Britain’s Top Largest Wild Birds

The UK is home to birds of all shapes and sizes.

The UK’s smallest bird is the tiny Goldcrest, weighing in at only 5.5 grams which is about the same weight as a sugar lump and has a wingspan of only 14.5cm.

In contrast, the UK’s largest bird, the Common Crane stands a mighty 130cm tall, about the height of a nine year old child and weighs in at 6.1 kg with a wingspan stretching up to 2.4 metres!

The Common Crane

The Common Crane wasn’t always Britain’s largest bird. They were hunted to extinction in the 17th century and only began to make a comeback when a small number of breeding pairs returned to the Norfolk broads in 1979.

In 2010 The Great Crane project was set up to protect the wetland habitats these beautiful, birds use as nesting grounds. Two years ago, the RSPB published a report stating that the total, national population had reached 180 and that numbers were steadily increasing.

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The Sea Eagle

The largest land bird and raptor in the UK, the Sea Eagle, also known as the White Tailed Eagle or Erne, has enjoyed a similar comeback. Sadly, by the 1900’s, the majestic Sea Eagle had been hunted to extinction in the British Isles with the last bird being shot in 1913. Thanks to efforts by Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry Commission and the RSPB there are now around 42 breeding pairs in the wild.

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The Golden Eagle

There was a time when the regal Golden Eagle was found across the UK. Since the 18th century, however, Gold Eagles have only been sighted in Scotland. Although the Golden Eagle has no natural predators, it has been hunted for centuries by gamekeepers who see it as a threat to the birds on their estates. When left undisturbed, Golden Eagles can live up to 25 years in the wild.

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The Whooper Swan

There are around 23 breeding pairs of  Whooper Swan that remain all year in the north of Britain. They are however mainly an Icelandic visitor. The Whooper Swan is the largest Swan to be found in the UK with a wingspan reaching 160cm and a weight of up to 11kg. To tell them apart from their smaller cousins, the Bewick Swan, and the Mute Swan, Whooper Swans have a pointed yellow V shape on either side of their smooth bill. Their call is also distinctive, making a particularly loud honking sound.

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The Gannet is Britain’s largest sea bird. In fact, Britain is home to 40% of the global Gannet population. There are a staggering 180 breeding pairs in Scotland alone! Gannets have powerful wings that span up to 6.6 feet which help them plunge into choppy seawater in search of prey at up to an impressive 60mph, diving down to 15 metres below the surface to catch their prey.

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Grey Heron

Grey Herons are elegant, graceful birds. They can be sighted across the UK and are often seen perched on rooftops or paying a visit to a backyard pond. At around 1 metre in height, they are likely, the largest birds you’ll ever see in your back garden. Herons are very sociable birds and often nest in large groups called Heronries. The largest Heronrie is currently in Northward Hill in Kent.

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Canada Goose

Canada Geese are, as their name suggests native to North America. These prodigious birds, have now migrated and settled in many parts of Europe, as well as, the UK. The Canada Goose is a loud, feisty bird, that can become aggressive, especially if disturbed during breeding season. Their diet consists of mainly aquatic plants but they are happy to peck away at dropped ice-creams or discarded picnics. They are so unafraid of humans that some places have declared them pests and advised people to stop feeding them.

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Cormorants are large aquatic birds that can live up to 25 years in the wild. Cormorants can stay underwater for up to 4 minutes, diving down to depths of up to 45 metres to catch fish. Cormorants have a distinctive hook at the end of their beak to spear their prey with. Cormorants nest in colonies and will remain with one mate throughout the breeding season. Cormorants can be found in wetland areas across the UK. They are often confused with Shags as juvenile birds can look very similar. Shags, however, have less yellow colouring around their beaks and develop a distinctive crest on their heads as adults.

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