Jim Wilson's Guide to Garden Birds

If you notice something unusual in the natural world in your garden or on your travels or have a question about wildlife, ask the Mooney Goes Wild experts! We will do our best to get you the answer but remember a picture paints a thousand words so, if it is possible and safe to do so, take a picture and send it to Mooney@rte.ie

There is nothing like watching the antics of colourful garden birds from the comfort of your home on a cold dull winter's day. Not only are they a source of enjoyment for adults and children alike, you will also be helping our now common birds to survive the increasing pressures of habitat loss and periods of severe winter weather when they find it impossible to find enough food to survive.

It is very easy to get started. All you need is a windowsill, yard or garden. Whether you live in the country, in a village or town or even in the city centre, there are usually birds not far away – and they are always hungry!

Learn all about identifying your garden birds, how and what to feed them, see what they look like and lots more - Identifying, Feeding, Hints, Recourses and Gallery.

Click Here to read about the do's and don'ts of feeding birds during the summer months.

The Birds

Robin (Spidéog)


The unmistakable Robin

Probably the most familiar and famous bird to visit your garden in winter. Very tame and rarely more than two seen together. Robins are also very territorial and aggressive towards "intruding" Robins.

Blue Tit (Meantán Gorm)

Blue Tit

BlueTit, as colourful as
any tropical bird!

A small, mainly blue and yellow bird. It has a blue cap with a white halo. Small, narrow beak. Likes peanut feeders.

Coal Tit (Meantán Dubh)

Coal Tit

Coal Tit, note the large white
stripe on the back of the neck

Overall grey-brown above and cream colour below. It has a black cap and unlike and other garden birds it has a thick white stripe down the back of its neck. It has a small, narrow beak. Shyer than the Blue Tit. Also likes peanut feeders.

Great Tit (Meantán Mór)

Great Tit

Great Tit, note the white
cheek patches

Larger than the two species above. Black head with white cheeks. Green-brown above and yellow below with a black line down the middle (more obvious in males than in females). Relatively small, narrow beak. Also likes peanut feeders.

Long-tailed Tit (Meantán Earrfada)

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit, unmistakable

If you get a good look at this little bird it is very easy to identify. As you can see from the picture its tail is as long as its body. It usually visits gardens in flocks of five or more and does not usually stay long. They make a loud short high-pitched call that they repeat frequently so you will often hear them coming before you see them. Other tits have been known to join flocks of Long-tailed Tits as they move from place to place in search of food.

Siskin (Píobaire)


Siskins, female on the left, male
on the right, feeding upside down

These small finches often visit gardens any time from December until March or April. They are yellow-green in colour. As you can clearly see from the picture the male (on the right) is brighter than the female on the left. They nearly always cling to the mesh feeder upside down. Their natural food is mainly the seeds of conifer cones, hence the habit of clinging upside down, to get seeds out of the cones. In years when pine cone seeds are scarce larger numbers of Siskins can be seen in gardens.

Black Cap (Caipín Dubh)

Black Cap

Blackcap, male

I have included this species because while it is not very common. I get many questions about this mystery visitor to the feeding area. This is a large warbler with a long thin beak. It is overall grey brown with a black cap (male) or brown cap (female). It is about the same size as a Robin. It will feed either on the hanging mesh feeders or from the bird table. It can be very aggressive; chasing off any other bird that comes near.

Chaffinch (Rí Rua)



Unlike the Tits this bird had a stout conical beak, characteristic of all finches. The female is brown above with a green-yellow rump and light brown below. Both male and female have white markings on the wings and the outer tail feathers are white (best seen when flying). The male is more colourful with reds, greens, greys and browns. The head of the male in the spring becomes blue-grey with a black forehead. Prefers to feed on the ground or on a bird table but will occasionally use a mesh feeder.

Greenfinch (Glasán Darach)



Same size as a Chaffinch. The males are overall green-yellow with bright yellow markings on the wings and the tail. Most noticeable in flight or when fighting with other birds at the feeding area. The females and young are the same shape and size but are duller and not as much yellow. Will happily feed on a mesh feeder, on the ground or on a bird table.

House Sparrow (Gealbhán Binne)

House Sparrow

House Sparrow, feeding in a flock,
male is centre background,
females to the left and right

Like the finches House Sparrows have stout conical beaks. Sometimes referred to as LBJ's (Little Brown Job's) by Birdwatchers because of their overall appearance, lacking any really striking features. Rarely seen alone. The female is a mixture of light browns and greys the male has chestnut on the wings and head, with a grey forehead and crown, and a small black bib which extends in size as spring approaches. Usually very noisy. They nearly always feed in flocks on the ground or on a bird table but will also use the mesh feeder.

