From charming woodlands to dramatic cliffs, Cornwall boasts a diverse ecosystem that attracts a wide array of rare birds.
Some of the most popular nature reserves include the Marazion Marsh and Hayle Estuary ( both hosting RSPB Reserves). Much to every birdwatcher’s delight, Cornwall boasts multiple sites managed by organisations like the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society and South-West Water. The National Trust also contributes to Cornwall’s allure with locations, such as Godrevy Head and various parks and gardens.
Other noteworthy spots include the creeks of the Truro and Fal Rivers, the Camel Estuary, Goss Moor, Dozmary Pool, and Stithians Reservoir. Moreover, bird sightings have been common off late in the far south west region at Sennen Cove and the Walmsley Sanctuary.
No wonder the elongated and narrow peninsula is a source of admiration among the British birdwatching community. Hence, we have curated this guide to share some of the best bird-spotting locations in Cornwall.
So, get ready to soar and explore the majestic Cornwall birds!
Best Locations For Cornwall Bird Watching
1. Looe Island
Looe Island is a significant primary breeding ground and boasts its own nature reserve for the great black-backed gulls in the south-west region of Cornwall. Managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the island is also home to herring gulls. Plus, two other colonial breeders, the cormorant and shag, have their main breeding site here.
These birds can be observed year-round as they fish in the bay and estuary. Also, the graceful fulmar, a seabird akin to the albatross, breeds on the island, albeit with only a few nests.
As such, we recommend embarking on a boat trip around Looe Island to witness the resident seabirds in action and perhaps catch a glimpse of a visiting gannet. Note that accessing the island is restricted, but totally worth it!
2. Camel Estuary, Nr Chapel Amble (Wadebridge)
Bird enthusiasts of the Cornwall Bird Watching & Preservation Society often head to Walmsley Sanctuary, located near the road connecting Wadebridge and Rock, to witness fascinating rare birds. However, the observation hides are exclusively accessible to society members.
So, if you’re not interested in joining the society, consider borrowing the key for $5, but you must make arrangements beforehand. Alternatively, you can explore the Camel Trail from Wadebridge in either direction, where you’ll find bird hides.
According to visitors, common birds in the Camel Estuary include herons, egrets, and geese. However, if you have the patience to wait until January, you might have the chance to spot rare visitors. As an added benefit, you can visit a pub in Wadebridge or one of the nearby cafés to warm up and enjoy a beverage.
3. Marazion Marsh, Nr Penzance
Located near Marazion, the marshes offer a picturesque setting with St Michael’s Mount in the background, creating a perfect opportunity to witness mesmerising murmurations (starlings) during the cooler months. Besides starlings, the reedbeds in the area provide the perfect habitat for various wetland birds.
There have also been reported bird sightings of Bittern during winter, while little egrets, buzzards, chiffchaffs, grey herons, sparrowhawks, and swallows are regular visitors. Moreover, this location serves as a crucial stopover for the globally threatened aquatic warbler.
If you plan your trip well, you can also visit the iconic St Michael’s Mount and then take a stroll at sunset to observe the starlings. Afterwards, you can drop by the Cutty Sark for a refreshing drink.
4. Argal Reservoir
The circuit around Argal Lake spans approximately 2.5 miles, and at the far end, there is a bird hide that provides excellent views of the water. The lake is abundant in fish and serves as a habitat for a variety of birds, including pochards, Canada geese, teal, great crested grebes, egrets, herons, swans, moorhens, and coots. You may even find various woodland birds and gull species here.
Notably, Argal Lake is a popular spot for fishermen and dog walkers. But if you want a quieter environment for your bird watching sessions, we recommend visiting the site early in the morning, at dusk, or on rainy days.
5. Hayle Estuary
The Hayle Estuary, located in the westernmost part of the county, is well-known nationwide as a fantastic area for birdwatching, having produced many rare bird sightings in the past. The estuary is owned by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). As such, it is a popular wintering ground for various waders and wildfowl.
The lower section of the estuary consists mostly of sandy terrain, transitioning into a muddier area towards the western end. Ryan’s Field, an enclosed space to the south of the main estuary, can be observed from a purpose-built hide, providing optimal viewing conditions during the high tide.
During the winter, the estuary attracts a significant number of migratory and wintering waterfowl, with up to 18,000 individuals flocking to the area. Among them are species like wigeons, teals, and curlews. These interesting birds exhibit a particular preference for Ryan’s Field when the tide is high, making it an interesting location for a walk.
On strolling through the area, you’ll discover a large open-fronted hide where you can pause and use your binoculars for birdwatching. After a bird-watching session, we recommend visiting Copperhouse Creek, where you can take a break to enjoy coffee or have lunch at Lula.
6. Isles of Scilly
The group of subtropical islands (five inhabited and some fifty uninhabited islands lying 28 miles from Land’s End) in Cornwall has an impressive species count of over 400. This makes it the highest among any single site in Europe.
These islands have become immensely popular among birds and birdwatchers due to their strategic location as the first and last point of landfall for thousands of miles. Consequently, they have established themselves as one of the prime locations in Europe for spotting rare migratory birds.
Among the Scilly off-islands, Annet stands out as it harbours one of the last remaining Puffin colonies in Britain. Historically, Annet has been renowned as a sanctuary for birds in the breeding season. In a description from 1910 by Jessie Mothersole, Annet was referred to as “Bird Island” due to the massive numbers of breeding birds present.
