There is a type of bird that you might find in the UK in winter that goes by the name of “snowbird”. Originating from Europe, the snowbird gets its name from its tendency to nest in the winter, often in or near snow. Although most prefer a colder climate, they will still breed in mild weather as well as in really cold conditions.

Also known as the “white bird” or “bobtail” due to its long, thin tail that sometimes flutters when it flies, the snowbird’s unique looks have made it a popular subject for bird photographers. If you too are a fan of this fascinating creature, then this post is for you.

The Best Way To Find Snowbirds In Your Area

If you want to see birds in all their glory, the best thing to do is go to a wildlife reserve or national park. Established in 1930, the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales is one of the largest in Europe and attracts a great deal of wildlife from around the world. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the reserve to spot its famous red kites, eagles, and ospreys.

The best time for a visit is between October and March, when the temperatures are cold but the scenery is stunning. Visiting the reserve between May and September isn’t advisable because most of the animal life has left for the winter and the weather isn’t always guaranteed to be good.

Another excellent place to find winter birds is South Africa. Although mainly a summer destination for tourists, the winter months are a great opportunity to spot some spectacular creatures. Home to a diverse range of plants and animals, including lions, cheetahs, and a huge variety of birds, South Africa is a wonderful place to see winter in all its glory. This is also one of the world’s most popular wildlife travel destinations, and with good reason.

Types Of Snowbirds

The word “snowbird” actually refers to several different species of bird, all of which are under the family Sarandinidae. The American ornithologist James Peterson originally classified the snowy birds into three subfamilies: Cardinalis, Corvinae, and Phoenicopterinae. In the early 1900s, ornithologists further split the Corvinae subfamily into two genera: Corvus and Cotyle. Today, these genera are known as Corvus and Carduelis, respectively. Although there is no universally accepted system of classification, the American Ornithological Society recognizes all the common names for the different species of snowbirds and their hybrids, as shown in the table below. 

  • Cardinalis – Cardinal, Santali, Sundoric
  • Corvinae – Burl, Chill, Graylag, Ringneck, Ruff, Wagtail
  • Phoenicopterinae – Pheasant (domestic), Pheasant (wild), Rainbow (pink), Turkestan (yellow)
  • Corvus – Crow, Hawk, Owl, Raven, Shrike
  • Cotyle – Golden, Peacock, Pheasant (common), Pheasant (Chinese), Shimmering (silver), Snowy (white)
  • Larvatus – Woodcock, Snipe, Teal

Sightings Of Snowbirds In The UK

Although mostly a summer holiday destination for tourists, the UK has certainly seen its fair share of snowy birds in the past. In fact, the country was originally named after the mythical King Arthur, who is said to have united the warring kingdoms of Britain back in the days of yore. One of the most well-known British sightings of a Snowbird was in 1896, when a flock of about 200 birds built a nest in the chimneys of Windsor Castle. This is certainly one of the most photographed bird sightings in history; the sight of a flock of Snowbirds performing their acrobatics for the King and Queen has remained something of an iconic image of the British royal family.

Since then, there have been several other reported sightings of Snowbirds in the UK. In the 1950s, a Snowbird was caught on film in Yorkshire, and in 2004, a pair was spotted in Scotland. In 2015, a large flock of about 100 Snowbirds was seen in the wild in London. Even more recently, in October this year, a bird of an unknown species was spotted in Devon and Cornwall performing “awkward somersaults” in the sky.

Whatever the case, at least one in five of us will grow up with snowbirds in our minds, thanks to the magic of Google. The internet giant’s Doodle, which honors important historical figures, has recognized the important role that these birds have played in shaping modern culture. On January 22nd 2019, Google celebrated the life and work of the pioneering American ornithologist John Burroughs with a special Doodle, which featured a portrait of Burroughs alongside a Snowbird. As well as being a fascinating character in his own right, Burroughs is sometimes credited with introducing many of the western concepts of ecology and conservation to the general public. In the 1800s, he founded and edited the prestigious journal “The Auk”, which was devoted to avian research and featured articles on ornithology, morphology, and systematics. Although he is probably best known for coining the term “biosphere”, Burroughs was actually more concerned with the human impact on the environment than the other way around. He wrote: “The whole of nature is my laboratory, and I want the world to know it.” Let’s hope he isn’t turning in his grave. 

The Importance Of Classification

One of the main reasons why it’s important to properly classify the different species of snowbird is because not all of them are welcome in all parts of the world. If you want to see birds in all their glory, you might want to visit a reserve or natural area where a wide variety of bird species can live in harmony. Sadly, this is often not the case, as not all the creatures in the world are meant to live together. For example, red kites and eagles are often seen as competitors for food, while certain types of snake are considered predators of birds and small mammals.

To ensure that species are not accidentally transported to inappropriate locations, the European Union banned the sale of some bird species’ eggs and chicks within the union. What types of birds are banned from being sold? The black-winged stilt, Asian pied cormorant, black kite, and red-tailed hawk are all on the EU’s protected list. The full list, which includes the white-tailed eagle and other hawks, can be found on the EU’s website. Breeding birds, their offspring, and eggs from all protected species cannot be sold or kept as pets within the union. It is an offense to capture wild birds and wildlife for fun or profit. If you find yourself hunting for pleasure, you will need a hunting license and tag. 

Although it is not always practical to identify the different species of birds immediately, proper scientific classification certainly is. Knowing the differences between a snowbird and a black kite, for example, can help you decide whether or not you want to keep the former or the latter as a pet. 

The Many Roles Of The Snowbird 

When you’re talking about the snowbird, it’s often hard to avoid associating it with Christmas. After all, it gets its name from the white snow that appears in high elevations in the winter. Although most associate the snowbird with winter, it actually breeds in a variety of climates. In fact, it is the most common bird in many temperate regions of the world. The best place for a birder to witness the amazing sight of a Snowbird is in the UK, as the country is rich in birdlife and has an unpredictable winter climate.