mask on their face with a black hat that runs down their back.

Long-Tailed Tit

Aegithalos caudatus

Long tailed tit 1
Long tailed tit 4
Long tailed tit 2
Long tailed tit
Long tailed tit 3

Length:

14cm

Wingspan:

16cm to 19cm

Weight:

7g to 10g

Long-tailed Tit call

Simon Elliott, XC608607. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/608607.

Long-tailed tits are found across the UK, apart from in the west and far north of Scotland. These are very interesting looking birds. They have a tail longer than their body, puffy head feathers that give them an appearance of having no neck to speak of, and mostly black and white feathers with a few red markings on their sides.

They love a bird feeder but are cautious eaters, preferring to eat in the tops of trees and shrubs in the wild. So, long-tailed tits take some encouraging to get feeding at bird feeders.

Coal Tit

Periparus ater

Coal tit
Coal tit close up

Close up of a Coal Tit

Coal tit from behind

Coal Tit from behind

Coal tit perched on tree branch

Coal Tit perched on a tree branch

Juvenile coal tit

A Juvenile Coal Tit

Coal tit in flight

Coal Tit in flight

Coal tit 1

Coal Tit eating seeds

Coal tit gathering nesting material

Coal Tit gathering nesting materials

Length:

11.5cm

Wingspan:

17cm to 21cm

Weight:

8g to 10g

Coal Tit Call/Song

Stuart Fisher, XC627893. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/627893.

Coal tits look as though you have taken a black and white photo of a blue tit. They have very similar markings to most other tits but almost entirely black and white feathers.

These tits spend much of their time in woodland around the UK. However, they do visit our gardens and public parks from time to time. If you have trees in or nearby your garden, coal tits are more likely to visit, but bird feeders alone can attract them as well.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major

Great spotted woodpecker 1
Great spotted woodpecker 3
Great spotted woodpecker 2
Great spotted woodpecker

Adult and Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Length:

22cm to 23cm

Wingspan:

34cm to 39cm

Weight:

85g

Adult Call

B Whyte, XC560495. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/560495.

Drumming

Michał Jezierski, XC625182. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/625182.

We’re cheating slightly here. The great spotted woodpecker does have mostly black and white feathers, but they wear bright red underpants and have a sunburnt neck as well. Other than that, though, the rest of their feathers are black and white, and they have lovely chevron markings on their wings.

Like most woodpeckers, the great spotted woodpecker likes to be near woodland most of the time. This is where most of its food is, of course. However, great spotted woodpeckers have learnt the ways of bird feeders and rather enjoy them. So, it is possible to attract these woodpeckers to your garden. They love peanuts and suet balls and really enjoy apple cores as well.

Less likely

Lapwing

Vanellus vanellus

Lapwing

Length:

28cm to 31cm

Wingspan:

82cm to 87cm

Weight:

140g to 320g

Lapwings are becoming increasingly rare in the UK, and this is largely due to farming changes. Farmland is the best habitat for lapwings, and the slow but steady changes to this environment have meant that fewer lapwings are being seen now. In fact, since 1960, the population of lapwings in England and Wales has dropped by over 80%.

Lapwings are most recognisable by the tuff of feathers that come out the top of their heads. They also have similar iridescent wings to a magpie but have much longer legs used for walking through marshes.

Oystercatcher

Haematopus ostralegus

Oystercatcher 1
Oystercatcher

Close up of an Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher flying

Oystercatcher in flight

Oystercatcher feeding

Oystercatcher searching for food

Oystercatcher eggs

Oystercatcher nest with eggs

Length:

40cm to 45cm

Wingspan:

80cm to 86cm

Weight:

430g to 650g

Oystercatcher call

Will Scott, XC632760. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/632760.

If you see a bird near the coast that looks like it has a carrot for a beak and a jet black head, it is more than likely an oystercatcher. These are wading birds, so they have long, skinny legs and like to hang out near the sea.

Oystercatchers are coastal birds for the most part and can be found worldwide. In the UK, though, you see them on almost every coast. So, while they are a rare sight inland if you live by the sea, oystercatchers are likely one of the most common birds in your neighbourhood.

Barnacle Goose

Branta leucopsis

Barnacle goose
Barnacle goose 2

Barnacle goose close up

Barnacle goose pair flying

Pair of barnacle geese flying

Barnacle goose 1
Barnacle goose with goslings

Barnacle goose feeding with goslings

Length:

58cm to 70cm

Wingspan:

132cm to 145cm

Weight:

1.3kg to 2.2kg

Barnacle Geese flight calls

david m, XC203089. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/203089.

Barnacle geese are quite a rare sight in the UK, but their numbers are rising well. In 2021, a study into barnacle geese showed a 60% increase in numbers from the last assessment in 2011.

The reason they are called barnacle geese is quite strange. It was once believed that these geese went underwater in the summer and resurfaced in the winter after ‘developing’. So the name comes from them likely getting barnacles from being underwater in the summer.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Dryobates minor

Lesser spotted woodpecker 1
Lesser spotted woodpecker 3

Close up of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpecker in flight

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in flight

Female lesser spotted woodpecker

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpecker close up

Portrait of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpecker 4

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker hanging on a branch

Female lesser spotted woodpecker at nest hole with young

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at nest hole with young

Length:

14cm to 15cm

Wingspan:

25cm to 27cm

Weight:

17g to 25g

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Song / Call

Paul Bourdin, XC661214. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/661214.

The greatest number of lesser spotted woodpeckers are in southern England, but there are some pockets of population in Wales and slightly further north too. This bird is entirely absent from Scotland and Ireland, though.

The easiest way to separate the lesser spotted woodpecker and the great spotted woodpecker is the red hat that the lesser wears. The great spotted does have red markings, but not on the top of its head. The lesser also has a brownish colouring to its white chest feathers, which the great spotted lacks as well.

What is the most common black and white bird in the UK?

The most commonly seen black and white bird in the UK is the magpie. It's one of the most common birds overall in the UK, in fact. In a recent Big Garden Birdwatch put on by the RSPB, the magpie came in at number 9 in the most common birds spotted in our gardens.

This may not mean that magpies are the 9th most common bird in the UK, of course, but it gives an indication as to how prevalent they are in our gardens.

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