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Dark-bellied brent geese in flight at sunset

In early spring our overwintering migratory birds are preparing for epic journeys. They’ll soon on their way to their summer breeding grounds, while in the autumn they come back to the nutrient rich mudflats of the Solent.

So where do Solent’s winter birds go in the summer? And how do they know how to get there?

black-tailed godwits in flight

Black-tailed godwit

Two dark-bellied brent geese in flight

Brent geese



Coastal birds from the UK tend to head northwards in the spring so they can take advantage of longer daylight hours, fewer predators, a good food supply, and plenty of places to nest.

Some, like dark-bellied brent geese, grey plover and sanderling head for Arctic Siberia, while others, like oystercatcher and shelduck, stay a little nearer home. Solent’s black-tailed godwit return to Iceland, turnstone head off for far flung northern Greenland, Canada and Lapland, while curlew set off to Scandinavia and Russia and Solent wigeon might spend the summer in Iceland, Russia, Scandinavia or the Ukraine.

At this time of year, it’s particularly important for coastal birds to have the space they need to feed and rest without being disturbed, so they’re in tiptop condition for their perilous journeys.


Breeding grounds for Solent’s winter visitors

Bar-tailed godwit Scandinavia
Black-tailed godwit Iceland
Curlew Scandinavia, Russia
Dark-bellied brent goose Siberia
Dunlin Scandinavia, Russia
Grey Plover Arctic Siberia
Little Egret UK
Oystercatcher UK coastal areas, Norway, Netherlands
Pintail Not enough data to be certain
Redshank UK, Iceland
Red-breasted merganser Not enough data to be certain
Ringed plover UK coastlines, Scandinavia, the low countries
Sanderling Siberian Arctic and Greenland
Shelduck UK, Europe
Shoveler UK, Northern Europe, Russia
Teal Baltics, West Russia
Turnstone Northern Greenland, Canada, Lapland
Wigeon Iceland, Russia, Scandinavia, Ukraine


Migration routes for some of our coastal birds

Black-tailed godwit migration routes from the Solent
Dark-bellied brent geese migration routes from the Solent
Wigeon migration routes from the Solent

Bird navigation

The secrets of their supreme navigation skills aren’t yet fully understood, probably because they use lots of different senses to plot their routes which vary from species to species.

It’s thought they use a combination of triggers including the earth’s magnetic field, their sense of smell, the position and path of the sun and stars, or simply recognising natural landmarks.


To find out more about our birds’ twice yearly migration and how and why it’s triggered, read our blog about the magic of migration.