Field guide to the most commonly encountered mammals and birds

Here, we provide some basic information regarding commonly observed species (plus some others about which we have had queries).  

Feel free to contact us by email if you have any questions regarding species you have encountered on the site.

For more information about mammals, we recommend the Mammal Society's species hub, here, and MammalNet here. For birds, excellent resources are available from the RSPB (here) and the BTO (here).


Common UK Mammals All UK Mammals Common UK Birds All Species All Deer


Scientific name: Turdus merula

Family: Turdidae

Appearance: Males are black, with yellow beaks and narrow yellow rings around their eyes. Females are a dark brown, with duller beaks and no eye-ring.

Body length: 23.5-29 cm  Weight: 80-125 g

Weight: 80-125 g

Natural history: Blackbirds are commonly seen feeding on the ground, where they turn over leaf litter with their beak in search of invertebrates. Earthworms are an important part of their diet. Like other birds including gulls, blackbirds lure worms to the surface by tapping their feet to mimic the pattering of rain on soil.

In the breeding season, blackbirds are highly territorial. They will often be seen contesting mates and territories through running displays on the ground and aerial chases.

Introduced blackbird populations in Australia and New Zealand have become widespread pests. Not only do they damage fruit crops, but they also spread invasive weeds such as blackberries, which harm native flora and feed other invasive animals.

 (C) Ian Morton (shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

 and (C) Kentish Plumber (shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)


Also known as: Carrion crow

Scientific Name: Corvus corone

Family: Corvidae

Appearance: Carrion crows are black with thick beaks and a slight sheen to their feathers. There are many closely related species, such as the hooded crows found in Scotland, which can be distinguished by patches of grey or white plumage.

Body length: 48-52 cm

Weight: 370-650 g

Natural history: Carrion crows are common throughout most of western Europe, but absent from north-west Scotland and Scandinavia, where the hooded crow replaces them. A subspecies is found in eastern Asia.

Crows are omnivores with a highly varied diet. Though known as scavengers, they are also frequent nest predators, taking the eggs and chicks of many other birds. Nest predation by crows has even driven a European thrush, the fieldfare, to nest beside a bird of prey and potential predator, the merlin, for protection.

Trivia: Crows are highly intelligent. For instance, they drop tough nuts into traffic to break the shells, then wait until red lights to collect the kernels.

 (C) ianpreston (shared under a CC BY 2.0 license)

Eurasian Jay

Scientific name: Garrulus glandarius

Family: Corvidae

Appearance: Unmistakable bird with pinkish, grey-brown plumage with a white throat and rump. It has a broad black moustache-stripe at the side of the throat and the white crown is spotted with black. The wing has a light blue panel dotted with fine black spots, the tail is black and the legs are a pinkish brown. Males and females are the same size and colour.

Size: Length 32 – 35 cm; wingspan 54 – 58 cm

Call: The jay has a loud, hoarse scream ‘kschaach’ which is usually given when the bird is on the move but may also be used to advertise its presence. Can also mimic the calls of other birds including Buzzard and Goshawk.

Natural history: The Jay is a woodland bird and likes to stay under cover so may be difficult to see. It prefers woodland that is rich in acorns which it caches in autumn to use as food through the winter. Where acorns are in short supply it will also feed on beechnuts and hornbeam seeds. In the summer however, it will also include eggs and young birds in its diet. Jays, like other corvids, are highly intelligent and retain memory of their food caches with remarkable accuracy. They also use tools and have been shown to use foresight and planning.

The jay builds an untidy nest of twigs in trees. It is constructed by both birds and is lined with roots, hair and fibres. The female lays 3 – 10 eggs which are pale blue-green or olive coloured with buff-coloured speckles. Incubation is done by the female, but both birds feed the chicks.

 (C) Richard Towell (shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)


(C) hedera.baltica (shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)


Also known as: Western jackdaw, Eurasian jackdaw

Scientific Name: Corvus monedula

Family: Corvidae

Appearance: Jackdaws are the smallest British crow with a more noticeable blue sheen to their feathers and pale eyes.

