Greater Manchester

Goosander (female) Mergus merganser ©Paul Samuels Website

Greater Manchester recording area is coterminous with a ceremonial county of the same name. It borders Lancashire to the north and west, Derbyshire and West Yorkshire to the east and Cheshire to the south. Its largest settlement is the city of Manchester itself. The county has an area of 1,277 km2 (493 square miles) and is highly urbanised, with a population of nearly three million people. The majority of the county’s settlements are part of the Greater Manchester Built-up Area, which extends into Cheshire and Merseyside and is the second most populous urban area in the UK. The city of Manchester with more than half a million people is the largest settlement, followed by Bolton, Sale, Rochdale, Stockport, Salford, and Wigan. Its ten metropolitan boroughs collaborate through Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The county was created from parts of north-west Cheshire, south-east Lancashire, and a small part of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The centre and south-west of Greater Manchester are lowlands, similar to the West Lancashire Coastal Plain to the north-west and the Cheshire Plain to the south-west. The north and east are part of the Pennines: the West Pennine Moors in the northwest, the South Pennines in the northeast and the Peak District in the east. Most of the county’s rivers rise in the Pennines and are tributaries of the Mersey and its tributary the Irwell. The county is connected to the Mersey Estuary by the Manchester Ship Canal, which for its entire length within Greater Manchester consists of canalised sections of the Mersey and Irwell.

Contrary to its reputation for urban sprawl, Greater Manchester does have green belt constraining urban drift, and a wide and varied range of wildlife and natural habitats. There are the wooded valleys of Bolton, Bury and Stockport, the moorlands north and east of Rochdale, Oldham and Stalybridge and the reed beds between Wigan and Leigh. They harbour flora and fauna of national importance. Greater Manchester has mature woodland, scrubland, grassland, high moorland, mossland, agricultural land, lakes, wetlands, river valleys, embankments, urban parks and suburban gardens, which all further contribute to biodiversity.

Birding Greater Manchester

There are 21 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Greater Manchester and 31 km2 (12.1 square miles) of common land, which are of particular interest to organisations such as Greater Manchester Local Record Centre, which is dedicated to wildlife conservation and the preservation of the region’s natural history.

Among the SSSIs are Astley and Bedford Mosses, which form a network of ancient peat bog on the fringe of Chat Moss, which in turn, at 27 km2 (10.6 square miles) comprises the largest area of prime farmland in Greater Manchester and contains the largest block of semi-natural woodland in the county. The Wigan Flashes NNR and Pennington Flash NNR are the by-product of coal mining, where subsidence has led to waterbodies collecting in the resulting hollows which form an important reed bed resource. Sale Water Park is a 62 hectare (152-acre) area of countryside and parkland in Sale which includes a 21 hectare (52-acre) artificial lake by the River Mersey.

Urban birds such as House Sparrow, Starling, Blackbird, Magpie and Feral Pigeon are common and breed across the area. A few pairs of Black Redstart inhabit the city centre. Flocks of feral Ring-necked Parakeets can be seen in many of south Manchester’s parks, including Birchfields Park, Whitworth Park and Platt Fields Park. The South Pennines also support internationally important (although small) numbers of Golden Plover and Curlew (Merlin and Twite breed in very small numbers). Unfortunately, a number of Red-eared Terrapins inhabit the lake in Alexandra Park.

The main areas of interest for the birdwatcher are on the fringes of the region. In the north are several reservoirs, in the east is moorland and the Peak District. In the south there is the Mersey valley and there are remnants of moss-land and flooded mine-workings in the west. Typically around 200 species are seen each year and the county list stands at 317 and includes Canvasback, Pied-billed Grebe, White-tailed Lapwing, Great Snipe, Collared Pratincole, White-billed Diver, River Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Black-throated Thrush, Desert Wheatear, Red-throated Pipit, Two-barred Crossbill, Black-faced Bunting and Parula Warble.

Below are some of the top sites within the area and within easy reach of the city centre.

