How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars

A good pair of binoculars is an invaluable part of any field kit and they provide some of the most memorable wildlife encounters. There is an overwhelming array of sizes and specifications and it can be difficult to choose between them when purchasing a new pair. In this post we will provide a summary of some of the key features of a pair of binoculars, to help you find the best pair to accompany you on surveys, whilst travelling or when enjoying your local wildlife.

Once you have decided on your budget, there are a few key metrics that will help you decide which pair of binoculars will suit you best. With binoculars it really is worth paying as much as you can afford as the glass, lens coatings and specifications improve with every step up in price.


Binocular models generally have two numbers in their description. The first of these relates to the magnification. (For example, 8 x 42 binoculars will have a magnification of 8x). In general, binoculars have a magnification between 8x and 12x. As you would expect, the higher the magnification, the larger objects will appear when looking through them. As magnification increases, the field of view can be reduced and you will need to ensure that you have steady hands or use some kind of support.

Lens Diameter

Larger diameter lenses provide brighter images at dawn and dusk. Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso –

The second number in the binocular model description (e.g. 8 x 42) refers to the diameter of the objective lens. Standard size binoculars tend to have objective lenses of 32mm to 42mm whilst lenses in compact binoculars usually measure 25mm. Larger lenses can dramatically improve low light performance and are particularly good for use at dusk or dawn. The trade-off is that larger lenses are heavier. The most popular size of binoculars for birdwatching was traditionally 8 x 42, but with advances in manufacture and lens performance, 8 x 32 binoculars now offer fantastic specifications in a more compact body.

Glass Type

The type and quality of glass have a huge impact on image quality. Image by Bicanski via Public Domain Images

The type of glass used to manufacture the lenses can vastly affect the quality of the image. Two types of glass to look out for are extra-low dispersion (ED) and fluoride (FL) glass. These reduce chromatic aberrations giving clearer and sharper colours and reduced colour “fringing”.


Fringing is the blurring that can occur between light and dark parts of an image. If your budget allows for an upgrade to ED glass binoculars, you will notice a distinct improvement in clarity compared to binoculars without ED glass. Affordable pairs of ED binoculars include the Hawke Optics Endurance ED and the Opticron Explorer ED.

Lens and Prism Coatings

The primary difference in performance and the brightness of images between different pairs of binoculars is often due to lens and prism coatings. Light is lost as it travels across every surface inside a pair of binoculars and the aim of a good pair of binoculars is to keep light transmission as high as possible between the objective and the ocular lens. Lens and prism coatings reduce the amount of light that is lost helping to produce a brighter and sharper image. Lenses that are multi-coated have multiple layers of lens coatings. High-quality binoculars are fully multi-coated which means that they have multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces. Roof prism binoculars have a particular problem with “phase shift” where the polarisation angle of the prism causes the light passing through to be split into two slightly out of phase beams. This results in an image that has lower resolution and may look slightly blurred. Prism coatings correct this problem by forcing the split light back into phase. Look out for binoculars with Phase Correction (PC) prism coatings.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina). Photo credit: Ron Knight –
Key Comparison Metrics

Comparing some of the performance metrics of a pair of binoculars can help when deciding which pair would best suit your purposes. In particular, field of view will be useful if you are looking at large landscapes (e.g. whale or sea watching) and close focus is very important if you are looking at insects.

Field of View – The field of view is how wide an image can be seen at a specified distance (usually 1000m). A wide field of view is useful for large landscapes and for fast-moving animals. Models with a particularly wide field of view include all of the Kite Optics range, the Opticron Discovery, Traveller ED and Explorer ranges, the Bushnell Prime and Forge ranges and the Swarovski EL and SLC binoculars.

The Opticron Discovery range of binoculars has a fantastic field of view and great close focus.

Close Focus – The close focus is the minimum distance at which the binoculars are able to focus. People interested in viewing insects using their binoculars would be advised to choose a model with a small close focus distance. Models with particularly low close focus include the Opticron Discovery and Traveller ranges, the Swarovski EL and the Kite Lynx HD+ binoculars.

Weight – The weight of the binoculars is incredibly important, as it is likely that you will be carrying them around for long periods of time. Higher quality models of comparable specification will tend to be lighter than entry-level models, and those with larger objective lenses will weigh more than those with smaller ones. Binoculars that are particularly lightweight and excellent for travelling include the Opticron Traveller range and the Hawke Optics Nature-Trek and Endurance ranges.

Eye Relief – This is the maximum distance from the eyepiece lens that the eye can be positioned at which the full width of the image is visible without vignetting (darkening of the image around the edges). Longer eye relief is useful for those who wear glasses.

If you have any queries regarding binoculars then our Customer Services team and trained Wildlife Equipment Specialists would be delighted to assist on 01803 865913 or via email at

Recommended Models

Entry Level

Kite Ursus Binoculars
Ease of use and excellent build quality in conjunction with a wide field of view and high image quality make this model ideal for beginner binocular users.


Budget Friendly 

Yukon Sideview Compact Binoculars

Lightweight, robust and budget-friendly. These binoculars are ideal for fieldwork in almost any condition.


General Purpose

Bushnell POWERVIEW 2 Binoculars 

A high-power , budget option for birders and other outdoor enthusiasts. Light and comfortable with the option for tripod mounting.  



Black binoculars

Nikon Sportstar EX DCF Compact Binoculars Ultra-lightweight, pocket-sized and weatherproof. Don’t get caught out when away from home with these binoculars.



GPO Passion HD Binoculars
Multi-layer lens coating offers unbeatable image quality for the price, and a magnesium rubberised chassis creates a robust housing for the German-engineered optics.


Top of the Range

Swarovski NL Pure Binoculars
Enhanced optics offer the widest field of view with almost discernible edges all housed within a revolutionary ergonomic housing.


Specialist Models

Kite APC Binoculars 42

Powerful image-stabilising binoculars ideal for use in vehicles or other fast-moving situations.



Hawke Frontier LRF 8×42 

High-quality optics with an integrated laser range finder.  



Swarovski Axio

The expected Swarovski quality with integrated Artificial Intelligence identification features brings binoculars into the AI age.  



Hawke Endurance ED Marine Binoculars 

Ideal for marine surveys, these fully waterproof (IP67) binoculars come with an integrated compass and supplied floating neck strap. 



 Viking Swallow Smartphone Adapter

Two available smartphone adapter options allow users to take crisp and stable shots directly down the lens of their binoculars or spotting scope using most smart-phone cameras.


Banner image features Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus). Photo credit: Tony Hisgett –

Author interview with Ed Drewitt – Bird Pellets

Bird Pellets book cover showing a barn owl stood on a wooden fencepost with a mouse in its mouth, the title Bird Pellets in cream and images of 15 bird pellets below this.This is the first comprehensive guide to bird pellets showcasing a wide range of pellets produced by different species, including owls, hawks, waders and various garden birds. Author Ed Drewitt offers a methodical introduction to pellets, outlining what they are, how they’re formed, dissection methods, analysis and common findings, accompanied by an array of detailed illustrations and photographs. Bird Pellets provides a closer look at those produced by each species in turn and outlines how to identify the remains of small mammals, which can be an important tool for discovering what a bird feeds on, understanding dietary change over time and other aspects, making this an invaluable resource in ecology.

Image of author Ed Drewitt from the waist upwards wearing a grey waterproof coat stood in front of a hedge, holding a pair of binocularsEd Drewitt is a professional naturalist, wildlife detective and broadcaster for the BBC who specialises in the study of birds and marine mammals. He studied Zoology at the University of Bristol, before working at Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives for numerous years. He is now a freelance learning consultant who runs bird identification courses, provides wildlife commentaries on excursions, writes for wildlife magazines and is involved in bird ringing studies. Ed is also the lead researcher in a study focusing on the diet of urban-dwelling peregrines in the UK and author of Urban Peregrines.

Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to write a book about bird pellets? 