During early summer, razorbills and puffins swarm the sea surrounding the island, with their white breasts hardly noticeable as they sit on the water surface. The skies above are filled with countless gulls, accompanied by their constant cries.
Puffins, also known as sea parrots, have been breeding on the islands for countless generations. However, it is important to note that the breeding bird populations have declined in recent years.
While there are regular birdwatching boat trips from St Mary’s to Annet, the island is closed to the public between April and August during the breeding season. Nevertheless, the entire Isles of Scilly offer excellent birdwatching opportunities throughout the year.
7. Lizard Peninsula
The Lizard Peninsula, a significant portion of which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, deserves its reputation among bird-watching enthusiasts. This area encompasses various reserves, including Goonhilly Downs.
Lizard Point, situated at the southernmost tip of Britain, offers breathtaking scenery and serves as an excellent location for a leisurely walk. Plus, you get a good chance of encountering some unusual visitors.
In early 2019, a black-browed albatross made a noteworthy appearance in the area, attracting considerable attention. Furthermore, the Lizard Peninsula is home to one of the UK’s rarest bird species, the Cornish chough.
Visitors to this region may also have the opportunity to spot passing razorbills and puffins, along with peregrine falcons, hen harriers, wagtails, chiffchaffs, and guillemots.
8. St Ives Island
Once you arrive in St Ives island, we recommend proceeding to Fish Street. At the top of Fish Street, make a sharp right turn followed by a sharp left, and you will find the car park at the far end. Access to the area known as “the Island,” which is not actually an island, can be gained through the car park. That said, this location can become quite crowded as it is a popular spot for local birdwatchers, so it is advisable to arrive early to secure a sheltered position.
During August, the predominant bird passage is usually westward, and optimal conditions occur with a west or north-west wind following a southerly Atlantic depression and extended south or south-west winds. The birds often come quite close to St Ives, sometimes passing directly above or behind you over the town itself. The sheer number of birds can be breathtaking, including hundreds of Arctic and great skuas with small flocks of sabine’s gulls.
The former is often accompanied by smaller numbers of pomarine and long-tailed skuas. Besides, you may witness little terns, black terns, and sandwich terns too. In addition to the regular species such as auks, fulmars, and gannets, Manx shearwaters are commonly seen during sea watches.
The day following a significant storm can be particularly productive, as many birds choose to seek shelter in St Ives Bay before departing the next morning when the winds subside. A keen observer may even spot countless unexpected species like the black-browed albatross, bridled tern, Wilson’s petrels, and little shearwater.
9. Goss Moor
Goss Moor, located in Central Cornwall, is the largest remaining expanse of swampy and boggy ground in the South West of England. It consists mainly of wet and dry peatland and lowland heath. The area is divided into Goss Moor in the West, Tregoss Moor in the East, and farmland in the North Middle section. It is also regarded as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
During the winter months, you are most likely to encounter a great grey shrike and common ravens in the summer. Other likely bird species during the summer include the grasshopper warbler, willow warbler, Eurasian nightjar, and the once abundant but now extremely rare spotted flycatcher.
Among the raptors, one may spot the Eurasian kestrel or a Merlin or Eurasian hobby exploring the numerous pools in the area.
10. Maer Lake, Bude
Maer Lake, a.k.a. “The Pool,” is a wetland area covering 22 acres of grazing meadows. It is owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Access to the lake itself is strictly limited to viewing from the private road above the reserve.
However, you can enhance your experience by combining it with a pleasant walk along the beach and through the town. You can even grab a coffee at the Electric Bakery. Another option is to take a stroll along the coastal path at Crooklets, which makes for a lovely afternoon walk.
If you get lucky, you might even spot some rare visitors beside Cornwall birds, like black brants, long-tailed ducks, whooper swans, and Bewick swans. They are not commonly seen in the area, making their sightings quite special.
However, keeping the native bird life in mind, you are most likely to witness large flocks of wigeons, teals, golden plovers, black-tailed godwits, and Redshanks.
11. Dozmary Pool
Legends say that Dozmary Pool, located in Bodmin Moor, is the resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. The pool derives its name from a tale of an unfortunate girl, Dozy Mary, who was allegedly murdered in the area.
During the designation of the Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1951, Dozmary Pool was recognised for its significance in hosting wintering birds and migratory wildfowl. Species such as Eurasian wigeons, teals, and coots were considered to be of particular importance. However, with the establishment of the Siblyback and Colliford reservoirs on Bodmin Moor, the relative significance of Dozmary Pool as a habitat for Cornwall birds has declined.
List Of Interesting Birds Found In Cornwall
- Ring billed gull
- Golden plover
- Rosy starling
- Brent goose
- Little egret
- Gyr falcon
- Storm petrel
- Red flanked bluetail
To Sum Up
Cornwall – where rugged coastlines meet lush moors – bird-watching enthusiasts are blessed with a haven of avian wonders. From the serene wetlands of Goss Moor to the picturesque Maer Lake, Cornwall’s best bird-watching spots never fail to captivate both locals and tourists alike.
Besides the aforementioned locations, drowned river valleys like the Carrick Roads and Helford also provide a suitable shelter to migratory birds. At the same time, offshore formations such as Lye Rock near Tintagel serve as crucial breeding sites for numerous seabird species.
So, if you want to make some feathered friends, or watch them dancing along the coastline, do not delay. Grab your binoculars and discover the vibrant bird life of this English county!
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