Top Sites
  • Audenshaw Reservoir

    InformationSatellite View
    A permit to Audenshaw Reservoir can now be obtained (via a long waiting list) from Ian Leech at 01457 851080. A large Gull roost and a lot of passage migrants drop in, often only for an hour or two so this is an ideal patch.
  • City Centre

    Satellite View
    Breeding Grey Wagtail, Peregrine and Black Redstart all in the very heart of the city centre!
  • Cutacre Country Park

    WebpageSatellite View
    Cutacre Country Park is new LWT reserve built on the site of an open cast coal mining site. Has a free car park, many well surfaced paths and a good diversity of habitats, usually holding Stonechats, Skylarks and Willow Tits all year round.
  • Elton Reservoir

    InformationSatellite View
    A well-watched patch with waterfowl in winter and a selection of passage migrants.
  • Etherow Country Park

    InformationSatellite View
    Ignore the feral wildfowl and head up to the weir for Dipper and Grey Wagtail. In summer roding Woodcock, Cuckoo, Redstarts and Pied Flycatcher. Small car park fee.
  • Hollingworth Lake

    InformationSatellite View
    Large numbers of Goosander in winter, also various passage migrants. Car park fee.
  • Hope Carr

    WebpageSatellite View
    A new reserve built on the site of Leigh sewage works. A favourite haunt of Water Pipit in past winters, but sadly not for some time.
  • Little Woolden Moss LWT Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    Free car parking, has Hobby in summer feeding on the many dragonflies over this site, breeding Yellow Wagtails, various raptors in winter and excellent wader passage in spring and autumn.
  • Mersey Valley

    InformationSatellite View
    The visitor centre has a notice-board with recent sightings. A small reserve at Broad Ees Dole (SJ801931) holds Snipe and Jack Snipe in winter but it has become overgrown. Nearby Chorlton Water Park (SJ820915) used to hold large numbers of duck in winter but these now seem to favour Salford Docks. All these areas are favourites with dog-walkers and day trippers so again an early visit is recommended.
  • Pennington Flash

    WebpageSatellite View
    The premier site in the area with over 230 species recorded. A 200ha country park with diverse habitats including a large flooded lake used for various leisure activities so an early visit is recommended. Small car park fee. In winter large numbers of waterfowl including the rarer Grebes and Smew, also Long-eared Owl, Water Rail, and Willow Tit can be seen daily. Passage birds include various waders, Little Gull and Black Tern. Summer brings nesting Common Terns. The top rarity here was a Black-faced Bunting - the first for Britain.
  • Smithills Estate, Horwich Moors

    WebpageSatellite View
    Smithills Estate, Horwich Moors is a large upland area with many paths and diversity of habitat which is often alive with migrants during spring and autumn and is particularly noteworthy for visible migration in late autumn.
  • Wigan Flashes

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Similar to Pennington and birds interchange between the two. Bittern have been seen in winter in more secluded spots. Top rarity was a River Warbler which stayed for 32 days in the summer of 1995.
  • Tony Coatsworth

    Withington., Manchester |

County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 317

Useful Reading

  • Where to Watch Birds in Northwest England & Isle of Man

    | By Allan Conlin, Dr J P Cullen, Pete Marsh, Tristan Reid, Chris Sharpe, Judith Smith & Stephen Williams | Christopher Helm | 2008 | Paperback | 287 pages, 30 line illustrations, 50 maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780713664218 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • Manchester Birding

    Everything and anything about birding in Greater Manchester from the county recorder
  • Wildlife Liaison Officer - Chief Inspector David Henthorne

    07811 745849
  • Altrincham and District Natural History Society

    The Altrincham and District Natural History Society provides a focus for natural history activities in the Altrincham area. Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month, with evening walks in summer and illustrated talks in winter. Additional whole day events are organised periodically.
  • BTO Regional Contacts Greater Manchester

    Manchester Region contacts
  • Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside Wildlife Trust

    We are part of the Wildlife Trusts movement, the UK's leading conservation charity dedicated to all wildlife. We are your local charity, working hard to improve your local area for wildlife and for you. Since 1912, The Wildlife Trusts have been speaking out for nature in the UK. Our organisation is unique - while most of our work for wildlife takes place at local grassroots level, we have a national voice.
  • Leigh Ornithological Society

    Leigh Ornithological Society (or L.O.S.) was formed in 1971 by a group of enthusiasts, some of whom had been observing and recording bird life in the area since the early part of the last century. They submitted records annually from the late 1940s to regional bodies, initially to the Lancashire & Cheshire fauna Society for possible inclusion in Lancashire bird reports and, since 1976, to the editor(s) of the Greater Manchester Bird Report.
  • RSPB Bolton Local Group

    This is the website of the Bolton Local Group. RSPB local groups are a great way to meet friendly, like-minded people in your area while learning more about birds and wildlife.
  • RSPB High Peak Local Group

    Just outside GM but worth being aware of
  • RSPB Stockport Local Group

    This is the website of the Stockport Local Group. RSPB local groups are a great way to meet friendly, like-minded people in your area while learning more about birds and wildlife.
  • Rochdale Field Naturalists' Society

    Rochdale Field Naturalists' is run by, and for its members, and we encourage everyone to plan and participate in our activities.
  • Stockport Bird Watching Society

    We meet once a month at the Heatons Sports Club, Green Lane, Heaton Moor, Stockport, SK4 2NF. For further information please email or call 0161 432 9513 or 07790 377396.