I have been interested in wildlife, particularly birds, since I was six or seven. Back then I would love collecting feathers and skulls, and bird pellets. I remember being excited at finding a Sparrowhawk pluckingperch in the woods where I lived in Surrey and finding small pellets – packed full of small feathers – from the hawk. Much of my career has involved developing and delivering learning workshops and resources for school-aged students and my public engagement work involves communicating science in plain English. Therefore, I am well versed in writing a book that appeals to families, schools and researchers alike. For several years I worked part-time in the teaching laboratory for the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol. Each spring I would help oversee students dissecting several hundred Barn Owl pellets; I also arranged for a live owl and Kestrel to come in, to bring the practical ‘alive’. I have also been studying what urban-dwelling Peregrines eat (and am author of Urban Peregrines and Raptor Prey Remains) over the past 26 years. Therefore, I was in a brilliant and timely position to tap into my own pellet and bone collection, and source more material from others across the country and beyond, to write the ultimate bird pellet book!

A child stood at a table dissecting pellets with a pair of green tweezers.

Most people are aware that owls and raptors produce pellets, but are there any pellet-producing species that we’d be more surprised to hear about?

Absolutely – any bird that eats something that is indigestible and unable to pass through the intestines and out the other end, will produce a pellet. People are always surprised when I explain that even Robins and Blackbirds produce pellets, often made up of bits of woodlice and beetles. Interestingly though, two raptors, that you might expect to produce pellets do not: the Osprey and the Honey Buzzard. Both eat foods that either are digested or picked at, meaning harder parts, such as bones, are not swallowed.

I was interested to read in your introduction to the book that pellets can be used to study what birds were eating thousands or even millions of years ago. Are bird pellets generally well represented in the fossil record?

The brilliant thing about pellets is that, while their general structure may break down, their contents, for example, mammal and bird skulls, may accumulate in one area, even if they get buried over time. While some bits will slowly decay or move over time, others may remain in situ and intact. Palaeontologists and archaeologists often study how animals decay; it is known as taphonomy. It can also be applied to pellets. While complex, researchers can work out which species has produced a pellet and what happens to its contents with time. In turn, researchers can determine previous assemblages of prey species, such as small mammals, and how these have changed over time depending on environmental and ecological conditions. This type of study can also work out which species are more (or less) likely to be found in such accumulations and therefore how the fossil record may be biased towards particular prey species.

Close up of a Water Vole skull.

Many of us will be familiar with the technique of using the visual observation of bones and other remains in pellets to study what was in a bird’s diet. But are there more advanced laboratory methods that are now being used to study them in more detail? 

Yes, although I don’t think they are quite as fun or smelly! In essence, taking swabs from pellets can reveal the DNA of what has been eaten, including things that may not otherwise be detectable, although some of these items may have been eaten by the prey itself, if the DNA is intact enough. It can work the other way though; well digested food remains may mean the DNA of prey is undetectable or so degraded it cannot be assigned to a species or taxa, while traditional visual techniques may be able to confirm its identity.

Can pellets be useful for studying the presence of pollutants in the environment, such as plastics and microplastics? 

Absolutely, and this is not a new thing, although it is now more topical in the media. Some seabirds, such as terns and gulls, have been producing pellets with polystyrene particles going back to the 1970s. However, now we have a better idea of just how much plastic is in our environment, we are now looking for it more in the stomachs and pellets of birds. Dippers are a very good example. Small invertebrates, such as stonefly larvae, ingest microplastics. They are then eaten by Dippers and the plastics accumulate in the pellets they regurgitate. Of course, the cumulative health effects that ingesting plastic has on birds such as Dippers is difficult to ascertain. Even Barn Owl pellets may contain microplastics, ingested from the stomachs of small mammals they are eating.

Pellet produced by a Long-eared owl containing bones, hair and skin.

What is the most surprising or unusual thing you have found in a bird pellet to date?

Gull pellets are often the most interesting, mostly because of the litter they contain, from plastic particles and bags to condoms! On a more natural note, the most spectacular pellet I have found was on the Flannan Isles, a remote island west of the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. The pellet was from a Great Skua, and it contained a whole Leach’s Petrel, which also live on the island. The petrel had gone down into the stomach where it had been digested. It was then regurgitated as a pellet, pretty much as a whole bird including intact wings, just minus any flesh! Skuas and Great Black-backed Gulls will also do the same thing with young rabbits and Puffins. Pellets can also be useful for finding the rings of wild birds and discovering that a bird has eaten another bird with an interesting origin of ringing, such as Norway or Russia!

Finally, what’s keeping you occupied this summer, and do you have further books in the pipeline that we can look forward to?

During the summer I am busy taking people out to see wildlife, especially in the Forest of Dean, where I live. I especially love birdsong and helping others to hear it. I am also working with the RSPB on the Gwent Levels, doing some training courses on identifying saltmarsh plants and wildlife. My wife, Liz, and I have two children, aged four and seven, so we will also be busy keeping them occupied! They love the outdoors and enjoy seeing wildlife just like we do. I have some papers in the pipeline as I am halfway through a part-time PhD at the University of Bristol. My 26-year study of the diet of urban-dwelling peregrines has given me plenty of data to analyse and write into chapters for my PhD. 

Bird Pellets book cover showing a barn owl stood on a wooden fencepost with a mouse in its mouth, the title Bird Pellets in cream and images of 15 bird pellets below this.

Bird Pellets will be published by Pelagic Publishing and is available to pre-order from our online bookstore.

Wilder Sensing: An Interview with Geoff Carss

Wilder Sensing, founded in 2021, is bringing innovative techniques to conservation, providing additional insights into biodiversity. This promising tech start-up featured on Springwatch this Wednesday (12th June), showcasing the applications of this innovation. We had the opportunity to chat with Geoff Carss, CEO of Wilder Sensing, on the organisation, its role in conservation and the future of technology in the field.

Can you share with us why Wilder Sensing was founded and what the company is involved in? 

Wilder Sensing was founded to ensure that anyone can collect high-quality, long-term biodiversity data. There are many different ways of doing this, but we focus on sound. By recording 24/7 for weeks, or even months, you can build up a very rich picture of what is present in an environment. The technology we use is low-cost with limited bias, and it is easy to use, even for non-professionals. It’s not perfect, especially because we are focusing on birds at the moment. Not all birds make much noise – some make very subtle noises which we can’t pick up – but for most species it works well. 

Can you tell us about the capabilities of Wilder Sensing technology and the insights that it can provide for a given environment?

We work with our customers to agree on survey patterns and how many recorders should be deployed on each site. The customer uploads their audio files to our website, and once they have arrived, we automatically process them using machine learning. It takes us around 20 seconds to process an hour-long file, and we can process many in parallel. During this, the technology checks every three seconds to see if a sound has been detected – every sound gets a species match, and a probability is assigned. So, for instance, the technology will be 92% certain that it has detected a Robin. Through this, we can give a species richness assessment, which is a species list at the moment. Our technology is currently unable to tell us how many individuals there are in a given space – there could be one very noisy bird, or ten very quiet ones.   

However, bioacoustic surveying technology does not remove the need for ground truthing. It is still important to get the baseline. Ecologists will find species that we don’t pick up. And the converse is true as well. We can find 20-30% more species when combining acoustic and traditional surveys. We are also working on other approaches for the future, like triangulation, which could identify exactly where a sound is coming from. 

Over 45,000 records were species-matched in the Peruvian Amazon. Image by Wilder Sensing.Can you tell us about the current projects that you are involved in and the role that bioacoustics played in conservation?  

We’re involved with a whole raft of different projects. We are working with environmental consultancies, Wildlife Trusts and NGO’s using acoustic technology for long-term surveying. Wendling Beck in Norfolk is a site that we have been working on for around 18 months. We realised that Skylarks are using one small part of the site, but you don’t see this until you look at the data – when you are just walking around, you don’t make that connection. If you look at some species, you might think that you have a ubiquitous habitat, but when you start looking at the distribution of birds and their calls, you may find that there are many times more calls in one part of the site. If you were to redevelop an area, you would probably lose some species altogether, but going into a development project, knowing that’s a likely ecological consequence, is really important and that is why acoustic technology is so valuable. 

