Best Time Of Day For Bird Watching UK

an elderly woman using binoculars while standing in front of a British flag

The United Kingdom has some pretty amazing birds. Now, I don’t live in the UK but it’s definitely on my list of places I want to visit for bird watching and I have been wondering what is the best time of day for bird watching in the UK. I did some research and found some answers.

As a general rule, the best time of day for bird watching in the UK is early morning, just after dawn. Birds are most active after dawn, moving about to find food. This does not however apply to all species, for example, Raptors are active during the middle of the day and Owls are more active at night.

What Time Of The Day Is Best For Bird Watching?

Though the best time of day for bird watching in the UK and pretty much anywhere else in the world is just after dawn, there are other times when birds can be seen.

a Redstart bird perched on a log
A Redstart

Most birds do not eat throughout the night and so are active just after dawn, moving about foraging for food. During the middle of the day, they will rest in a bush or a tree to avoid the midday heat. They are also active again just before dark, though dawn is a better time to see most species.

a flying bird

Other species of birds such as Raptors or Vultures will ride thermals high into the sky. These thermal updrafts do not happen until around mid-morning or closer to midday, so this is the best time to see those species.

As mentioned above, Owls and other similar birds such as Nightjars are active at night, or just after nightfall. This is when they hunt for their food.

Discover what time birds go to sleep in this article here on my blog.

Where Do Birds Go During The Middle Of The Day?

Have you ever wondered where birds go during the middle of the day?

Most bird species hunt or forage for food just after dawn as I have already mentioned. They wait for the sun to rise as it’s then easier for them to see. Just like us, they have to fuel up and get ready for their day.

During the middle of the day, most bird species will find a safe place to perch in a tree or a bush after they have had a sufficient amount to eat in the morning. This is to avoid the heat of the day and also to rest and recharge. This is why fewer birds are seen during the middle of the day.

a Great Tit bird perched in a tree
A Great Tit resting on a branch

What Time Of Day Is Best For Bird Photography?

You may be the type of person that is not satisfied with simply seeing the birds but also want to photograph them. I am the same, I love to photograph birds. But what is the best time of day to get those bird photos?

As a general rule, the best time of day for bird photography is the hour before and after sunrise and the hour before sunset. At these times, also called Golden Hour, birds are quite active and the light is warm and casts long shadows. Photos taken during these times will have rich color and contrast.

a Hawfinch bird standing in water
A Hawfinch in water

Again, this obviously does not apply to all bird species. It also depends upon the look of the photos you are wanting. Photos of birds in flight are best taken from mid-morning to mid-afternoon when there is a lot of light. This allows for faster shutter speeds without having to use wide apertures or high ISO values.

The type of camera and lens you are using will also make a difference here. For example, if you have a 400mm f/2.8 lens, that has the ability to let much more light into the camera than a 500mm f/5.6 lens due to the wider aperture capability. Some cameras have better low light performance as well, making them better for use around dawn or dusk.

Is a 300mm lens good enough for bird photography? Find out in this post.

What Is The Best Time Of Year For Bird Watching UK?

From the research I have done, the best time of year for bird watching in the UK is pretty much any time?! A lot of migratory birds both live in and visit the UK, so there is generally always something to see.

a murmuration of Starling birds
A murmuration of Starlings

The following is a list of some of the birds that can be seen in the UK and the seasons in which they visit. This is by no means a complete list but it gives you some idea of the variety of birdlife in the UK:

Summer (June-August)

a Spotted Flycatcher bird
Spotted Flycatcher
  • Swallows
  • Martins
  • Warblers
  • Flycatchers
  • Wheatears
  • Whinchats
  • Redstarts
  • Nightingales
  • Yellow Wagtails
  • Tree Pipits
  • Cuckoos
  • Swifts
  • Nightjars
  • Turtle Doves
  • Hobbies
  • Ospreys
  • Terns
  • Manx Shearwaters

Autumn (September-November)

a European Robin bird
European Robin
  • European Robin
  • Fieldfare
  • Redwing
  • Marsh Tit
  • Pink-footed Goose
  • Brambling
  • Dunnock
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  • Long-Tailed Tit
  • Common House Martin
  • Water Pipit
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Common Whitethroat
  • and more…..

Winter (December-February)

a Whooper Swan swimming
Whooper Swan
  • Fieldfares
  • Redwings
  • Bramblings
  • Bewick’s Swans
  • Whooper Swans
  • Scoters
  • Great Northern Divers
  • Red-necked Grebes
  • Many Ducks, Geese, and wading birds also

Spring (March-May)

a Willow Warbler bird
Willow Warbler
  • House Martins
  • Swallows
  • Sand Martins
  • Swifts
  • Cuckoos
  • Willow Warblers
  • Chiffchaffs
  • Sedge Warblers
  • Blackcaps
  • Whitethroats
  • Osprey
  • Wheatears
  • and more…


If you live in the UK, I envy you as it truly is a birder’s paradise. Even though here in Australia we have more bird species, they are so spread out as Australia is such a huge landmass.

Remember that even if you can’t get out at the ideal times to watch the birds mentioned in this article, don’t let that stop you. You are still going to see birds at all times of the day, you just may not see as many.

Try not to be put off by the weather either. Many bird species love the rain and snow and will still be fairly active. They have to eat, right?! You can be witness to some amazing bird behaviors when it’s raining or snowing too and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that.

If you are interested in some of our bird species here in Australia, please read my Fish-Eating Birds – 10 Australian Birds That Just Love That Sushi post.

Thank you for reading this post today and enjoy your bird watching no matter what time of day you do it.

Barry Callister

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website

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