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.
44cm to 46cm
52cm to 60cm
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.
25cm to 30cm
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.
16cm to 19cm
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.
17cm to 21cm
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.
22cm to 23cm
34cm to 39cm
B Whyte, XC560495. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/560495.
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.
28cm to 31cm
82cm to 87cm
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.
40cm to 45cm
80cm to 86cm
430g to 650g
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.
58cm to 70cm
132cm to 145cm
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.
14cm to 15cm
25cm to 27cm
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.
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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