What is the future for AI in conservation? Where do you think its applications could take us over the coming years??

I think it has a lot to contribute. To get good, accurate data you need highly skilled ecologists, people that really understand bird sound – it takes years to build those skills. I think the role will change so that ecologists will get more involved in survey design and interpreting the data to understand the consequences of a project. It becomes much more evidence-based and more quantitative. We have some customers who deploy up to 20 recorders, and you can get a quarter of a million acoustic records on each device. With that amount of data, you can start to ask different questions and we can see all kinds of behaviours that we couldn’t see before.   

In the South-west, some farmland was purchased to develop into allotments and after digging, they found that Skylarks were nesting on-site. Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) does not look at species, so a habitat survey would not record Skylarks in the area. If acoustic recorders had been deployed on site, ecologists would know they were present – so well-rounded data will also help developers plan better, mitigating issues from the onset of construction. The BNG survey was designed to be consistent and relatively easy to use, and species surveys could prove to be more difficult because of inconsistencies and methodologies etc. With AI we can move to a new level of understanding. If you just stick the recorder out, it is consistent in how it works and removes bias.

Over 4,000 calls were detected from Meadow Pipits at Wendling Beck. Image by Kev Chapman via Flickr.

For those interested in bioacoustics, it is worth noting that you will be holding webinars from July. What can we expect from these sessions?  

We have three sessions lined up. The first one is on 7th July and is about measuring nature using sound. It’ll dig into both how the technology works and how it compares against other methods, and hopefully we’ll have an open discussion around its strengths and weaknesses. The session is intended for people who are interested in the subject, and we will go through some examples. 

This will be followed by two in the autumn, which are more technical and are perhaps more suited to professional ecologists. These sessions will be touching on some of the technology behind Wilder Sensing and some of the ways it should and shouldn’t be used.

What is Wilder Sensing hoping to achieve over the next decade?  

I am hoping to move onto other taxa, the obvious ones being insects and bats. We would also like to look at triangulation as well – if we can triangulate how birds and bats are using a landscape, we can use this to help inform better environmental management. I think this data will be used with other environmental data in the future. People doing nature restoration or project planning need to understand the water quality, air quality, the climate etc. to get a better environmental outcome. And even forward-looking companies, we can look at their supply chain as well.

An acoustic sensor deployed at Honeygar Farm. Image by Wilder Sensing.

Increasingly the media are reporting on the quietening of British soundscapes, a symptom of the biodiversity and climate crisis we are facing. How do you think Wilder Sensing will adapt to an increasingly quiet environment? Will technology need to adapt to keep up?  

Wilder Sensing technology will quantify exactly what is happening in the biodiversity crisis. I have a copy of the iconic Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which was published 60 years ago, and we haven’t learned from that. I think this type of technology will hold a mirror up to people to show exactly what is going on. I would love to get a good quality recording from 50 years ago, maybe two or three hours of dawn chorus in woodland, and go back to the same time of year in the same place (assuming it still exists) and compare it. Showing exactly that this is the difference in diversity.   

To find out more about the innovative work by Wilder Sensing, their blog features some interesting case studies on the applications of their technology and they are also active on LinkedIn. For more information on Wilder Sensing and their product, email   


The NHBS Guide to UK Finch Identification

Finches, in the family Fringillidae, are small to medium-sized birds, often having colourful plumage and short, triangular beaks, though this can vary depending on food preference. They’re found across the world, excluding Australia and the polar regions, and include more than 200 recorded species. The family Fringillidae is split into two subfamilies: Fringillinae and Carduelinae. In the UK, there are more than 15 finch species with breeding populations, along with several migrants and occasional visitors.

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) 

A Hawfinch perched on a snapped twig in the centre of frame
Hawfinch by Luiz Lapa via Flickr.

Distribution: Mainly found in southern England, with populations in the north and south of Wales as well as southern Scotland. 

Habitat: Woodland, particularly forest canopies. 

Size: Length: 18cm, Wingspan: 31cm 

BoCC5 status: Red  

What to look for: This is the largest finch in the UK, with a large head and thick beak. They are mainly a rusty brown colour, with a darker brown back and wings. Their white undertail, tail tip and wing bars are easy to see in flight. Their head is a warmer orange-brown and they have a grey band around their neck. The black border to the base of their beak stretches down the front of their throat and towards the eye. The prominence of these features can vary between individuals, with females usually paler than males.  


Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 

a male bullfinch with a bright red breast sitting on a branch
Male Bullfinch by F. C. Franklin via Flickr


Female Bullfinch by Luiz Lapa via Flickr
Female Bullfinch by Luiz Lapa via Flickr






Distribution: Widely distributed across Britain and Ireland. 

Habitat: Woodlands, orchards and hedgerows. 

Size:  Length: 14.5–16.5cm, Wingspan: 22–26cm 

BoCC5 status: Amber 

What to look for: A larger species of finch, the Bullfinch has a thick, black bill and distinct colouring. Males have a vibrant pink-orange breast, with a contrasting white rump, grey back, black cap and tail. Females are duller in colour, with a light reddish-brown breast and back.  


Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis

A goldfinch sat on a small branch
Goldfinch by Caroline Legg via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread throughout England and Wales, largely absent in upland areas such as northern Scotland 

Habitat: Urban greenspaces, heathland and commons with seeding plants such as thistles, farmland, wetlands and woodland.   

Size: Length: 12cm, Wingspan: 21–25.5cm 

BoCC5 status: Green 

What to look for: A recognisable and colourful finch, the Goldfinch has a bright red face with white cheeks and a black crown. Its golden-brown back is framed with black wing edges and yellow wing patches. Both males and females look alike.  


Greenfinch (Chloris chloris

Greenfinch on a tree branch
Greenfinch by Andy Morffew via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread, largely absent in upland areas such as northern Scotland 

Habitat: Urban greenspaces, heathland and commons with seeding plants such as thistles, farmland, wetlands and woodland.   

Size: Length: 15cm, Wingspan: 26cm 

BoCC5 status: Red 

What to look for: Adult Greenfinches are, as their name suggests, green, but their wings and tail are mostly grey with a bar of bright yellow. They have a grey patch on their cheeks and a pink bill and legs. They have two distinct calls: a long wheezing call and a more melodic call consisting of trills and fast whistles.  


Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs

Chaffinch standing on grass
Chaffinch by Sid Mosdell via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread. 

Habitat: Woodlands, hedgerows, urban greenspaces, farmland and heathland. 

Size: Length: 14.5cm, Wingspan: 24.5–28.5cm 

BoCC5 status: Green 

What to look for: One of the most common garden birds in the UK, the Chaffinch has a loud, distinctive song and colourful plumage. Males are memorable for their chestnut-orange breast and back, contrasted with a blue-grey crown and white shoulder patches. Females are less colourful, featuring a light brown breast and back.  


Linnet (Linaria cannabina

Linnet on a small branch
Linnet by Alan Shearman via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread in Britain and Ireland, absent from upland north Scotland.  

Habitat: Commons, heathland, farmland, saltmarshes and urban greenspaces. 

Size: Length: 13.5cm, Wingspan: 21–25.5cm 

BoCC4 status: Red 

What to look for: A smaller, slenderer finch, the Linnet is historically known for its melodic song. The male Linnet boasts a crimson forehead and chest, with a grey head and brown back. Females are paler in appearance and showcase the characteristic streaky brown hue of the species, though lacking reddish patches. Linnets may be found in large flocks during winter, often mixing with other seed-eating finches.  


Siskin (Carduelis spinus)  

Male Siskin on a pine branch
Male Siskin by Caroline Legg via Flickr  
Female Siskin on a broken piece of wood
Female Siskin by Caroline Legg via Flickr.

Distribution: Found across the UK, most abundant in Scotland and Wales.  

Habitat: Tree tops in coniferous and mixed woodland, urban greenspaces. 

