Dorset’s seasonal bird migrations enable us to enjoy many rare and unusual species, which call our patch ‘home’ for at least part of the year. This includes birds that come to overwinter. at RSPB Arne, Poole Harbour, and RSPB Weymouth Wetlands. These are great locations to spot migrant species that might be hard to see in other parts of the country.

Spoonbills are probably one of our most unusual looking visitors. I really look forward to them arriving at RSPB Arne and Poole Harbour each autumn, travelling here from the Netherlands and Western Europe. Dorset has one of the largest over-wintering flock of spoonbills in the country, with numbers peaking from late September to mid-October, although a couple of birds sometimes stay throughout the summer. Record numbers of around 84 birds were recorded last October in Poole Harbour.

From a distance these large, white, heron-sized wading birds can be mistaken for little egrets. However, when you see them head-on you immediately understand where their name comes from. The adults have the most impressive long, flat, spoon-shaped bill. In summer, mature birds have a yellow tip to their bill and develop yellow chest plumage together with an impressive shaggy white crest at the back of their head. They fly with their neck and long black legs extended forming a distinctive shape in the sky.

Great British Life: Spoonbill at RSPB Lodmoor, showing its distinctive bill. (Photo: Neil Price)Spoonbill at RSPB Lodmoor, showing its distinctive bill. (Photo: Neil Price)

Spoonbills are a very rare breeding bird in the UK and of European conservation concern. In recent years, a breeding colony of spoonbills has established in Norfolk, the first UK breeding colony in over 300 years. In the Middle Ages, spoonbills bred happily in southern England and Wales. However, historical documentation reveals that they regularly appeared on medieval menus. By the 1600s their numbers were falling, due to being hunted for food and the drainage of their wetland homes across Europe for agricultural purposes.

The RSPB and other conservation organisations are working hard to steadily improve wetland landscapes to benefit wildlife that relies upon this special habitat including spoonbill and bittern. Here in Dorset, we hope that our continued work to give spoonbills a home will encourage them to breed in Poole Harbour in the future.

These distinctive birds are generally seen feeding in flocks at a few different locations at RSPB Arne. Watch them gently sweep their spoon-shaped bill from side to side in the shallow intertidal waters searching for tasty morsels. They can detect the tiniest of movements with their bill, snapping up crustaceans, small fish, and other tiny marine creatures. As spoonbills tend to feed at low tide, they can spend vast amounts of the daytime sleeping if low tide falls at night. So, to ensure you see spoonbills in action rather than snoozing, check the tide times before your visit to RSPB Arne.

Our Hire a Guide experiences are a great way to see spoonbills and the other wading birds wintering here. To book your slot, visit: A series of Wader Wednesday Walks are also coming soon to RSPB Arne. Check our events page for dates:

Look out for the beardies! 

Another quirky-looking bird to look for in Dorset this autumn and winter are bearded tits, also known as bearded reedlings. They are best seen at RSPB Radipole Lake nature reserve in the heart of Weymouth. With their long-tails and yellow eyes, these small, reed-dwellers are striking to look at. They are noisy sociable birds, and their excitable ‘ping-ping’ call reminds me of early 1980s Space Invader computer games!

Although commonly known as bearded tits, they do not have beards and are not members of the tit family! The male ‘beardies’ sport a fine looking, black handlebar moustache, they have a grey head and pale, orangey-coloured plumage. The females have a pale brown head, and wings with streaks of ruddy brown, black, and cream.

These charismatic little birds live here all year round, they tend to be easiest to spot during autumn as the reedbed loses its lush green leaves. Their acrobatic antics in the reedbeds are wonderful to watch, as they run up and down the tall, bare reed stems, swinging over the water and picking off the reed seeds. During the summer they feed on insects, but when these decline in autumn and winter, they switch to reed seeds. Bearded tits need to ‘eat’ grit during these seed filled months, which they use to grind the tough outer cases of the reed seeds to make them digestible. At RSPB Radipole you might see these birds feeding on the fine gravel paths, or on one of the grit trays that we put out for them. The good news is that numbers of these Schedule 1 protected birds are increasing as conservation organisations continue to both restore and create reedbeds, which also benefits other species.

To watch these quirky little acrobats in action, book onto one of our Bearded Tit Guided Walks at RSPB Radipole Lake, here:

Volunteers wanted at RSPB Radipole 

Volunteers are fundamental to our work to create a nature-rich landscape at RSPB Radipole Lake. And without growing our current volunteer team here, the reserve can’t operate as it does now. From one-off activities to weekly contributions, volunteer duties range from looking after the reedbed, on-site repairs, and path installation, to engaging with visitors, including the local community and school visits. So, if you have an hour or two to spare as a volunteer at this Weymouth reserve, please do contact us via email: