Know Your Birds

What kind of bird have I found?

Mousehole Wild Bird Hospital Cornwall provides a safe haven to all kinds of wild birds. We’ve put together a brief description of some of the most common kinds of birds you may discover.

We’re very grateful to our friends at the RSPB for these brilliant descriptions of the birds we encounter most at the hospital.


Herring Gull

  • Herring gulls are large, noisy gulls found throughout the year around our coasts and inland around rubbish tips, fields, large reservoirs and lakes, especially during winter.
  • Adults have light grey backs, white under parts, and black wing tips with white ‘mirrors’. Their legs are pink, with webbed feet and they have heavy, slightly hooked bills marked with a red spot. Young birds are mottled brown.
  • This species is on the red list due to ongoing population declines and wintering population declines.


  • A large, black, and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear reptilian.
  • It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry.
  • Regarded by some as sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers, thus causing them to be persecuted in the past.
  • The UK holds internationally significant wintering numbers.


  • Adult gannets are large and bright white with black wingtips. They are distinctively shaped with a long neck and long pointed beak, long pointed tail, and long pointed wings.
  • At sea they flap and then glide low over the water, often travelling in small groups. They feed by flying high and circling before plunging into the sea.
  • They breed in significant numbers at only a few localities making them an Amber List species.

Small Birds


  • Finches are small birds with forked or notched tails, moderately pointed wings, rounded or elongated bodies and round heads, with more or less triangular bills.
  • Common types include chaffinch, bullfinch, goldfinch and crossbills.


  • With its bright red breast it is familiar throughout the year and especially at Christmas.
  • Males and females look identical, and young birds have no red breast and are spotted with golden brown.
  • Robins sing nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders.
  • They will sing at night next to streetlights.


  • Noisy little birds, sparrows have managed to colonise most of the world. The ultimate avian opportunist perhaps.
  • Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.
  • While the decline in England continues, Breeding Bird Survey data indicate recent population increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Pigeons & Doves

  • There is no division between pigeons and doves, which share certain features.
  • These features include their small, rounded heads, small, slim bills with a small fleshy patch at the base, rounded bodies with dense, soft feathers, tapered wings and short, scaly legs, and cooing or crooning calls. 
  • Common species include turtle doves, woodpigeons, stock dove and collared dove.



  • Crows are medium to large birds. Many species are black or black and grey; some are pied; others are more colourful or well-patterned.
  • Most crows are adaptable but often shy where persecuted. In towns, some become tame and may visit gardens. They all have strong, scaly feet, and stout (or downcurved) bills, mostly with a small patch of bristly feathers covering the nostrils.
  • Common types include choughs, carrion crows, magpies and jackdaws


  • This is a small, black crow with a distinctive silvery sheen to the back of its head.
  • The pale eyes are also noticeable. 
  • The jackdaw call is a familiar hard ‘tchack’ from which it gets its name. It will commonly nest in chimneys, buildings, rock crevices and tree holes.


  • Although they are the most colourful members of the crow family, jays are actually quite difficult to see. 
  • They are shy woodland birds, rarely moving far from cover.
  • The screaming call usually lets you know a jay is nearby and it is usually given when a bird is on the move, so watch for a bird flying between the trees with its distinctive flash of white on the rump.
  • Jays are famous for their acorn feeding habits and in the autumn you may see them burying acorns for retrieving later in the winter.


  • When seen close-up its black plumage takes on an altogether more colourful hue with a purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing feathers and a green gloss to the tail.
  • Magpies seem to be jacks of all trades – scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers, their challenging attitude has won them few friends. Non-breeding birds will gather together in flocks.