Size:  Length: 12cm, Wingspan: 20–23cm 

BoCC5 status: Green  

What to look for: A streaky green finch with a narrow bill, the Siskin is a resident breeder in the UK. Males have a distinct black crown and chin, with yellow cheeks and breast, and yellow streaks on black wings. Less colourful, females are a dull yellow on the head and back, with a streaky breast and underside. Both have a forked tail. Often found gathered in groups over winter with other finches.   


Serin (Serinus serinus

Serin bird sitting on a small branch covered in lichen
Serin via RSPB

Distribution: An occasional visitor in southern England and the Channel Islands

Habitat: Coniferous woodland, farmland and urban greenspaces 

Size: Length: 11–12cm, Wingspan: 18–20cm 

BoCC5 status: Not assessed, former breeder 

What to look for: A small, brown streaky finch with a stubby bill. Males feature a vibrant buttercup-yellow head and breast, with brown patches on the crown and cheeks. Females are less eye-catching, browner in colour with soft yellow hues. Both males and females have a forked tail and yellow streaks on brown wings.  


Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus

Common Rosefinch breeding-male sitting on a branch
Common Rosefinch breeding male by Birds of Gilgit-Baltistan via Flickr
Common Rosefinch female by Imran Shah via Flickr

Distribution: A rare visitor, mainly observed in the northern Isles, east coast of Scotland and southern England. 

Habitat: Woodland, scrubland and urban greenspaces. 

Size: Length: 13.5–15cm 

BoCC5 status: Not assessed 

What to look for: Common Rosefinch are similar in size to a Chaffinch. Males have a striking scarlet head, breast and rump. The wings are a woody-brown, contrasted with a pale, whitish underside. Juveniles and adult female Common Rosefinch have a lightly streaked olive-brown plumage and a short beak. Juveniles are mostly observed in autumn during migration, and adult males may be seen in spring.  


Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) and Parrot Crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus

 Common Crossbill: 

Common Crossbil (male) by Ashley Wahlberg via Flickr
Red Crossbill (female) by Luiz Lapa via Flickr


Parrot Crossbill: Female (left) by Tero Laakso via Flickr, Male (right) by Alan Shearman via Flickr 

Parrot Crossbill (female) by Nina Laakso via Flickr


Red Crossbill (male) by Ashley Wahlberg via Flickr

Distribution: Common Crossbill: widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Parrot Crossbill: rare resident in Caledonian pinewoods of north-eastern Scotland. 

Habitat: Coniferous woodland. 

Size: Common Crossbill: Length: 16cm, Wingspan: 29cm. Parrot Crossbill: Length: 16–18cm, Wingspan: 30–34cm 

BoCC5 status: Common Crossbill: Green, Parrot Crossbill: Amber 

What to look for: Common Crossbill: Named for their distinctive crossed beak, the Common Crossbill is a large finch with a forked tail and colourful plumage. Showcasing a vibrant, brick-red head, breast and underside, a male Common Crossbill is easily distinguished from its female counterpart. Instead of the characteristic vibrant plumage, females have an olive-green colour on the head, breast and belly, with a yellow rump and grey wings. Juveniles have a grey-brown streaky appearance. Parrot Crossbill: A slightly larger species, with a deeper, heavier bill, the Parrot Crossbill is difficult to distinguish from their common cousins. Males feature a similar, orange-red head and breast with muted grey wings and tail. Females also have olive-green plumage with the characteristic crossed bill.  

Did you know? A close relative, the Scottish Crossbill (Loxia scotica), is endemic to the Caledonian pine woods of Scotland. They are the only bird to be found in these forests and nowhere else in the world.  


Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) and Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) 

Common Redpoll by Lisa Hupp/USFWS via Flickr
Lesser Redpoll by Signhmanb via Flickr

Distribution: Common Redpoll: Visitor to the UK in winter during migration, seen in eastern Scotland and England. Lesser Redpoll: Widespread. 

Habitat: Birch, Larch or Alder woodland, urban greenspaces, farmland. 

Size: Common Redpoll: Length: 12–14cm, Wingspan:20–25cm. Lesser Redpoll: Length: 12–13cm, Wingspan: 22cm 

BoCC5 status: Common Redpoll: Red, Lesser Redpoll: Not Assessed. 

What to look for: Common Redpoll: Paler than their vibrant cousins, Common Redpoll are streaky brown from above, with a pale white plumage from below. Displaying a vibrant red forehead and pink breast in summer, they are remarkably similar to their smaller cousins. Lesser Redpoll: Slightly smaller, Lesser Redpoll are a similar streaky brown with red colouring on the crown and pink-red breast in summer. They have a black bib under a small, yellow bill. Females appear similar to male counterparts, without the pink flush on the breast. Juveniles are streaky brown and do not have a red crown or pink flush. 


Twite (Linaria flavirostris

Twite by Gertjan van Noord via Flickr

Distribution: Found in upland England, Wales and coastal Northern Ireland during summer months. East coast of England in winter. Widespread in Scotland.  

Habitat: Moorlands, coastal saltmarshes, coastal crofts. 

Size: Length: 14cm, Wingspan: 22–24cm 

BoCC5 status: Red 

What to look for: A small, streaky brown finch with a forked tail and a short bill. Twite have a brown back with dark streaking, a pale underside and streaking on the breast. During summer months the bill is grey, where it turns yellow for winter. A rich golden-brown face and upper breast are also present during winter months. Males are distinguished by a pink rump during summer.


Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla

Brambling by Caroline Legg via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread in the UK during winter 

Habitat: Beech woodlands, hedgerows, stubble fields, farmland and urban greenspaces.  

Size: Length: 14cm, Wingspan: 26cm 

BoCC5 status: Green 

What to look for: A brightly marked winter visitor, Brambling are of similar size to a Chaffinch. They have a rust-orange hue over the breast and shoulder which is more vibrant and extensive among males. Males have a blue-grey head which transforms to a sleek black during summer breeding. During winter, they sport a flecked black and brown plumage, contrasting a white belly and rump. Wings are dark in colour with orange bars. Females have a softer orange breast than males, and a brown head with two pronounced dark lines running across the head and down the nape. When part of a larger flock, Brambling are recognisable for their white rump and a yellow bill during winter.  

Author interview with Bjørn Olav Tveit: A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Norway

A Birdwatcher's Guide to Norway book cover showing a photograph of a puffin on a blue background.Norway is home to some of the most sought-after bird species in Europe, including the King Eider, Gyrfalcon, Capercaillie and Jack Snipe. A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Norway is the first guide to the birds of Norway and Svalbard, detailing over 350 of the best birdwatching sites in this country. The guide efficiently explains where and when to visit these sites, which species are present in each area, how to use tower hides and shelters, other animal species you may encounter and more. The upcoming second edition includes 265 photographs, 95 maps and comprehensive information about each site, this is an essential travel guide for anyone planning to birdwatch in mainland Norway or Svalbard. 

Photograph of author Bjorn Olav Tveit with some hills behind him wearing a hat and walking top.Bjørn Olav Tveit lives in Oslo, Norway and has explored many of the country’s best birding sites throughout his life. He is a long-standing member of the Norwegian Rarity Committee for Birds and acts as the nature conservation contact for his local BirdLife Norway division. He runs bird-spotting guided tours for nature enthusiasts, composes music, authors books and works for the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. 

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Bjørn about how he became interested in birdwatching, what can be expected from the second edition of his book and more. 

Birdwatching Norway page.Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into birdwatching?

I have been an avid, Oslo-based birder since childhood, which is more than 40 years ago. When travelling abroad with my parents as a kid, I would lose myself in the birdwatcher’s site guides for that country or region, although I was puzzled by the fact that no such book existed for Norway. Rumours were that some older and more experienced birdwatchers were in the process of writing such a book, but the years went by, and it never materialised. Not only would I need the guidebook myself, as my activity range gradually expanded beyond Oslo, but also I was embarrassed on behalf of my country by the lack of such a guide. In my eyes, at least at the time, a birdwatching site guide defines a country’s identity and level of development. So, I decided to go forward and make the guidebook myself. 

For anyone that enjoyed the first release of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Norway, what can they expect to discover in this updated edition?   