Dunnock (Bréathair an Dreoilín)



Another LBJ (little brown job!) and one of the shyest visitors to a feeding area. Overall brown in colour with dark streaking on the back. The face and breast is usually dark grey and the eyes are brown or red. Can look very dark at a distance. Unlike the House Sparrow its beak is thin like a Blue or Great Tit. It prefers to feed on the ground, not too far from bushes. Will feed at the bird table and usually avoids the peanut feeders.

Starling (Druid)


Starling means "child of the stars,"
it gets its name from the many
white spots on its breast

Black overall with pale spots, pink legs and a black beak. As spring progresses the adults lose most of their spots and the beak becomes pale yellow. Bigger than a Robin and smaller than the Blackbird, it tends to walk or run rather than hop. Its tail is also much shorter than a Blackbird's. Prefers to feed on the ground, rarely alone. Can be very noisy and mimics other birds.All images and text © Jim Wilson 2001.

Rook (Préachán/Rúcach)


Rook (adult), note the large pale
beak and dark eye

One of the largest visitors to the feeding area. Looks all black but in the sun the plumage can have a purple-blue sheen. It's large beak is long a pointed and pale at its base on adults while young birds' beaks are all black with black feathers growing along the top of the beak. The eye is dark and where the feathers meet the legs they give an untidy "shaggy trousers" look. Usually feeds on the ground or from the bird table (if it can fit!). Will sometimes steal mesh feeders and drop them on the ground to open them to get at the peanuts inside. So if you have Rooks about be sure to secure your mesh feeders!

Magpie (Snag Breac.)


Magpie, the saying goes "one for
sorrow, two for joy."

An easy bird to identify. It has a very long tail and black and white plumage. Like the Rook the plumage can have a sheen, usually green or purple-blue. Prefers to feed on the ground. Has been known to steal dog food from dog's dishes. This beautiful bird has an unjustified reputation for being a "baddy" among garden visitors.

Jackdaw (Cag.)


Jackdaw, note the pale eye,
grey head and black cap

Neater and smaller than the Rook. It has a black cap with a silver grey head and neck. Unlike the Rook its eyes are pale. It lacks the "shaggy trousers" look of the Rook. Like the other crows it will eat anything it can reach, preferring to feed on the ground or on the bird table.

Wood Pigeon (Colm Coille.)

Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeon, note grey colour
and white neck patches

A large bird. Overall mid grey in colour with a bright white collar patch either side of its neck, very short red-pink legs and white wing bars that are best seen in flight. There is a hint of pink on the side of the neck and breast and belly. In the garden it usually eats on the ground, rarely on a bird table. It is usually silent while feeding.

Collared Dove (Fearán Baicdhubh)

Collared Dove

Collared Dove, sandy brown
with a black half neck collar

First seen in Ireland in the late 1950's it is now a familiar garden bird. Small and gentler looking than the Wood Pigeon it is pale sandy brown with a black half collar around the back of the base of the neck. It often makes a wheezing buzzing sound when landing. The tail underneath is black with a broad white band at the end, most noticeable in flight. Feeds on the ground or on a bird table, sometime alone but usually in pairs or larger groups.

Blackbird (Lon Dubh)


The male Blackbird with the
orange beak

Another familiar garden bird. The male is all black with an orange beak and eye ring. The female is dark brown and has a dark beak. Female and young birds can sometimes look like very dark thrushes because the breast can look very heavily spotted like a thrush. They like to feed in open short grass areas and in leaf piles under bushes and trees. They also like berries.

Song Thrush (Smólach)
Mistle Thrush (Smólach Mór)

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

These are often mixed up when it comes to identification. The Mistle Thrush is bigger than the Song Thrush and rarely seen in gardens, the smaller Song Thrush is more common in gardens. The picture is of a Mistle Thrush. Note the clear spots on the breast and belly. On Song Thrushes the spots are not as clear and run into each other forming rough lines. Both usually feed in open short grass areas. As well as worms Song Thrushes will eat snails which they smash open on "favourite" stones sometimes called anvils.

Sparrowhawk (Spioróg)



If you ever see a hawk in your garden or yard it will almost certainly be a Sparrowhawk. The Male is about the size of a Jackdaw, while the female may be nearly as big as a Rook. It has a long tail and broad, rounded wings. The eyes and long legs are usually yellow. Females and young birds are dark brown above and pale below with dark barring. The much smaller males are dark blue-grey above and pale below with orange barring.

Grey Heron (Corr Éisc)

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

This is the tallest bird in Ireland and if you have a goldfish pond or wildlife pond in your garden you may be visited by this bird. Mainly grey and white with a long neck and legs, unmistakable. In gardens it usually eats fish and frogs.All images and text © Jim Wilson 2001.



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