Resident birds: which birds do not migrate?


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

What exactly is a resident bird? Which native species are considered resident birds in the UK, and what do they eat in winter? Find out here!

Red-breasted robin in snowy white tree
The robin is a native resident bird [Photo: Erni/]

Not all bird species flock to warm, southerly regions in winter. Even in the coldest years, you can still spot many native bird species in your garden and in the country. However, the diversity of wild birds does seem to decline in winter, and many species are not seen or heard again until spring.

Here is what you need to know about the bird species native to the UK that brave the cold winter, and what you can do to support them in your garden.

What are resident birds?

The term “resident birds” is used to describe species of birds that spend the whole year in their breeding grounds. Unlike migratory birds, they do not fly south, but tend to remain near their summer breeding grounds, searching for food in the barren landscape. These bird species tend to feed, at least partially, on plant food. Insectivores, meanwhile, are normally migratory, as there is an insufficient supply of food for them in winter.

Resident bird feeding on seeds and berries in snow
Resident birds mostly rely on plant food [Photo: Bachkova Natalia/]

List of native resident bird species

Calling a bird “resident” or “migratory” can be a matter of perspective. Bird species deemed resident in central and southern Europe might be considered migratory in northern Europe, because they move north in the colder, winter months. Similarly, some birds in the UK are winter visitors, migrating here from more northerly regions in winter. As such, it can be difficult to distinguish a migratory bird from a resident bird.

Here are just some of the resident birds in the UK:

Blue tit and spotted woodpecker feeding from snowy bird feeder
Blue tit and great spotted woodpecker can be spotted here in gardens in winter [Photo: TTphoto/]

What do resident birds eat in winter?

As mentioned above, resident birds tend not to rely on insects for food, and can eat nuts, berries and seeds. So it will come as no surprise that, in winter, you can often spot resident birds foraging in trees, fields or short vegetation.

Fact: The kestrel is one resident bird that cannot be enticed with bird food in winter. It feeds exclusively on animal food, and finds its prey, mainly field mice, even under the cover of snow.

Kestrel hunting in winter
The kestrel finds its prey even under the snow [Photo: Stanislav Duben/]

Not all birds in the UK over winter are resident. Some have left their breeding grounds and flown short distances to warmer regions without leaving their latitude. These species are called migratory birds.

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