A lot has changed since the first edition came out 15 years ago. This change is most eye-catching in regard to Norway’s infrastructure: roads are improving and changing course; in some places, ferries have been replaced by bridges or tunnels; new tower hides have been built, and so, all maps and text have been updated accordingly. There have been quite a few changes in birdlife as well. For example, the Barred Warbler no longer breeds regularly along the Skagerrak coast, and the numbers of most cliff-breeding seabirds have greatly reduced to a point where e.g. Leach’s Storm Petrel is no longer expected on boat trips in Lofoten. On the positive side, the population of Rustic Bunting seems to be recovering, Red-flanked Bluetail is on the move into Norway, and Great Grey Owl now breeds regularly near Oslo. Furthermore, the book has expanded to a slightly larger format, allowing for more, easier-to-read maps and even more stunning images taken by some of the best photographers in the country.  

Page 196 of Birdwatching in Norway showing a map of Rundle Island.

This book details over 350 birdwatching sites in Norway and Svalbard – what was your process in deciding which sites to include? 

Based on my experience with guiding birdwatchers from abroad all over Norway, I have prioritised the sites that can produce the target species that birders from abroad tend to aim for. I have also included many all-round good birding sites, especially those situated close to larger towns or popular tourist attractions.  

Can you share any stand-out birdwatching experiences during your research for this edition? 

Oddly enough, making a birdwatching site guide is not easily combined with birdwatching! In the process, I first spent a lot of time at home, taking notes while reading trip reports and local bird magazines. Then I corresponded with over 100 local birdwatchers, who all helped me in various ways on picking the sites and giving me their opinion on how to get the most out of a birding trip in their area. Then I fired up the car engine and drove across Norway, double-checking all the theoretical information, with a focus on ensuring that a lone birdwatcher would be able to find the way and make the most of his or her birdwatching trip, solely with the help of this book. In order to visit all the included sites (and a few that were subsequently dropped), I couldn’t afford to spend as much time at each site as I would have liked to. All in all, the remarkable experience of travelling across Norway, taking in the spectacular scenery and variation in habitats and birdlife, was perhaps the most outstanding part of it all for me personally. I did see a lot of good birds along the way, though. 

Fifteen years have passed since the first edition was published, and during this time environmental pressures have continued to increase for wildlife. Have you noticed any changes over this time that may illustrate these impacts? 

I have witnessed a lot of negative impacts at several sites and areas, but at the same time, the general public in Norway has become gradually more concerned with nature preservation. By watching the reactions from people visiting the country from abroad, the locals have understood that they live in a country that is unique in terms of nature and wildlife. And so they have become prouder and more prone to taking better care of the environment. During the process of making this book, the environmentalist in me has been awakened to an even greater extent than before. I was particularly shocked by the urbanisation of my childhood local patch, Fornebu near Oslo, when I visited it for the first time in a long time during the making of this book. In the aftermath, I have been strongly engaged in preserving and enhancing the bird habitats there. 

Page 183 of Birdwatching in Norway showing the Lonaoyane delta in Voss, Western Norway.

You mentioned observing a greater accessibility to birdwatching sites since the first edition. Are you anticipating any changes in bird behaviour resulting from this? And how can birdwatchers minimise disturbance to bird species?   

One of the negative effects that birdwatching tourism may have on birds and habitats is the heightened disturbance caused by the increase in foot traffic. However, if you lead people along paths to designated hides, you reduce this risk. And you get the added bonus of getting to see the birds close up, without disturbing them. By doing this right, I hope even more people become interested in watching birds. I believe that increased awareness and interest in birds among the public is a key element in preserving birds and their habitats. 

What’s next for you? Are there new books on the horizon? 

I plan to make a third edition of the Norwegian version soon, because the English second edition is much better than the Norwegian one that I put out four years ago. And I have contemplated writing a book presenting the birds and sites in my home municipality west of Oslo. Furthermore, I have been waiting in vain for four decades on a book presenting the rare and vagrant birds of Norway… as the case was with the site book, maybe I will have to write it myself! 

A Birdwatcher's Guide to Norway book cover showing a photograph of a puffin on a blue background.

A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Norway is published by Pelagic is available to pre-order from our online bookstore.

Interview with the authors of The Little Owl

The Little Owl, Athene noctua, is one of the most well-studied species of owl. Despite being widespread across Europe, Asia and North Africa, populations are now in decline, making studies of its behaviour and ecology all the more important. The revised second edition of The Little Owl, which vastly expands on the original, published in 2011, covers everything you could wish to know about the species. From its history, taxonomy and genetics, to details of its habits, diet and breeding, the wide-ranging text consolidates all of the current available knowledge, obtained both from the author’s personal experience and research, as well as scientific and conservation literature.

The authors, Dries van Nieuwenhuyse, Ronald van Harxen and David H Johnson generously gave up some of their time to answer our questions about the book, the issues currently affecting Little Owls globally, and their hopes for the future of this captivating species. The Q&A is also illustrated with some of the beautiful images from the book, all of which were created by scientific illustrator and graphic designer Joris De Raedt.

Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and the work you are currently involved in?

Dries is a life-long owl researcher and statistician active in ecological method development and publication. He has authored five books on the impact of technology and statistics on the decision-making processes of organisations, and in particular brings his skills as a statistician to his ornithological work.

Ronald is Chairman of the Dutch Little Owl Working Group (STONE), and has been active in research on breeding biology and population dynamics within nest box populations and conservation of the Little Owl in the Netherlands and internationally for more than four decades.

David is Executive Director at Global Owl Project, USA and working since more than a decade on a demographic study of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia). He has worked in natural resource conservation for four decades and has written two previous books on owls, wildlife and fisheries.

Joris De Raedt is scientific illustrator and graphic designer
visualising the wonders of the natural world. He illustrated the book through a combination of graphite sketches and digital illustrations. Color and details are added on the computer using a graphic tablet. More on his workflow at

For anyone that enjoyed reading the first version of The Little Owl which was published in 2011, what new things can they expect to discover in this updated second edition?

The subtitle of the first edition was Conservation, Ecology and Behavior, the second edition paid special attention to Taxonomy, Population Dynamics and Management. Major improvements are the illustrations that were all created by Joris De Raedt. This allowed us to make compilations of photos of the subspecies and their habitats to obtain extremely detailed and standardised artistic plates. The fact that this edition is in colour allowed excellent drawings of the embryonic development, the evolution of nestlings in function of age and high quality distribution maps by country and globally. The global distribution map was revised with much more accurate data than even before, thanks to the internet and technological advances.

Plenty of new insights were brought in by Ronald on breeding biology, prey items and behaviour in nestboxes that were equipped with webcams. Photos led to video, and that led to online webcam data that was tagged with time, prey species and specific behavior by volunteers.

The final major evolution was the intensification of replicated experiments since the first edition. Crucial questions on the yellowness of the beak of the female in relation to breeding performance and feeding preference of female nestlings by females, and also in relation to the yellowness of the beaks of the offspring, led to major breakthroughs in our knowledge. Due to the publication of the first edition, the start of a pdf and citizen science website for data collection improved the international cooperation tremendously and facilitated access to international data bases of ringing data, geocoded pictures and vocalisations.

Historically the Little Owl has suffered due to intensive agriculture practices and abundant use of pesticides. Are Little Owls still widely affected by these issues, and do we yet have a clear idea of how they are likely to be impacted with the additional challenges posed by the climate crisis?

Little Owls are ambassadors of small-scale landscapes. In some countries they disappear due to intensification of the agriculture, while in other countries they disappear when farming is halted (grazing cattle disappear) and after forestation. Climate change is expected to have a positive impact on the species in the north and the east due to less snow cover. Increasing heavy rain during the breeding season, on the other hand, will probably have a negative impact on breeding success. Increase in desertification might not be an issue, as this typical Mediterranean species can even be found in the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula. In Europe, most negative impacts comes from agricultural intensification, with an increase in maize leading to less grassland, increase in pesticides and rodenticides, increase in scale of the landscape with fewer parcel borders, fences or shrubs.

