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Brent geese and oystercatchers on the Solent shoreline

We’re lucky to have a wealth of wildlife along the Solent. Here’s some of the birds you’re most likely to see if you’re out on the coast, with some tips for easiest identification.

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Dark-bellied brent geese

These birds were the most frequently spotted in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch. They are sometimes confused with Canada geese (see below) as they both have black and white plumage.

Their relative size is the best ID guide, as brent geese are only about half the length of Canada geese. Plus the Canadian’s white neck marking is much more of a bold chinstrap, compared with the delicate lacy band of the brent.

Dark-bellied brent geese group at Yarmouth

Unlike Canada geese, you’ll only see dark-bellied brent geese on the Solent during the colder months. Ten percent of the global population migrate here every winter from Arctic Siberia – an incredible journey.

Find out more about dark-bellied brent geese.

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Black-headed gull

These gulls were the second most frequently seen in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch.

In the winter, they don’t live up to their name at all, as they sport a white head with a dark ear spot. Their darker head only appears in the warmer months, when they actually have a dark chocolate brown hood, rather than black as their name might suggest.

Find out more about black-headed gulls.

Black headed gull summer plumage
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Canada geese

This species were number 3 in our Great Coastal Birdwatch charts last year – did you know, they were first introduced to the UK by Charles II?

They are large geese with a long, black neck and a distinctive white “chinstrap”. You will often hear them in a honking flock as they fly overhead in a “V” formation.

Find out more about Canada geese.

Canada goose
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Next on our ‘most frequently seen’ list is the oystercatcher which took the fourth spot in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch.

With their striking black and white plumage, reddish-pink legs and their remarkable carrot-like bills, oystercatcher are hard to miss, so are a great species to look out for if you’re a beginner birdwatcher.

Some migrate here for the winter from other UK coastal areas, or from Norway and from the Netherlands. You’ll also see many that stay here year round.


Find out more about oystercatchers.

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Dunlins were 5th in our Great Coastal Birdwatch charts last year – despite being red-listed for conservation concern due to a worrying decline in their numbers.

They head here every winter from Scandinavia and Russia and are one of the smallest waders around the Solent so they can be very hard to spot – make sure to keep an eye out for them as they need to feed and rest without being disturbed.


If you’re fairly new to bird spotting you might confuse dunlin with sanderling. Sanderling are a more snowy white and usually have a shorter bill. But the best ID guide is their feeding behaviour: dunlin tend to feed on the mudflats whereas sanderling feed at the water’s edge, scampering back and forth like clockwork toys.

Find out more about dunlins.

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Black-tailed godwits

This godwit, which comes to the Solent every year from Iceland, was the 6th most frequently spotted in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch.

Thousands of these elegant wading birds spend the winter on the Solent coast, making it an area of both international and national importance for this red listed species.

Find out more about black-tailed godwits.

Black-tailed godwit
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These birds were the 7th most often seen species in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch.

Shank is an old term for legs so these birds, with their bright red-orange limbs are aptly named.

They’re known as the ‘warden of the marshes’ because they’re often the first and one of the loudest birds to warn other species when there is a predator about. They have a high-pitched short whistling call which they repeat over and over again.


Find out more about redshanks.

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This species was 8th in our ‘most frequently spotted’ chart in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch.

With their emerald and purple iridescent feathers and stylish crest, lapwings stand out among their fellow waders. Despite its red list status, it’s still – just – the most numerous breeding wader in the UK, with estimates at almost 100k pairs, just ahead of the oystercatcher.

Find out more about lapwings.

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Little egrets

Although little egrets didn’t feature in last year’s Great Coastal Birdwatch top ten, they’re a great species to look out for as they’re one of the easiest birds to identify on the Solent coast without binoculars due to their dazzling white plumage.⠀

Find out more about little egrets.

Little egret
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Last but by no means least is the magnificent cormorant.

It’s a bird you’ll almost always spot if you look long enough along the Solent coastline. With its gothic black silhouette, it has a primitive, almost reptile-like appearance with its wings described as ‘like a broken umbrella hung out to dry’.⠀

Find out more about cormorants.

Cormorant with wings outstretched

Find out more about all our coastal birds in our Meet the Birds pages.