Thoughts of Autumn: The Birds Returning to our Coasts

© IanCameron-Reid 

The season is turning yet again, bringing with it the return of some familiar faces. As the weather cools, we welcome flocks of winter visitors back to our coastlines.

Autumn is finally upon us, bringing with it cool rain showers and slowly reddening leaves. Out on our coasts another iconic sign of the season is appearing: the arrival of over 125,000 ducks, geese, and wading birds that will call the Solent home for the winter.

The rich feeding grounds of our shorelines are irresistible to these feathered visitors, who spend their time here feasting on marine plants, crustaceans, and invertebrates. Some will settle in for several months, while others will stock up before moving on to the warmer climates of southern Europe and Africa.

The brent goose is both the smallest and the most coastal of our visiting geese. Head to sandy estuaries and saltmarshes at low tide to see them snacking on eelgrass and seaweed - they can have either dark or pale bellies, but are easily spotted by the white marks on their necks.

A small racket on the shoreline can clue you in to the presence of turnstones, which live up to their names by flipping pebbles in search of snacks. As they rummage for insects, crustaceans, and shellfish to eat, they can even turn over stones as large as their bodies!

Move towards the water and you might see the flash of sprinting sanderlings. These nimble birds rush back and forth at the edge of waves, snatching up prey as they go. Their distinctive run, caused by the lack of a hind toe, is often compared to the movement of a clockwork toy.

Out on the waves, flocks of ducks are a common sight. We get many duck species on our shores, which can be divided into dabblers and divers: the first tend to feed from the surface, while the second are more likely to venture beneath it. Look for the distinctive broad bill of the dabbling shoveler, which it uses to sieve tasty morsels from the water.

Shoveler male

Shoveler male © Gary Cox

How you can help

Watching these brilliant birds in action is always a treat, but it's important to give them the space they need to thrive - to brave cold weather and long migrations they need plenty of food and rest. Our friends at Bird Aware Solent have lots of easy tips on how to enjoy watching coastal birds responsibly.

You can also learn more about the important habitats that support our coastal birds, and the wildlife that forms part of these vibrant ecosystems, through our marine project Secrets of the Solent.