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Meet the birds

The Essex coastline is extremely diverse and features a variety of habitats and environments, which include mud-flat, saltmarsh, grazing marsh, sand and shingle spits, shell banks and offshore islands, disused gravel pits and reedbeds. These habitats provide feeding and roosting opportunities for the large numbers of waterbirds that use the Essex coast.

Most of the Essex coast is designated under the UK Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (the ‘Habitats Regulations’) as part of the European Natura 2000 network, a series of sites across Europe. For the purposes of this Strategy this means Special Protection Areas (SPA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Ramsar sites. A key purpose of these designations is to protect internationally important numbers of breeding and non-breeding birds and their coastal habitats.

Information in this section on the bird species is taken from the RSPB and Wildlife Trust websites.


Bird of the month

Look out for oystercatchers this month


The avocet is a distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a long up-curved beak. Its return in the 1940s and subsequent increase in numbers represents one of the most successful conservation and protection projects.

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Bar-tailed godwit

The bar-tailed godwit is a long-billed, long-legged wading bird which visits UK shores for the winter. Most usually seen in its grey-brown winter plumage, birds in spring may show their full rich chestnut breeding plumage.

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Black-tailed godwit

A tall, elegant wader, the black-tailed godwit breeds in wet grasslands, and winters on coastal estuaries and marshes, and at inland shallow waters.

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Common tern

The common tern is a medium-sized tern and the one you are most likely to see inland, as well as at the coast.

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Dark-bellied brent goose

The brent goose is a small, dark goose – of similar size to a mallard. They spend the winter feeding on eel grass and grazing in coastal fields.

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The commonest small wader found along the coast. The dunlin has a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage.

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Golden plover

The golden plover is a medium-sized plover with a distinctive gold and black summer plumage. In winter the black is replaced by buff and white.

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Grey plover

In summer it has silver and black spotted upperparts, a black face, neck and belly. In winter, it loses the black feathers and takes on a browny-grey look.

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Hen harrier

The hen harrier has been severely persecuted for taking game species and has suffered massive declines in numbers as a result.

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The knot is a medium-sized, short, stocky sandpiper that migrates to the UK in large numbers during winter from its Arctic breeding grounds.

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Little tern

The little tern is the UK’s smallest tern. It is short-tailed and has a fast flight. Its bill is a distinctive yellow with a black tip.

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The oystercatcher is a large, stocky, black and white wading bird. It has a long, orange-red bill and reddish-pink legs. In flight it shows a wide, white wing-stripe, a black tail and a white rump that extends as a ‘V’ between the wings.

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The pintail is slightly bigger than a mallard, these long-necked and small-headed ducks fly with a curved back pointed wings and a tapering tail, making this the best way to distinguish them from other ducks in the UK.

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As its name suggests, redshanks’ most distinctive features are their bright orange-red legs. They have a medium-length bill with an orange base to match, brown speckled back and wings and paler belly.

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Ringed plover

The ringed plover is a small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird. It is brownish grey above and whitish below. It has an orange bill, tipped with black, orange legs and a black-and-white pattern on its head and breast.

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The ruff is a medium-sized wading bird. It has a long neck, a small head, a rather short slightly droopy bill and medium-long orange or reddish leg. In flight it shows a faint wing-stripe and oval white patches either side of the tail.

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Sandwich tern

The sandwich tern is a relatively large tern, which breeds in colonies on sand and shingle beaches, islands and spits. Sandwich terns feed on fish, such as sandeels, sprats and whiting, which they catch by diving into the water.

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The shelduck is one of our largest ducks, growing as big as some geese. It is mainly coastal, feeding on small invertebrates that it finds in the mud of estuaries and sandy beaches

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Teals are small dabbling ducks. Males have chestnut coloured heads with broad green eye-patches, a spotted chest, grey flanks and a black edged yellow tail. Females are mottled brown.

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Smaller than a redshank, turnstone’s have a mottled appearance with brown or chestnut and black upperparts and brown and white or black and white head pattern, whilst their underparts are white and legs orange.

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