The Bird Life of the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley
The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley is home to a huge variety of birds throughout the year. Some are resident and can be seen in great numbers while others come here for the spring and summer, or autumn and winter. The mosaic of woodland, heathland, bogs and mires, rivers and streams, farmland and grassland habitats provide a rich environment for birds, many of which are nationally rare.
All of the best known British birds are resident in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, including: robins, finches (such as chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches), tits (blue tits, coal tits, great tits and long-tailed tits) jays, blackbirds, woodpeckers, nuthatches, treecreepers, blackcaps, wrens, sparrows, thrushes, pigeons, magpies, crows, doves and starlings.
You’ll see buzzards circling overhead in many areas and the occasional red kite, sparrowhawk, kestrel or other bird of prey as well as owls such as barn owls.
In the ponds and rivers you will see swans, ducks, geese, moorhens, coots, cormorants, dippers and occasionally the mighty kingfisher - often one of the most elusive of birds, but when you finally see that flash of bright blue it is worth the wait! At wetlands you’ll see curlews, herons, oystercatchers, dunlins and lapwings.
Hawfinches, crossbills, woodcock, goshawks, firecrests, tree pipits, lesser spotted woodpecker and nightjars are a small selection of specialist rare or uncommon birds found here in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. They require rare and/or managed habitats, or extensive mature woodland, to successfully feed, nest and survive.
Birds to See in the Spring
From late March chiffchaffs and willow warblers arrive from their wintering grounds further south; they can be heard singing right across the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. Early April sees tree pipits singing and parachuting down through the air to a song post in areas where trees have been felled. The ancient oak woodlands provide specialist habitats for pied flycatchers, freshly arrived from parts of West Africa. They are joined by redstarts, spotted flycatchers and wood warblers. Nightingales can be heard too known for their beautiful song. Nightingales sing all night to attract females as they fly over on their migration from West Africa. RSPB Highnam Woods is the place to listen for them, often singing throughout the day too in later April and May. The coniferous woodlands provide feeding and nesting places for crossbills, firecrests and goldcrests, coal tits and siskins. During bright sunny days, buzzards, peregrines and goshawks can be seen in their spectacular aerial displays at places such as New Fancy View and Yat Rock. The woodlands are alive with the songs and calls of great spotted woodpeckers, great tits and blue tits, nuthatches, blackbirds and song thrushes. The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley woodlands provide the perfect amphitheatre for the dawn chorus, a time when all male birds are singing at first light. Listen to the dawn chorus recorded in the Forest of Dean by Ed Drewitt, naturalist and wildlife expert, here.
Birds to See in the Summer
As we head into the summer months, birds are busy nesting. The heathland areas are home to nightjars, a long-winged bird that arrives in May from central parts of Africa. It begins ‘churring’ at dusk, a sound not dissimilar to a fishing line being wound in, and hunts for moths and other insects at night. Open heath are also good places for spotting stonechats, yellowhammers and linnets, often perching on the gorse and heather. Young sparrowhawks, buzzards and kestrels will be on the wing during later June and July, often heard calling before they are seen. Woodcock, a woodland wading bird, makes routine flights, known as roding low over patches of woodland.
Birds to See in the Autumn
As the forest pallet of greens turns to yellow, orange and brown, our summer bird visitors leave for warmer places in the Mediterranean and Africa. Our resident birds such as goldcrests, blackbirds, chaffinches, hawfinches and crossbills are joined by their migratory Scandinavian cousins, and other species such as brambling, great grey shrike, redwing and fieldfare also head across the North Sea from Norway and Sweden to winter here in the region’s forests. Great tits, blue tits, coal tits and long-tailed tits move through the forest and gardens as roving flocks, often joined by treecreepers, nuthatches and woodpeckers, as safety in numbers helps them find food, shelter and watch out for predators.
Birds to See in the Winter
During the cold winter months winter thrushes, such as redwings and fieldfares, roam the forests and adjacent countryside looking for berries and fruits. On warmer days they can be seen amongst the leaf litter and grasslands, fattening up on worms and other invertebrates. Robins begin to sing during the shortest days, defending their own patch for food and shelter. With the trees bare of leaves this is a good time to be looking for hawfinches at the tops of trees with their distinctive ‘ticking’ calls. Lakes around the area are home to wintering goosanders amongst the greylag and Canada geese. Mandarin ducks, a naturalised species originally from eastern Asian, look their most colourful and dashing during the winter months as they begin to pair up. Groups of males strut across the water trying to impress nearby females.
Birdwatching in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley
If you're interested in birdwatching here you don't have to go far to start. Many of the Forestry England sites have bird feeding stations and are excellent sights to begin including Beechenhurst, Cannop Ponds, Mallards Pike and Soudley Ponds. There are many wildlife reserves where birdwatching can yield great results even for the novice too.
We also recommend the two RSPB reserves RSPB Nagshead and RSPB Highnam Woods. Both have hides, ponds and plenty of walks. Nagshead has a visitor centre and warden station. The RSPB website features some of the best birds to see at each location and on site you will often find boards with warden notes featuring birds and wildlife sighted recently.
There is a raised viewing platform at New Fancy which is ideal for birdwatching and affords a 360 degree panoramic view over the top of the surrounding forest. Goshawks, buzzards and many other birds can be seen from here.
There is also the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Newent to the north of the Forest which has a variety of owls, eagles, hawks, falcons and vultures with daily flying demonstrations.
Written by naturalist and wildlife expert Ed Drewitt who offers dawn chorus walks and wildlife safaris across the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.