Birds to see on The Lizard in the autumn’s migration season

The Lizard Peninsula, situated at the southern tip of the British mainland, is one of the best places to see migratory birds. In the autumn, there will be new arrivals seeking to benefit from our relatively warmer climate for the winter before returning north to their breeding grounds in the spring. There will also be sightings of many passage migrants, some in large groups, others in smaller numbers, on their way south for the winter. 

Sandwich Terns can be seen over The Lizard in autumn, as they migrate further south (photo: ©Natural England/Allan Drewitt.

Considered by many to be a little different from the rest of Cornwall, The Lizard peninsula, which has the warmest average climate in the country, is a remote and unspoilt place consisting mostly of gentle heath and coastal grassland. The area is well protected, as much of it is designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The peninsula is also home to several nature reserves such as Windmill Farm, managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, with raised walkways and bird hides overlooking pools, and Goonhilly Downs (part of Natural England’s Lizard National Nature Reserve), where the flat heathland attracts birds of prey such as Buzzards, Hen Harriers and Owls. Lizard Point, at the very tip of the peninsula, is one of the best places to spot migrating birds.

The Ring Ouzel ( and Wryneck (right) can occasionally be seen on migration over The Lizard, and will ‘touch down’ for a short while on their way (photos: Ring Ouzel ©Richard Birchett; Wryneck ©Natural England/Dave Cornwell).

Passage migrants 

  • Some birds pass through The Lizard on their way further south. Some may have bred in Cornwall or elsewhere in the UK, and some may hail from even further north, but all are on their way further south to warmer climes than we can provide.
  • Passage migrants to look out for include the Ring Ouzel (in small numbers), Sandwich Tern, Great Skua, Yellow Wagtail and Wryneck.

Arrivals, staying here for the autumn and winter

  • Many birds arrive on The Lizard to overwinter here. Some, such as the Whooper Swan, are birds we would only see in winter, while others arrive to swell numbers of resident species, such as the Blackbird (numbers of our resident Blackbirds are swollen in winter by visitors from Scandinavia).
  • Other species to look out for include the Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Black Redstart and Redwing.

Redwings arrive in autumn to overwinter on The Lizard (photo: ©Natural England/Allan Drewitt

Almost 50,000 Turnstones, hailing from Greenland and Canada, overwinter in the UK. On The Lizard, head to the creeks and estuaries of the Helford River to see them (video of Turnstones on the Helford: Ray Surridge)

Find out more

If you want to find out more about birds you can see on The Lizard, why not browse our online library of species profiles: for each species listed, there are photographs and a description to help you to identify them.

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