Top 5 winter wildlife

Wetlands are a haven for birds in winter. Rich, alluvial mud is packed full of protein, including crustaceans and molluscs, and saltmarsh plants thrive in the shallow waters attracting an array of wildfowl and waders. As well as food, inlets and estuaries provide shelter during the harsher months and are often flanked by other habitats such as reedbeds and wet grassland, making them ideal places to see and hear nature.

1. Flocks of Brent Geese

Brent Geese, Chichester Harbour

About the size of a mallard duck, these small geese arrive from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia and Northern Russia. They are predominantly dark with white under the tail and a small white neck patch. They can be seen in flocks grazing vegetation on land and saltmarsh plants below the surface on water. Their constant low babbling grows into a clamouring as they take to the air.

2. Elegant pintail ducks

Pintail at RSPB Reserve

Male pintails are particularly chic, with a chocolate-coloured head, a white stripe running down its long thin neck, finely barred grey sides and elongated black tail feathers that give it its name. It often feeds by up-ending and using its long neck into deeper water.

3. Call of the curlew

A Curlew at RSPB Nature Reserve

The curlew is one of our largest waders with long legs, mottled brown plumage and a distinctive very long, deeply down-curved bill. At high tide it can be found in flocks roosting or feeding in fields but spreads out across the saltmarsh as the water recedes. Its haunting, evocative call can be heard drifting eerily across mudflats and despite sounding melancholy is one of the most beautiful sounds you can hear during this season.

4. Quartering short-eared owl

Short Eared Owl at RSPB nature reserve

Winter is the best chance to see these migratory owls which are mainly active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk. With large orange eyes, a streaky brown body and long wings, it flies low and buoyant in a shallow ‘V’ over grassland and marsh searching for small mammals.

5. Hunting falcons

A merlin sitting on a mossy rock

The abundance of birds flocking together in winter draws in predators. The air suddenly erupts with birds, as flocks of waders and ducks whirl around in panicked synchronicity, and a peregrine twists and turns with supreme agility and speed, mirroring the arcs and loops of the prey it chases. If you’re very lucky you may get to witness our smallest falcon, the merlin, dashing low over the ground in pursuit of smaller birds like pipits and finches. 

Wonderful Wildlife Experiences

To witness these winter wildlife experiences visit the RSPB Pagham Harbour and Medmerry reserves close to Selsey in West Sussex. If you would like help in encountering these and other wildlife spectacles, join a guided walk. For more information go to