An important part of the book deals with management techniques that have proven to work over the long term. Reintroducing short grassy vegetation with commanding perches and provision of nestboxes can significantly help Little Owls to cope with modern agriculture. If conservation is started timely enough, this simple management can help preserve healthy populations. When densities drop too low, this might not be sufficient and, in combination with a lack of food, can lead to local extinctions.

What are the key ways in which Little Owls are surveyed? And how comprehensive is our knowledge of where they occur and their current population sizes?

The species is excellent for research due to its easy response to playback of vocalisations, historically mostly undertaken in western Europe but recently increasing in eastern Europe. Monitoring efforts have continued since the 1980s and offer a good view on population numbers. This has led to extra research on the possible impact of habitat deterioration, food availability and the increase of Stone Marten and Tawny Owls as possible limiting factors.

Since the first edition plenty of new local and large scale atlases have been published leading to a very detailed knowledge on the distribution and population numbers in Europe. The new EBCC atlas has distribution data at the 50 by 50km level, the 27 EU member states monitor Little Owl presence at the 10 by 10km level, and a number of local atlases have data available at the 1 by 1 km level.

Outside of Europe, the species is rather common but distribution knowledge remains anecdotal with population estimates largely based on local average densities and, in rare cases, on habitat modelling. More insights emerged from North Africa and the East (eg Iran and Pakistan) but much more work is still needed outside Europe. Hopefully this book can boost research in less well-studied countries, as many methods that have proven to be working simply need to be replicated elsewhere.

How effective have captive breeding and reintroduction projects been for the Little Owl so far? And is this approach likely to be an important one for their future conservation?

Not very effective. Some initiatives have been undertaken but with moderate outcomes. Reintroduction remains an emergency brake that rarely works. Supplemental feeding, provision of nestboxes and landscape improvements are much more effective, particularly when they are started in a timely manner. The key is not to wait too long before starting with small-scale management and to keep healthy populations, even in areas with intensive agriculture.

How likely are Little Owls to utilise artificial nestboxes?

Very likely, and this makes The Little Owl one of the best and easiest models for biological and conservation research. The ease of installing nestboxes with webcams and with predator protection allows data to be collected in an unprecedented manner, without special tools or tedious field work. People can observe the species seated at their kitchen table, youngsters can easily be involved in playback monitoring, nestbox maintenance and food supplementation, which eventually leads to experiments and dedicated citizen science. This make the species so special.

Finally, what’s next for you? Are there new books on the horizon?

Sure, Ronald and Dries will publish a non-scientific version of the book in Dutch for the 2000+ local volunteers to thank them for their tremendous help in collecting and digitising Little Owl data through conservation, management and ringing. David and Dries are currently preparing a similar book on the close relative of the Little Owl, the Burrowing Owl. Finally, Ronald is currently working on a book on all owl species that can be found in The Netherlands. We’ve still got some work to do.

The Little Owl by Dries van Nieuwenhuyse, Ronald van Harxen and David H. Johnson was published by Cambridge University Press in October 2023 and is available from

Author Q&A with Tim Mackrill: The Osprey

The Osprey book cover.Persecuted mercilessly in Britain, the magnificent Osprey became extinct in the 1890s. However, the return of the species to Scotland in the 1950s was the catalyst for reintroduction programmes elsewhere, and this remarkable raptor is now an increasingly common sight in our skies. This Poyser monograph includes over 150 photographs and details the distribution, migration, foraging ecology, breeding behaviour and population dynamics of this spectacular bird. It also places emphasis on the conservation efforts across the species British and African haunts, the latter of which has only recently been discovered thanks to satellite tagging technology. 

Tim Mackrill holding an Osprey in a field.
© John Wright

Nature conservationist Dr Tim Mackrill completed a PhD on Osprey migration at the University of Leicester and has since worked with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation on various reintroduction projects, including the return of Ospreys and White-tailed Eagles to England. He managed the Rutland Osprey Project for over ten years and is the founder of the Osprey Leadership Foundation, which aims to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders by working with young people who live along the Osprey’s migratory route. 

We recently had the opportunity to speak to Tim about The Osprey, including why he is so captivated by this species, the technological advances that have helped increase our knowledge of them and more.  

Your entire adult life, and indeed much of your childhood, appears to have been spent observing and studying Ospreys. What is it about this species that so captivates you? 

Anyone who has seen an Osprey will vouch for the fact that they are a spectacular bird, particularly if you have been fortunate enough to see one plunge into water to catch a fish. However, it is the species’ migration that I find so captivating. As I write in chapter 6 of The Osprey, whenever I see a newly arrived Osprey perched beside its nest in the spring, I always think it is rather humbling to consider what the bird might have experienced since leaving its wintering site a few weeks earlier: traversing the Sahara, negotiating imposing mountain ranges, crossing areas of open sea. It could even have flown through the night – its path illuminated only by stars and moonlight – with the urge to reclaim its nest a source of great motivation to power its way north. The fact that Ospreys are faithful to the same nest site each year, and that we know them as individuals, makes it even more special to see a familiar bird back home in the spring.  

Osprey catching a fish in the sea.
Adult female Osprey – The Gambia, by John Wright

In the introduction of your book, you mention that there can be few bird species that are as well studied as the Osprey. What technological advancements over the past few decades do you think have been most influential in increasing our knowledge of this species? 

The advances in satellite tracking technology since the 1990s have added greatly to our knowledge of Ospreys. The most recent transmitters are able to log data at very high temporal resolution – as often as once per second in some cases – and this gives some amazing insights into the migratory journeys of individual Ospreys. It has shown how Ospreys are able to adapt their flight according to environmental conditions, and to make very long sea crossings – something that most raptors avoid. It has also demonstrated how experiences on the first migration shape the subsequent migratory habits of individuals, and also how young birds enter the breeding population for the first time.   

Historically, the persecution of Ospreys has been a large problem within Britain. Is this something that is still an issue? 

Fortunately, this is much less of an issue now. Egg collecting was a major threat during the early years of the Osprey recovery in Scotland, but has declined since the introduction of custodial sentences. Historically,  persecution at fishing ponds was a major cause of the population decline of Ospreys in the British Isles, and although the occasional Osprey is still shot, the sight of an Osprey plunging into the water at great speed, and then lifting off a few seconds later with a fish grasped in its talons, is much more likely to excite and inspire people than to create animosity. The success of an Osprey photographic hide at a working trout farm, Horn Mill, in Rutland is testament to that.  

Manaton Bay Osprey Family.
Manaton Bay Family by John Wright.

Ospreys appear to respond well to translocation projects. Is this down to the characteristics of their species, or because we have good quality research and evidence to indicate how best to undertake such projects? 

Translocation has been a key tool in helping the Osprey recover from the negative impacts of historical persecution and DDT. The first Ospreys to be translocated were in the United States in the late 1970s and in Europe, at Rutland Water, in the mid-1990s. As such, a wealth of information on all aspects of the translocation process has been developed and refined over the years, which means that more recent projects are much better informed than earlier ones. However, it is the species’ own breeding biology that is key. Young Ospreys, particularly males, are highly site faithful and usually return to breed close to their natal site. The imprinting process seems to occur after fledging and prior to migration and so, by moving young birds at around five to six weeks, when they are a fortnight from making their first flight, they regard the release site as home, rather than their natal nest. All young Ospreys undertake their first migration alone, and so as long as translocated Ospreys are provided fish after fledging in the way that wild-fledged birds are provisioned by their parents, they migrate as normal. Then, all being well, they return to the release site for the first time at two years of age.  

As a fully piscivorous species, do Ospreys suffer from ingesting water-borne pollutants or plastic waste? 

The Osprey is regarded as something of a sentinel species for environmental contaminant exposure and effects in aquatic ecosystems. It was badly affected by DDT in the United States and some parts of Europe. More recently, research in the United States has identified Polybrominated biphenyl ether (PBDE), flame retardants used in thermoplastics, textiles, polyurethane foams and electronic circuitry, as a potential emerging threat to Ospreys.  

