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Black and White Birds in the UK (Identification Guide)

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

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Magpie

Pica pica

Magpie
Magpie identification

Close up of a perched Magpie

Magpie 1

Magpies are one of the most easily recognisable bird species, by both their plumage and chattering call

Magpie diet

Young Magpie with a grasshopper in its beak

Magpie flying

Close up of a Magpie in flight

Magpie flying 1

Magpie coming in to land

Magpie habitat

Magpies are common in gardens throughout the UK and Europe

Aggressive magpie

Magpie harassing a Golden Eagle

Flying magpie

Magpies in the UK are year-round residents

Length:

46cm to 60cm

Wingspan:

52cm to 60cm

Weight:

160g 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 yarrellii

Pied wagtail
Pied wagtail bird

Close up of a perched Pied Wagtail

Pied wagtail size

Pied Wagtails are small birds, similar to the size of a Robin

Pied wagtail diet

Pied Wagtail with a beak full of insects

Pied wagtail

Close up of a Pied Wagtail in its natural habitat

Pied wagtail in flight

Pied Wagtail in flight

Pied wagtail winter

Pied Wagtail perched during the winter snow

Pied wagtail foraging beach

Pied Wagtail foraging for food on a beach, Cornwall, UK

Pied wagtail behind

Pied Wagtail from behind, with wing and tail detail

Length:

17cm to 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

Close up of a perched Long-tailed Tit

Long tailed tit 2

Long-tailed Tit eating seeds from a bird feeder

Long tailed tit close up

Woodland and forests are two of the best places to spot Long-tailed tits

Long tailed tit

Long-tailed Tit perched on a branch

Long tailed tit 3

Long-tailed tits are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981

Juvenile long tailed tit

Close up of a perched juvenile Long-tailed tit

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
Great spotted woodpecker in flight

Great Spotted Woodpecker in-flight through the forest

Great spotted woodpecker calling

Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from the top of a tree stump

Great spotted woodpecker feeding young

Great Spotted Woodpecker female feeding its young

Great spotted woodpecker perching on side of tree trunk

Great Spotted Woodpecker clambering on a tree trunk

Great spotted woodpecker at watering hole

Great Spotted Woodpecker drinking from a watering hole in the forest

Great spotted woodpecker at nest site

Great Spotted Woodpecker male at the nest with its young

Great spotted woodpecker resting on tree stump

Great Spotted Woodpecker resting on top of the stump of a tree

Great spotted woodpecker in flight in natural habitat

Great Spotted Woodpecker in-flight

Length:

20cm to 24cm

Wingspan:

34cm to 39cm

Weight:

68g to 93g

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
Juvenile northern lapwing

Juvenile Northern Lapwing

Lapwing with worm

Lapwing feeding on an earthworm

Lapwing habitat

Lapwings are generally found in open areas with low grass cover

Lapwing in flight

Lapwing in flight

Lapwing diet

Lapwing foraging in the soil with prey (female)

Northern lapwings fighting

Two male Northern Lapwings fighting

Lapwing migration

A large flock of Lapwings in flight

Length:

28cm to 31cm

Wingspan:

82cm to 87cm

Weight:

128g to 330g

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 bird
Oystercatcher 1

Close up of an Oystercatcher

Juvenile oystercatcher

Juvenile Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher on beach

Oystercatcher walking out of sea, on the beach

Oystercatcher foraging

Oystercatcher foraging for food along the shoreline

Oystercatcher habitat

Sandy beaches are a common habitat for Oystercatchers

Oystercatcher in flight

Oystercatcher in flight

Oystercatcher pair foraging

A pair of Oystercatchers searching for prey on the beach

Fighting oystercatchers

A pair of Oystercatchers fighting

Oystercatcher migration

A large flock of Oystercatchers

Length:

40cm to 47cm

Wingspan:

76cm to 86cm

Weight:

425g to 820g

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 on grassland

Barnacle Goose walking on grassland

Barnacle goose taking off from water

Barnacle Goose taking-off from the water

Barnacle goose honking

Barnacle Goose honking

Barnacle goose parent feeding with gosling

Barnacle Goose parent feeding with gosling

Barnacle goose in flight over marshland

Barnacle Goose in-flight over the marshes

Barnacle geese walking along coast

Pair of Barnacle Geese walking along the coast

Barnacle goose at nest

Barnacle Goose at its nest

Barnacle goose being protective

Barnacle Goose being protective

Barnacle geese taking off from land

Barnacle Geese taking-off from natural habitat

Length:

58cm to 71cm

Wingspan:

132cm to 145cm

Weight:

1.3kg to 2.2kg

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
Lesser spotted woodpecker perching in tree during winter

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker perching on a branch during winter

Lesser spotted woodpecker looking for food

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker searching for food

Lesser spotted woodpecker bringing food to the nest

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker bringing food to the nest

Lesser spotted woodpecker at watering hole

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at a watering hole

Female lesser spotted woodpecker sitting on a branch

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker sitting on a branch

Lesser spotted woodpecker pair

Pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, female (left) and male (right)

Lesser spotted woodpecker peeking out of nest hole

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker peeking out of its nest hole

Lesser spotted woodpecker in flight leaving nest entrance

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in-flight leaving its nest hole

Length:

14cm to 16cm

Wingspan:

25cm to 27cm

Weight:

17g to 25g

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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