The Malvern Hills area is exciting from a birdwatching viewpoint because of its wide variety of habitat concentrated in a small area.

The hilltops are generally of open grassland verging on moorland and the hillsides have areas of mixed woodland and of scrub. The many quarries provide suitable cliffs for certain nesting birds. There are a few small reservoirs, lakes and ponds on and around the hills, while the surrounding areas contain heathland, commons, pasture and arable land.

Each of these habitats attracts a different set of regular bird species. In addition, the hills, rising from the Severn Vale, are visible from a great distance and thus attract species on passage in spring and autumn that are not seen in such numbers in the surrounding areas. You will come across many different birds in a day's walk.


Redstart (male) - Copyright Melvin Grey

Some birds can be seen almost anywhere, of course, such as Blackbirds, Wrens, Dunnock, Chaffinch, and the Blue, Great and Long-Tailed Tits. So can the aerial birds like Swallows and Swifts and the hunting and scavenging birds such as Carrion Crow, Magpie, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. Buzzards in particular have increased in numbers here in recent years and can be seen daily, often being harried by crows. Peregrines are seen from time to time at any time of year and another falcon, the Hobby, has been more common in recent summers. Red Kites are seen occasionally as they expand their territory from their strongholds in Wales or the Chilterns. Goshawks, too, can be seen sometimes.

The hilltops have a good number of resident Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks, but both of these species are reducing in number as scrub encroaches up the hillsides. Ravens nest from time to time in the quarries and can then be seen soaring overhead. Each year, the hilltops attract passage migrants such as Wheatear and Ring Ouzel to rest for a few hours. From time to time, a Dotterel has been seen and, in some winters, a group of Snow Buntings may spend a few days on the tops.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher(male) - Copyright Melvin Grey

The wooded hillsides contain good numbers of breeding Blackcap and Garden Warblers, Redstart and Pied Flycatchers each summer, together with Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers. Willow Warblers prefer the higher lightly wooded slopes and Chiffchaff the lower woodlands. Until recently a few Wood Warblers could also be heard in summer, but none has been seen in the last few years, except for one lone male who did not succeed in attracting a mate in the spring of 2001. Tawny Owls and the three UK woodpeckers are all present, the Green Woodpecker in the greatest numbers (and variety of habitat), followed by the Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Lesser Spotted is uncommon and very difficult to spot! Nuthatches and Treecreepers are widespread, but not in large numbers. Jays are fairly common and frequently seen, especially in winter. Marsh Tit, Goldcrest and Bullfinch are present in small numbers all year, with Brambling, Siskin, and Redpoll passing through in spring and autumn. A few Hawfinch may be found in one or two places. Some Woodcock are present in the damper areas. Tree Pipits can be seen at the woodland edges and in more open areas.

The scrubby areas on hillsides and commons attract Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and small numbers of Stonechat to breed. Linnets breed in such places and more Linnets and Meadow Pipits arrive in autumn. The lower heaths have small numbers of breeding Lesser Whitethroat each summer and, in a good year, the Grasshopper Warbler can be heard. Little Owls are not uncommon. Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings breed, but numbers of both are declining. The dampest areas have Snipe and a few Jack Snipe present in winter. Cuckoos, while still present in summer, have suffered a marked decline since the 1980s. The Malvern area is one of the most northwesterly places in the country where Nightingales can be heard each summer, but only in very small numbers, usually in overgrown scrubland.


Snipe - Copyright Melvin Grey

The larger ponds have good populations of Canada Geese, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot with smaller numbers of Cormorant and Tufted Duck here and there. Herons can be seen anywhere. Sometimes a Kingfisher may be seen flashing past.

The surrounding farmland has Rooks and Jackdaws everywhere, but few Lapwing flocks nowadays. Fieldfare and Redwings are abundant in winter, with smaller numbers of Mistle Thrushes all year round. Skylarks still breed in small numbers. Woodpigeons infest every copse and some Stock Doves can be seen here and there. The Collared Dove is common in residential areas but its country cousin the Turtle Dove is becoming less and less common. Goldfinch and Greenfinch are fairly common in hedges, trees and gardens.


Goldfinch - Copyright Melvin Grey

House Sparrows and House Martins are common in the built-up areas with Pied Wagtails well represented, but Starlings are not seen in massive flocks anymore. The Song Thrush is still quite common in gardens and woodland and Spotted Flycatchers are thinly spread. Grey Wagtails can appear in parks and gardens near water in small numbers in autumn and, less frequently, in spring.

For a well-populated area, Malvern is lucky to have so many different good places for birdwatching within easy reach. There is a wide choice of places to go and any birdwatcher will enjoy a walk around Castlemorton Common or a climb up Midsummer Hill at almost any time of year. Get out there and see for yourself!

David Cunliffe, November 2002

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