PBDEs have been shown to bioaccumulate and biomagnify up the food chain, but unlike organochlorine pesticides which have declined in aquatic ecosystems in recent decades, PBDEs have increased since the 1970s. Plastic waste is also an issue, particularly in some of the coastal areas where Ospreys overwinter. It is a sad sight to see a wintering Osprey perched on a beach surrounded by ubiquitous plastic pollution.  

Red Kite chasing adult female.
Red Kite chasing adult female by John Wright.

When it comes to the Osprey, where are the gaps in the knowledge? What are the things that you’re still excited to find out about them? 

There are still elements of migration that we do not fully understand. We know that young birds use a process known as vector summation (an inherited programme of distance and direction) on their migration, and that adults become expert navigators as they become more experienced, but we do not know the exact mechanisms for this, though factors such as landscape features may be important. Personally, I like the fact that there is still this mystery around certain aspects of bird migration – it adds to the sense of awe that is created by the remarkable journeys of Ospreys and other species. 

Finally, what’s keeping you occupied day-to-day at the moment? And do you have plans for further books? 

One of the most exciting projects I am involved with at present, through my work with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, is the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to southern England. The first pair bred successfully last year and it has been exciting and encouraging to see how the birds are fitting into southern England. Like Ospreys, they take fish from the South Coast estuaries and so there is a wealth of suitable habitat for them. The fact that there are now breeding Ospreys and White-tailed Eagles back on the South Coast of England is very exciting and testament to what a positive, proactive approach to conservation can achieve. I love writing and so I definitely have plans for future books.  

A few years ago I also set-up a charity, the Osprey Leadership Foundation (OLF), which works to inspire and enable young conservation leaders. I feel very privileged to have had Roy Dennis, who wrote the foreword for The Osprey, as a friend and mentor for many years, and I hope the work of OLF will help the next generation of conservationists to follow the lead of people like Roy to undertake bold and ambitious projects for nature recovery – we certainly need it. 

The Osprey book cover.

The Osprey is available to order from our online bookstore.

Author Q&A with Illustrator Mike Langman

Photograph of Mike Langman, nature illustrator, on a coastal path wearing a checked shirt, cap and with a camera around his neck.Mike Langman has been a full-time illustrator specialising in birds since 1992 and has published a total of 85 books, including Park and Garden Birds and the Guide to Ducks, Geese and Swans, with his work also featuring in many UK birdwatching magazines. 

Mike worked for the RSPB at their headquarters in Bedfordshire for nine years after finishing his education at Middlesex Art College in 1983, and his illustrations have been published in most of the RSPB’s quarterly Nature’s Home magazines, on nearly every RSPB reserve, on identification cards, in murals in information centre, and in other outlets across Britain and Europe.

Fulmar sketch by Mike Langman.
Fulmar sketch by Mike Langman.

He has been an avid birdwatcher from the age of ten and particularly enjoys birdwatching around his local area in the South West, especially Berry Head in Devon, with his knowledge and expertise regularly sought by local organisations. Mike is also a voluntary art editor for Devon Birds, his local bird society, where he has previously held a number of roles in numerous years between 1994 and 2010. 

Mike recently took the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions about his career in illustration, which mediums he uses to create his drawings and more. 

How did you get into illustrating nature?  

A love of nature started with walks with my parents and visits to my grandparents one set keen on birds and the other owned a farm where I could (more or less) have free range to explore. Drawing wildlife came from copying pictures I saw in books of wildlife that excited me, initially big cats but as I watched birds in gardens and countryside I would copy pictures from books of them too. 

What are your favourite mediums for illustrating books?  

Most of my published work is a mixture of watercolour for its freshness and clarity, but to speed up the process I (like many other published artists) use gouache too, this being opaque pale paint that can be put on top of darker watercolour to create feather edges and highlights etc. A watercolour purist uses the white of the paper to shine through pale areas!   

Mike Langman's pencil and watercolour double page illustrations with annotations of a Warbler.
Warbler field sketch by Mike Langman.

How do you approach illustrating a bird you’ve perhaps never seen in real life?  

I use whatever I can get my hands on, googling photos or videos (better for capturing character), but I still use skins (dead crudely stuffed birds) held in museums like Tring or even Exeter and Torquay. 

How do you record a birds behaviours, and have you seen any unusual behaviours from a common bird? 

Yes, as a birder I’m always looking for not just unusual species but behaviours too an inquisitive mind leads to a better understanding of the species and I do illustrate behaviour in published work when required to.  

What has been your favourite bird to illustrate that you keep coming back to?  

That’s a tricky one, but I love seabirds and warblers. I suppose if I had to choose one its the Firecrest for its character and colour a truly stunning tiny bird. But, I must not forget our south Devon speciality, the Cirl Bunting, and, and I could go on!   

Cirl Bunting field sketch in pencil and watercolour by Mike Langman.
Cirl Bunting field sketch by Mike Langman.

How has climate change altered your approach to projects? 

I do a huge amount of illustration work from home but I do travel a bit too (although much more locally based than I used to be). At home I’m trying to be as carbon neutral as possible with solar panels, storage batteries, good house insulation and, last year, buying an electric car. When I do travel abroad I do as much wildlife watching as possible visiting reserves and hiring guides which will help maintain some of the very important and often not so important biologically rich areas. 

Do you see wildlife human conflict in your work? 

Not so much in the publishing world, but as part of my secondary job as a wildlife guide here in Devon, running walks, tours and cruises, I have witnessed some terrible scenes. Dolphins caught in nets, seals with plastic rings and fishing gear snagged around their necks, jet skis harassing dolphins, fishermen throwing rocks at seals and even fishermen having ‘fun’ catching gulls with baited hooks. Away from the sea we have hedges cut by land owners at the wrong times of year, and housing developments on green land around Torbay in areas I used to watch wildlife...

What bird do you wish you had seen and why? 

Pretty much every bird I haven’t seen but I know that’s not a good thing, practically and in terms of harm to my carbon footprint, and inevitably it’s just not possible. So, I keep it local and look for anything that provides me with a challenge to find, identify and share with others. For more than 30 years I’ve wanted to find a Hume’s Warbler (a small and very rare eastern Siberian migrant) at my local lakes at Clennon Valley in Paignton (where I volunteer as part of the friends group). In December 2023 I did a double take when I heard one calling, ‘Che-wee, Che-wee’. Eventually after what seemed like an eternity I located and watched it, sketched it and shared the sightings immediately with others. The bird stayed around for over a week. I guess I need a new goal now… 

What projects are you working on right now? 

I’ve just finished the 3rd edition of the Helm Field Guide to the birds of the Middle East and painted its new cover too, which I’m very proud of. I’m also working on some wood etching images (my work completed on the computer!) for Greenspace designs for the Lower Otter Restoration Project.

Mike Langman's most recent project, the illustration for the cover of Helm's Birds of the Middle East, featuring a watercolour painting of a Eurasian Eagle-Owl stood in a rocky crag.

A collection of books illustrated by Mike Langman can be found in our bookstore here. 

The Big Garden Birdwatch: NHBS Staff Results 2024

Greenfinch perched on a piece of metal.

The RSPB’s 45th Big Garden Birdwatch took place between Friday 26th and Sunday 28th January 2024. This annual event is one of the largest citizen science wildlife surveys in the UK and helps us gain an understanding of how our garden bird populations are changing in abundance and distribution over time.  Over half a million people took part in last year’s event, recording a total of 9.1 million birds. House Sparrows took first place, despite a gradual 57% decrease in sightings since the first Birdwatch Count in 1979. They were closely followed by the Blue Tit and Starling. 

Although the Big Garden Birdwatch has finished, there is still time to submit your results on the RSPB website by the 18th February, or by post before the 13th February. Even if you didn’t see anything, it still counts! 

With birds being faced with an increasing number of challenges each year, it’s more important than ever to make your garden and outdoor space wildlife friendly. This can include installing bird feeders or tables which provide an important food source throughout the winter months when natural food sources are scarce., You can also provide clean, fresh drinking water in shallow containers such as bird baths or saucers, and install nest boxes for breeding in the spring. Also, don’t forget to regularly clean and maintain your feeders and baths as this helps stop the spread of disease. Head over to the RSPB website to find out more about how you can help your garden birds. 

