Short winter days may restrict your birdwatching time, but if you’re canny you can just wait for the birds to come to you. When the breeding season is over, territorial barriers break down and many birds roost with others of their species.
Safety in numbers is one clear advantage, but for birds such as rooks and ravens, there’s also the opportunity to share information about good feeding areas and to size up potential mates. Species often have favoured roosting habitats: for example, estuarine waders roost on banks at high tide, while pied wagtails prefer small trees in warm, well-lit areas. Greenfinches are fond of thick conifers -1 once saw more than 300 of them pack into a Leyland cypress hedge.
For sheer drama, few roosts can compare with thousands of massed starlings, morphing into fantastic shapes over their chosen reedbeds. By contrast, hunker down at a saltmarsh or inland wetland such as Cambridgeshire’s Wicken Fen one evening and wait for wraithlike hen harriers to float in – winter birding at its best.
Black-headed gull – Gathers in tens of thousands at reservoirs and gravel pits, often with other gull species. Take a telescope.
Knot – Forms dense packs on shoreline at high tide, often with smaller dunlin, appearing as a solid grey block.
Lapwing – Roosts mainly on the ground, but in northern England has also taken to roosting on flat warehouse roofs.
Hen harrier – Roosts in rushy places on moors, at a few inland marshes and on saltmarsh, especially in eastern England.
Rook – Roosts, sometimes in thousands, at traditional sites in copses. Pre-roost flocks often gather in nearby fields.
Raven – Forms noisy roosts, often on crags or in dense conifers. Pre-roost displays involve croaking and soaring.
Long-eared owl – Roosts at traditional sites, often low down in thick scrub or small trees. Take great care to avoid disturbance.
Greenfinch – Roosts up to several hundred strong gather in trees, often conifers such as Lawson’s and Leyland cypresses.
Linnet – Roosts in prickly shrubs such as gorse or bramble; also in conifers. Pre-roost gatherings twitter as darkness falls.
Pied wagtail – Roosts in warm, well-lit places, often on trees or buildings in towns. Listen for birds calling overhead en route.
Starling – Gathers in huge roosts at reedbeds, and on piers and buildings. Aerial pre-roost displays are spectacular.