What North American Bird Species Can Sometimes Be Observed In the UK?

When the weather gets cold and dreary, a lot of us in Floofmania wish that we could just pack our bags and spend the rest of the winter on a tropical island. Birds are amazing in a way that they know what to do when the weather starts getting chilly and the food sources begin to get scarce. 

While some animals begin stuffing themselves in preparation for hibernation or deal with it through physical adaptations that help them survive, birds fly to warmer climes, usually southwards where the environment is more forgiving.

Did you know that there are species of birds that get swept up by the wind or inclement weather from North America to the United Kingdom? Read on to find out more.

Why Do Birds Migrate from North America to the UK?

No matter what direction they take, birds migrate to places where they can find food more easily, and be in a better environment for breeding and raising their young. In fact, birds have been migrating to and from the United Kingdom for thousands of years.

The environmental conditions of the United Kingdom are generally favorable to its avian visitors due to its milder winters compared to North America and other countries in the same latitude. There is also enough food and space to raise their young.

For example, in 2021 a Northern Mockingbird found its way to Exmouth, a port town located in the southern UK, hanging around palm flowers and holly. It appeared to stay there for a few days, perhaps finding it a safe place to roost before moving on.

In Which Months Or Seasons Do We See North American Birds in the UK?

The number of North American visitors, also called nearctic birds, is immense. Nearctic birds usually arrive from the beginning of fall until October as well as during spring.

Most of them are classified as vagrants because the United Kingdom is not in their usual geographic range due to the distance across the wide Atlantic Sea. There is no competition for food resources or space because when one season’s visitors arrive, they switch places with the ones who went on their way.

A species of dabbling duck, the American Wigeon is a rare but regular vagrant to the British Isles. They begin migrating in the fall, before their food source disappears into the snow.

What Factors Lead to North American Birds Traveling to the UK?

The United Kingdom’s geographical location amidst the archipelago known as the British Isles makes it a viable destination for migratory birds, even vagrants from North America. Birds traveling the long stretch of the Atlantic appear to find the British coastline appealing due to its position straddling east and west.

The weather patterns also play an important part in bringing these vagrants to British shores. Birds glide along the tailwinds that blow east of the Atlantic and it helps them conserve their energy.

For instance, American Redstarts, a type of small warbler, was spotted in the Western Isles, UK in 2017.

They usually winter in the Caribbean but multiple hurricanes headed there may have thwarted these little birds to reach their usual destination and inadvertently sent them on a jet stream headed to the United Kingdom instead.

Which Species Migrate and Where Do They Go?

The list of nearctic birds migrating to the UK is long despite most of them being vagrants. The sampling below gives an idea of the difference between their usual wintering destination and the areas in the UK where they land on occasion during the migratory period.

Bird SpeciesUsual Wintering LocationAlso Sometimes Seen In
Black-throated WarblerMexicoGreenland and Britain
Audubon’s WarblerSouth-western US and Central AmericaIceland and the British Isles
Red-Eyed VireoBrazilBritain and Ireland
Wood ThrushMexico and PanamaEngland
Grey-cheeked ThrushAmazon BasinBritain
Baltimore OrioleCentral AmericaBritain
White-throated SparrowSouth and Eastern USBritish Isles
Belted KingfisherSouthern US and MexicoIreland and the UK
Yellow-bellied SapsuckerEastern US, West IndiesIreland and Great Britain
Brown ThrasherSouthern USGreat Britain

How Do Birds Migrate the Distance Between North America and the UK?

Migratory Nearctic birds are able to fly the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean towards the UK by taking advantage of the wind uplift. Without it, it will tire the birds faster and they may not make it to the shore.

Land birds benefit most because unlike sea birds, they need a place to rest, and the sooner they reach land, the better. There are no pit stops on the ocean or a source of fresh water so riding the wind is the best option for these vagrants.

Has Climate Change Affected Migratory Patterns Between North America and the UK?

Climate change indeed alters the sensitive balance of the ecosystem that affects migratory birds. The worsening climate conditions and human activity are slowly but steadily changing the migration patterns of birds. 

Some areas are no longer safe for feeding and raising their young due to the decreasing food source and changes in the length of the season. With this decrease comes an increase in competition for resources. 

Extreme weather conditions also play a huge role. Unusually heavy rains or intense heat waves impact the survival of baby birds, such as those of the Hooded Warbler, which also faces the loss of habitat due to unrelenting urbanization.

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