A robin stood on top of a wet wooden fencepost.
Robin – Catherine Mitson


As usual, many of our staff took part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch from their gardens or local parks across Devon, and we recorded a total of 129 birds and 22 different species. Compared to last years results, there was a 31% increase in sightings, while an additional nine species were spotted in this year’s count. The most sighted bird was the Carrion Crow, closely followed by the Blue Tit and Magpie. In comparison, the county’s top birds were the House Sparrow, Blue Tit and Starling.

Sabine took part in the event from her garden and spotted: 

3 Carrion Crow 

2 Wood Pigeon  

1 Robin  

2 Magpie  

1 Blackbird  

1 Song Thrush  

Common Wood Pigeon sat on a small wooden bird feeder house by a Silver Birch tree.
Wood Pigeon – Oli Haines

Oli took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

3 Blackbirds 

2 Woodpigeon  

3 Jackdaw  

2 Blue tits 

1 Dunnock 

1 Great tit 

1 Robin 

1 Magpie 

1 Goldfinch


Adam took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

2 Blackbirds 

6 Blue Tits 

1 Chaffinch 

2 Great Tits 

4 House Sparrow 

Photograph of a Dunnock sat on a wooden fencepost in a garden looking up at the sky about to fly off.
Dunnock – Oli Haines

Catherine took part in the event from her garden and spotted:  

2 Collared Dove 

2 Jackdaw 

4 Starling 

1 Woodpigeon 


Mark took part in the event from his local park and spotted: 

5 Parakeets  

12 Crows  

4 Magpies  

10 Herring Gull

Blackbird stood on a branch with trees and blue sky behind it.
Blackbird – Catherine Mitson

Elle took part in the event from her garden and spotted: 

2 Blue Tits 

1 Dunnock  

1 Grey Wagtail 

2 Wood Pigeon 

1 Magpie  

1 Great Tit 


Mal took part in the event from her local park and spotted: 

3 Carrion Crow 

1 Buzzard 


Daniel took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

10 Chaffinch

7 Blue Tits

5 Long Tailed Tits

4 House Sparrow

3 Great Tits

2 Goldfinch

1 Coal Tit

1 Blackbird

1 Wren

1 Dunnock

1 Robin 

Female Blackbird stood on grass covered in leaves.
Blackbird – Catherine Mitson

We’d also love to hear what you spotted if you took part – let us know in the comments below.

The RSPB: 

For more information on UK garden birds, identification guides, the 2024 Big Garden Birdwatch, past results and more, please visit the RSPB website. 

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2024

Blue Tit on a branch

For the past 45 years, the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Every January more than half a million people take to their gardens, parks and balconies to count the birds they see. This huge dataset has allowed the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over time.

This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will take place from the 26th to 28th January and anyone can sign up to take part – all it takes is an hour of your time to record the birds you see in your area and send these results to the RSPB. They will then collate all of the data and publish the results in spring.

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

    • Sign up on the RSPB website 
    • Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Friday 26th and Sunday 28th January. 
    • Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three House Sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will count the same birds more than once and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well. 
    • Submit your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post). 
    • Join in the conversation on RSPB social channels throughout the weekend to see what other nature lovers are spotting across the UK and upload your own pictures and comments using #BigGardenBirdWatch 
    • Look out for the results in April and take pride in having contributed data from your patch.

What did we learn in the 2023 Big Garden Birdwatch?

In 2023, over half a million people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, submitting records of more than 9.1 million birds. The most frequently reported species was the House Sparrow which received 1.4 million sightings, however counts of this bird have notably decreased by 57% when compared to the first Birdwatch in 1979. The second and third spots were held by Blue Tits and Starlings respectively. 

Last year’s results highlighted the vulnerability of some of our smaller garden birds and the environments they live in. Long-tailed Tit sightings increased by 39% in 2023, however they are very susceptible to harsh weather conditions and as a result of this, population numbers have fluctuated since the Big Garden Birdwatch began. Meanwhile, Greenfinches and Chaffinches continued to be affected by a disease known as Trichomonosis, which has led to a 34% decline in UK Chaffinch populations and 65% decline in Greenfinches over the last decade.
It is hoped that this year’s Birdwatch will help to give a better picture of how these population are faring a year on.

How can I encourage more birds and other wildlife to my garden?


Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is the perfect opportunity to observe how wildlife is using your garden and to give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to wildlife. 

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass; providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena; or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads, and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended books and equipment


Collins Bird Guide book coverCollins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe 

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The combination of definitive text, up-to-date distribution maps and superb illustrations makes this book the ultimate field guide, essential for every birdwatcher and field trip. 


RSPB Handbook of British Birds cover

RSPB Handbook of British Birds 

This easy-to-use book is a complete guide to the UK’s most familiar birds and, having been revised for its fifth edition, the RSPB Handbook of British Birds now includes new artwork, additional rarities, extra comparison spreads and a fully updated taxonomic order, in addition to a detailed maps reflecting current UK distributions. 



Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide coverEurope’s Birds: An Identification Guide 

Covering more than 900 species, and illustrated with over 4,700 photographs, this is the most comprehensive, authoritative and ambitious single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced. The images are stunning to look at, making this a beautiful book to enjoy, as well as an up-to-date and essential source of identification knowledge.


Park and Garden Birds coverPark and Garden Birds 

This newly updated fold-out guide covers the top 50 birds of gardens and parks, including ponds and rivers. Designed for speedy bird identification with living birds in the garden, the guide features beautiful colour paintings by Chris Shields. Accompanying text on the reverse side covers body size, food, key identification notes and conservation status. 


Challenger Plastic Seed Feeder Challenger Plastic Seed Feeder 

This seed feeder is ideal for small spaces due to its size and is made from durable, long-lasting plastic. The feeder includes perching rings which have been designed to allow birds to feed in their natural facing forward position and is available in two different sizes. 


 NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box 

Installing a nest box in your garden is one of the easiest ways to support local bird populations, providing them with a warm, sheltered environment with protection from most types of predators. Our own range of wooden bird nest boxes have been custom designed and manufactured from substantial 2cm thick FSC-certified wood, are available with either a 25mm or 32mm entrance hole and can be expected to last for 5–10 years. 


Discovery Plastic Window Seed FeederDiscovery Plastic Window Seed Feeder

The Discovery Plastic Window Seed Feeder is ideal for those with small gardens or balconies and who are new to bird feeding. It has two feeding ports with ring perches to allow the birds to feed in a natural position and the high-suction pads securely fix the feeder to glass which offers a fantastic way to watch garden birds up close.


Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Binos in greenHawke Optics Nature-Trek Binoculars

The Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Binoculars are great value and ideal for fieldwork. They have a shock-resistant polycarbonate body, making them robust yet lightweight, and are waterproof and fog-free. The inner-focus optical design and BAK 4 roof prism produces high resolution images and ensures no detail is lost when viewing at long or short distances, while they also have effortless focusing and impressive depth of field which makes these binoculars quick and easy to use.


Kite Ursus Binoculars in black.Kite Ursus Binoculars

The Kite Ursus binoculars are an easy to use, entry-level pair of binoculars with all-round performance. They have been designed for everyday use and have a robust, fully waterproof housing, rubber touch points, and are lightweight and well balanced with a short hinge and a large ribbed focus wheel so changing focus is easy. As with other Kite binoculars, the Ursus also have a great field of view and, combined with their image quality, this makes them great for panning while watching fast moving subjects.


GPO PASSION 10x32 ED Binoculars in green.GPO PASSION 10×32 ED Binoculars

These binoculars combine a sleek design with high-quality features, including a Schmidt-Pechan prism, 10× magnification, ED multi-coated lenses and matched optics, which deliver exceptional clarity and colour transmission. They also offer a wide field of view, high edge-to-edge sharpness and a close minimum focus, which makes them unique among models in this price range, and come in five colours: green, brown, black, sand and orange.