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Ranking the Birds in My Garden

by Alex Cooper 10 months ago in Nature
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At least, the ones I've managed to photograph

Images from Canva, combined by author

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s muddy. Sun is a vague memory. Most of the interesting birds have flapped off to somewhere less miserable for the winter, and I don’t blame them.

So, I’m left with the dregs of the hedgerow. The also-flews. A mundane menagerie of familiar feathered faces.

OK, that’s a bit harsh. I’ve still had fun photographing these common UK garden birds, and — to tell the truth — I’m quite fond of many of them. Except for pigeons, and they know why.

I thought I’d liven things up with some healthy competition and rank these British backyard birds, based on my own completely arbitrary criteria, which may include some, all, or none of the following:

  • Plumage
  • Chonk factor/floofiness
  • Majesticness
  • Friendliness/skittishness
  • Squee level (i.e. cuteness)

Let’s begin, in ascending order.

Wood Pigeon

Image by author

Wood pigeons were put on this earth to annoy me, specifically. They are the ultimate cock-blockers of the birding world, because every time you walk within seven miles of one it erupts from the trees, followed by another 12 of them because these things are everywhere. Forget about getting close to any of the more interesting birds after the pigeons have ratted you out.

Snitches get stitches.

Plumage: boring.

Skittishness: all of it.

Chonk factor: reasonably chonky, but it doesn’t have the orb-like cuteness of the smaller, rounder birds.

Collared Dove

Image by author

The collared dove is just a slightly less annoying wood pigeon. I’d respect it more if it tried to forge its own identity.

I don’t think there’s any malice in the collared dove. It’s just slightly dopey. Nice but dim. But it’s better to be interesting than nice.

Let’s move on.

House Sparrow

Image by author

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, while familiarity breeds contempt. And I’m getting very familiar with Passer domesticus, AKA the house sparrow.

Its success on the feeder has, unfortunately, not translated into success in my rankings. It’s just a little too common.

Plumage: surprisingly decent. Males are a bit gaudier than females, and I’m always a fan of a black eye stripe.

Squee level: it has many of the ingredients to be a cute bird, but its default expression is a little too angry to win the hearts and minds of the judges, AKA me.

Majesticness: this one’s trying its best. It’s either pretending to be an owl or auditioning for The Exorcist.

Overall, the sparrow is a good, solid garden bird. A jack of all trades, but a master of none. I will never shoot a sparrow with a bow and arrow, but I will never lust after one with my lens.

Great Tit

Image by author

Now we’re talking. The titmouse has entered the chat, and it’s the species with a name to make seven-year-olds titter.

Great tits are a familiar sight, but it’s usually just one or two flitting around, so I don’t get sick of them.

Plumage: An aesthetically-pleasing black and yellow colour scheme, for sure.

Squee level: a solid 6.5/10 on the cuteness scale. Great tits are a little larger and more powerfully built than some of the other garden birds. I can’t quite look at them the same way after reading that they occasionally peck out bat brains, though.

In fairness, a great tit’s gotta do what a great tit’s gotta do to survive. I respect the hustle and I respect this garden bird.


Image by author

I can’t help but admire this little critter. Tiny in stature but loud of voice, Troglodytes troglodytes may not dwell in caves, as the name suggests, but it does dwell in my heart.

Plumage: lacking. It’s a dull brown bird. At least its upright tail gives it a more interesting outline.

Chonk factor/floofiness: this is where the wren shines. Short and stumpy silhouettes for the win.

Friendliness: the wrens in my garden didn’t seem too fussed by my presence, going about their business just a few metres from me. Saying that, they do make a lot of noise, so they might be complaining about me behind my back.

Overall, the wren is a much-loved garden bird for a reason.

Blue Tit

Image by author

Another mainstay of the garden, the blue tit is a common but beloved backyard bird. I’m always happy to see and hear them — by now they’re one of the few birds I can recognise from their calls.

Plumage: excellent. I’m a big fan of blue, yellow, and whatever else is going on there. (I’m mildly colourblind.)

Squee level: undoubtedly high. Bonus points for its little mohawk which it sometimes raises, like in the above picture. (No idea what it means when it does so, though.)

Friendliness: can sometimes let you get quite close or flit around nearby if you stand still. I saw one chilling next to a robin in a bush last week as they both sheltered from the rain, which was quite heartwarming stuff.

All that means I’m unashamedly on team blue tit.

Red Kite

Image by author

Not so much a garden bird, but they do occasionally fly over my garden. This list has been heavy on the cute and light on majesticness, so it’s time for another bird of prey.

Red kites have some great colours and a distinctive forked tail, so it’s always nice to see them. They're increasingly common around here, so they might not have the ‘wow factor’ of a really rare bird, but I’m still enraptured by these raptors.


Image by author

You knew it was coming. The godfather of the garden, AKA the European robin, AKA robin redbreast.

The postcard-worthy robin bobbing around the underbrush is more English than the word indubitably. And the robin is indubitably one of my favourite garden birds.

It’s cute. It’s colourful. Above all, it has floof in abundance. I have rarely seen such a fluffy feathered specimen.

Chonk factor: yes.

Squee level: high.

Friendliness: can get impressively tame, if you spend enough time near them.

So there we go. A deserving, if unsurprising winner.

Not so Fast

Stop the awards ceremony! There's one last critter to unveil.

Long-Tailed Tit

Image by author

These things are simply dumplings of pure joy. They’re hands down some of the cutest birds I’ve ever seen anywhere, let alone my garden.

I do not know what wizardry allows them to simultaneously be so round and yet so long, but I’m on the hype train all the way to squee station.

I cannot deal with its tiny beak. Its glamorous pinkish-tinged breast. Its stylish eye markings. It’s the whole perfect package and I am smitten.

Long live the long-tailed tit — King, Queen, or democratically-elected Supreme Leader of the garden birds.


About the author

Alex Cooper

Humour writer, self-published author, amateur wildlife photographer, and red panda enthusiast.

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