Abbreviations Key

  • CP Cutacre

    WebpageSatellite View
    Cutacre Country Park is a new LWT reserve built on the site of an open cast coal mining site. Has a free car park, many well surfaced paths and a good diversity of habitats, usually holding Stonechats, Skylarks and Willow Tits all year round.
  • CP Etherow

    WebpageSatellite View
    The park is home to over 200 species of plants and more than 100 species of birds. Access to the nature is strictly by permit only.
  • CP Tandle Hill

    WebpageSatellite View
    Tandle Hill is Oldham’s oldest country park. It has 48 hectares of parkland with mature beech, mixed woodland and grassland (try and spot Bullfinch, Twite, Lesser Redpoll and Song Thrush).
  • LNR Broad Ees Dole

    WebpageSatellite View
    Broad Ees Dole is an important wildlife refuge in the busy Sale Water Park site. Although there are no footpaths leading through the Dole, the footpaths around the perimeter of the site provide excellent viewpoints to watch the bird life for which the site is so important…
  • LNR Haughton Dale

    WebpageSatellite View
    The woodland is oak, ash and alder is an important habitat for birds, with woodpeckers, owls, buzzards, bullfinches and nuthatches.
  • LNR Little Woolden Moss

    WebpageSatellite View
    Free car parking, has Hobby in summer feeding on the many dragonflies over this site, breeding Yellow Wagtails, various raptors in winter and excellent wader passage in spring and autumn.
  • LNR Mersey Vale Nature Park

    WebpageSatellite View
    Mersey Vale Nature Park is a local nature reserve (LNR) and a Site of Biological Importance owned and managed by Stockport Council. It is located on the south side of Didsbury Road beside the river Mersey and incorporating the Trans Pennine Trail West that passes along this section of the Mersey Valley.
  • NNR Pennington Flash

    WebpageSatellite View
    Pennington Flash Nature Reserve is one of the jewels in the crown of Wigan Borough and one of eight local sites comprising The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh; the only National Nature Reserve (NNR) in the whole of Greater Manchester.
  • NNR Wigan Flashes

    WebpageSatellite View
    Feel your worries wash away as you stroll around tranquil lakes and peaceful woodlands brimming with wildlife.
  • RSPB Dove Stone (Eastwood Nature reserve)

    WebpageSatellite View
    A landscape that will take your breath away. Towering hills, sheer rock faces, swathes of open moorland, a picturesque reservoir - that's Dove Stone, the northern gateway to the Peak District National Park. Red Grouse, Raven, Peregrine, Golden Plover, Curlew etc.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Manchester Birding Forum

Guides & Tour Operators
  • North West Birds

    Welcome to our web site. We have a passion for birds and we would like to share it with you - by taking you birdwatching on the edge of the English Lake District. We run minibreaks for very small groups with all in accommodation on a house party basis, with guests joining us at our home, Barn Close.
Other Links
  • Manchester Birding

    Welcome to Manchester Birding, a site first published in September 2006 all about birds, birders and birding in the county of Greater Manchester and which is owned, designed, built and maintained by me, Ian McKerchar. Since those early days the site has evolved into a resource for way beyond those county boundaries and in January 2017 underwent a complete redesigned from the original Manchester Birding website into the site you are on today. Manchester Birding also includes the Manchester Birding Forum, one of the UK's top birding forums.
  • Adam Jones - The Early Birder

    My blog from the North West and beyond - I have lived in South Manchester, close to the Cheshire border since 2003. With so many good wildlife sites on my doorstep it was not too long before I picked up the camera to see what I could capture. Nothing too fancy, but it gives me great enjoyment. I hope you enjoy them too. Oh, and I do go out very early in the mornings…
  • Martyn Jones - Geek Teacher's Birding Scrapbook

    An online diary, photo album and scrapbook about me and my birding exploits in Wigan and beyond…
  • Paul Samuels - RPS Wildlife Travels

    Birder now photographer showcasing a photographic record and blog of my ornithological and wildlife encounters through out the North of England, Forest of Dean and further afield in the Murcia region of Southern Spain. Sometimes common species that’s caught my eye, sometimes the more unusual or scares visitor that’s turned up in the most unexpected location
Photographers & Artists
  • Machester Birding Galleries

    The photo galleries are for rare and scarce species only, seen anywhere in the UK and not just within Greater Manchester. Videos within the video galleries are of rare and scarce species within Greater Manchester only. Inclusion of images/videos within these galleries does not infer any record's acceptance by the County or National Rarities Committees.

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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