Top 10 Rarest Birds in the UK

Birdwatching has it all when it comes to picking up a hobby to partake in during your free time. It’s relaxing, it has excitement, and it lets you take the time to really take in the beauty of nature. There are so many wonderful birds out there to observe, but some are a lot less common than others, and you may find yourself having to go the extra mile to get a sighting of a bird that you’re interested in. Every animal has their own preferred environment, so it’s up to you to figure out where you should be chasing them up to get a glimpse of them. Let’s get into the top 10 rarest birds in the UK.

10. Willow Tit

A willow tit perched on a branch

When it comes to birds, you’re not going to find many that are cuter than a Willow Tit. They’re small, white, black, and brown middle - making them quite distinguishable! You’re going to have a bigger challenge if you’re wanting to see one for yourself, but it’s not something you should rule out!

Finding one for yourself means understanding how they choose their nesting places, and you’ll have no trouble. They can be found in their nesting holes or dens that they dig out of dying trees. After they’ve finished digging their den out, it will often be lined with feathers and fur to keep it warm and prevent them from being seen by predators.

Willow Tits will mainly found in England and Wales, however, occasionally you may see them in South Scotland. There is an estimated 3,400 pairs worldwide, but around 700 in the UK.

9. Hen Harrier

A hen harrier stood on the ground

If you’re looking for something magnificent, the Hen Harrier is one of the most beautiful birds of prey that you’re going to spot. They have a very thick neck, often thicker than their heads. Their feathers are a mix of light browns and white, whilst their wings can be much darker. They have a larger, hooked beak which is perfect for catching prey such as small birds and mammals. They’re one of the most iconic birds you’ll find in northern England, but they’re unique from any other bird. Sadly, they’ve become one of the most endangered birds in the UK with an estimated 650 pairs, meaning it might be difficult to get a look at one.

If you’re wanting to see one for yourself, then you’ll need to make your way up to the Northern parts of the UK, including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

8. Nightingale

a nightingale perched on a wooden stump

One of the rarest birds that many are often trying to see for themselves is a Nightingale. It’s not too rare that you would have a lot of trouble seeing one, but their numbers are at roughly 6,000 pairs worldwide, and just 500 in the UK. However, they are not easily distinguishable, with feathers being brown and white, they have a similar appearance to many other birds in the UK. They’re not going to be all over the place, but they’re worth your while if you finally manage to get a look at them.

If you’re living in the South-East of England, then you have a chance to see one within your own garden! Of course, it will take patience, and you’ll want to make sure your garden is a safe place for them if you want to attract them. It can help to have a bird box camera to help make sure you capture them while they’re there.

7. Capercaillie

a capercaillie stood on the ground in a forest

If you’re looking for rare, then the Capercaillie should interest you. It’s a large, very interesting-looking bird, and there’s no mistaking it for another breed. What makes the Capercaillie so interesting is how much they can differ within the breed; as the males can be up to double the size of the females. The males are  a much darker looking bird with black and brown feathers with a white and yellow beak. However, the females are a much lighter brown colour, with a darker coloured beak. Again, sadly this bird is very endangered and most of these birds can be found within sanctuaries to ensure that they don’t go extinct. There is fewer than 500 pairs left in the UK.

To see one, you'll need to venture to the native pinewoods of Scotland.

6. Chough

A chough perched on rocks on the ground

What’s so special about the Chough is the stunning colours that you’ll see it adorning. Its red legs and beak contrasting with the black feathers make it a sight-to-see, but you’ll likely have to put some time into finding one as they’re quite rare. There are only around 400 pairs of these birds around the UK, and you would have to make your way to places with rock coasts like the Isle of Man, South Wales and Cornwall if you want to get a look for yourself.

5. Ruff

A Ruff stood in grassy wetland

The Ruff is a very unique bird, and it’s something unlike any bird you would have seen before. Their beautiful white, brown and black feather pattern and arrangement make for a spectacular sight, and you won’t want to skip out on a sighting if you had the chance. The males of this species are easier to spot than the females, due to the brighter colours in their fury. The Ruff got its name from the collar worn by royalty during 17th century, which closely resembles the look of the bird.

You’re likely not going to see one of these in your garden, as there are only around 400 pairs. These unusual birds are passage migrants, most likely to be seen in the south and east coasts of the UK.

4. White-Tailed Eagle

A white tailed eagle flying in the air with a blue sky background

Eagles are a bird that is very difficult to get tired of. They’re the embodiment of elegance, and it would be a shame to pass up an opportunity to see one for yourself. Their feathers are predominantly black, brown and grey, whist the tail is obviously white. It has a large, yellow, hooked beak, perfect for catching prey such as fish and rodents. It’s unlikely that you would see one of these in your garden, but their wingspan can be up to 2.5m, making them huge in comparison to most birds. The only place you'll have a chance of spotting one of these huge birds is in West-Scotland, but with an estimated 150 pairs remaining, even there it will be unlikely.

3. Red-Backed Shrike

a red backed shrike perched on a thin branch

Now we’re coming down to some of the rarest birds you can get around the UK, this one being the Red-Backed Shrike. The males have a light brown coloured back with a cream coloured underbelly, combined with a grey head and a black strip across the eyes, making them fairly distinguishable. With there only being around 100 pairs of these birds remaining in the United Kingdom, you’re going to have a hard time seeing one of these for yourself. That’s not to say those are all that’s left, as they can be seen in other places around the world - but as far as what you’ll see in the UK; that’s all we’ve got! Much like the Ruff, if you're going to see one, it would be in the south and east coasts of the UK.

2. Honey Buzzard

A honey buzzard perched on a branch

The Honey Buzzard is one of the rarest birds that you’re going to spot in the UK, with just 41 pairs remaining, it would certainly give you something to brag about. This bird of prey feeds mostly off of wasps, making them a great companion to have in the area should you be lucky enough to encounter for yourself. They can grow quite large in size, with a wingspan of up to 5ft (1.52m). For both sexes, their feathers are primarily dark brown on top and white underneath. They have a black, hooked beak and bright yellow eyes.

They are non-native to the UK, but during the summer time you may find them around the southern coastlines of the UK.

1. Red-Necked Grebe

a red necked grebe swimming on the surface of water

The top pick for this list, the Red-necked grebe is an aquatic bird that you’ll only find at certain points of the year due to them being migratory. They can be found in shallow waters like lakes and ponds, but due to their rarity - it’s not going to be easy to catch one out in the wild. There are only 20-30 pairs remaining in the UK. You can distinguish them by their red neck, just as the name describes them. They have a long, flat, yellow beak and an obvious grey patch on their lower head. They often nest on top of floating objects and vegetation within the body of water that they have chosen as their breeding site.

Unlike the previous birds, the Red Necked Grebes are winter migrants, most commonly seen off the East coasts of the UK.

Common UK Birds

All 10 on this list are without a doubt going to be difficult to spot, so you may be more interested in learning about the UK's more common birds. See the below blogs for more information about some of the most common birds in the UK:

UK Bird Populations

As of June 2021, there are over 600 species of bird in the UK, with more than 160 million birds in total! Despite overall bird populations having decreased by at least 15% since the 1970s, it's still a huge number of birds, making our top 10 rarest birds seem even rarer.

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