Body length: 34 cm

Weight: 220 g

Natural history: Like other crows, jackdaws are intelligent. Reputedly, Italian thieves once trained a jackdaw to steal money from cash machines.

Jackdaws mate for life, which often lasts five years. They roost and forage in groups. Jackdaws have been known to steal shiny objects, just like magpies.



 (C) Mark Robinson (shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Also known as: Eurasian magpie, common magpie

Scientific Name: Pica pica 

Family: Corvidae

Appearance: Magpies are black, with white at the shoulders and belly. In sunlight, their black feathers have an iridescent blue and green shimmer. The tail is distinctively long. 

Body length: 44-46 cm

Weight: 200-250 g

Natural history: Magpies are common in most of the UK but largely absent in the highlands and islands of Scotland. Their large, domed twig nests are conspicuous in high branches and thornbushes. Like other crows, magpies are omnivores, eating anything from berries to young birds. When food is abundant, they create stockpiles in holes in the ground across their territories. They are particularly intelligent, and are one of the few animals able to recognise themselves in a mirror.

In the early twentieth century, persecution by gamekeepers cause magpie numbers to plummet, but since then they have recovered well. They are beneficial on farmland because they eat insect and rodent pests.



Scientific name: Phasianus colchicus

Family: Phasianidae

Appearance: The adult male common pheasant of the nominate subspecies, Phasianus colchicus colchicus, is 60–89 cm (24–35 in) in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50 cm (20 in) of the total length. The body plumage is barred bright gold or fiery copper-red and chestnut-brown plumage with iridescent sheen of green and purple; but rump uniform is sometimes blue. The wing coverage is white or cream and black-barred markings are common on the tail. The head is bottle green with a small crest and distinctive red wattle. P. c. colchicus and some other races lack a white neck ring. Behind the face are two ear-tufts, that make the pheasant to alert. The female (hen) and juveniles are much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and measuring 50–63 cm (20–25 in) long including a tail of around 20 cm (7.9 in). Juvenile birds have the appearance of the female with a shorter tail until young males begin to grow characteristic bright feathers on the breast, head and back at about 10 weeks after hatching.

Natural history and trivia: Pheasants are native to Asia, but have been introduced to many other places as a game bird, bred and hunted for sport. They are a mostly ground based species, but roost in trees at night. They eat a wide variety of food, from plant matter to small animals like snakes or lizards.

 (C) Ian (shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Song Thrush

Scientific name: Turdus philomelos

Family: Turdidae

Appearance: The Song Thrush is a small and compact member of the thrush family – smaller than the Mistle Thrush with which it is often confused. Its plumage is warm brown above and yellowish-white to white below with dark speckles resembling arrow heads pointing upwards towards the head. These are often arranged in lines. The legs are pink and the bill is brown.

Size: Length 23 cm; wingspan 34 cm

Call: As its name suggests the Song Thrush is an excellent singer and can be recognised – and distinguished from the Blackbird – by its habit of repeating phrases. It sings loudly with cascades of notes which are varied and sometimes shrill - usually from a prominent perch.

Natural history: Song Thrushes breed in woodland, parks and gardens and their preferred food items are insects, worms, snails and fruit. A Song Thrush nest may often be very well concealed, perhaps in a dense hedge. The female lays a clutch of 4 bright blue eggs with black spots which are incubated for around 14 days and fledge 14 days later. They may well have 2 or 3 broods a year.

Song Thrush numbers declined rapidly from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s probably as a result of changes in farming practices.  

Image by Taco Meeuwsen from Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands - THRUSH TUNE, CC BY 2.0,




Scientific Name: Columba palumbus

Family: Columbidae

Appearance: Woodpigeons are mostly grey, with white collars, pinkish breasts and orange beaks. 

Body length: 38-44.5 cm

Weight: 300-615 g

Natural history: Woodpigeons are found throughout the UK, excluding parts of the Scottish highlands. They have distinctive loud cooing calls and clattering wingbeats. Crops are a large part of their diet, alongside shoots, berries and nuts.

 (C) António Pena (shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)