Isle of Wight

Puffin Fratercula arctica ©Nigel Blake Website

The recording area of the Isle of Wight (area 10 in the Watsonian system) is co-terminus with the ceremonial county of the same name. The Isle of Wight is an island English county in the English Channel, between three and eight kilometres (2 to 5 miles) off the coast of Hampshire, across the Solent. It is the largest and second-most populous island in England. Referred to as ‘The Island’ by residents, it has resorts that have been popular holiday destinations since Victorian times (Queen Victoria built her summer residence and final home (Osborne House) there.. It is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland, and chines. The island was historically part of Hampshire.

It is roughly rhomboid in shape, and covers an area of 380 km2 (150 square miles). Slightly more than half, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has c.260 km2 (100 square miles) of farmland, c.5o km2 (20 square miles) of developed areas, and c.90 km (c.60 miles) of coastline. Its landscapes are diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description as ‘England in miniature’. In 2019 the whole island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, recognising the sustainable relationships between its residents and the local environment. The island has a population of under 150,000 people and the largest town is Ryde and the slightly smaller Newport is the county town.

West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the chalk downland ridge, running across the whole island and ending in the Needles stacks. The southwestern quarter is commonly referred to as the Back of the Wight, and has a unique character. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down in the southeast. The most notable habitats on the rest of the island are probably the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are scenic features, important for wildlife, and internationally protected and full of fossils.

The island has three principal rivers. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, the Eastern Yar flows roughly northeast to Bembridge Harbour, and the Western Yar flows the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Without human intervention the sea might well have split the island into three: at the west end where a bank of pebbles separates Freshwater Bay from the marshy backwaters of the Western Yar east of Freshwater, and at the east end where a thin strip of land separates Sandown Bay from the marshy Eastern Yar basin. The north coast is unusual in having four high tides each day, with a double high tide every twelve and a half hours. This arises because the western Solent is narrower than the eastern; the initial tide of water flowing from the west starts to ebb before the stronger flow around the south of the island returns through the eastern Solent to create a second high water

Birding the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is situated just off the south coast to the south of Portsmouth & Southampton. But more importantly it lies between the well-known birding sites of Portland Bill & Beechy Head and is slightly further out to sea than the latter.

Add to this such diverse habitats as saltwater estuary, freshwater marsh, coastal headlands and south facing chalk downland on an Island 15 miles by 23 miles at its widest points, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that you have an excellent birding venue.

Unfortunately the island very under watched with only a handful of dedicated birders to cover a large area. They regularly record between 200 & 250 species a year. The New Years Day count has not failed to produce over 100 species in the last 5 years and 113 on one occasion.

Spring and Autumn are obviously the best periods, and, in recent years birders have turned up some outstanding birds. Including: Little Shearwater, Bulwers Petrel, Purple Heron, White Stork, Black Stork, Black Kite, Red footed Falcon, Long billed Dowitcher, Roller, Little & Alpine Swifts, Radde’s & Dusky Warblers, Hume’s Warbler, Yellow browed & Pallas’s Warbler (near annual) and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Plus regular overshoots. In 2014 Bee-eaters nested and fledged several young for the first time in the county.

In 2019 a reintroduction project was initiated to bring White-tailed Eagles back to England. The site chosen was the Isle and plans made to release a total of 60 birds. It is hoped this will establish around 6-8 breeding pairs. It is early days but two pairs of eagles have formed bonds and begun to display signs of breeding behaviours. At least one pair remains in residence although other birds have wandered across much of southern England. 25 birds had been released by the end of 2023 and 16 were known to have survived with the first successful breeding attempt having been made in the southeast of England but not yet on the Isle of Wight.

Below are some of the more productive sites on the Island.

Top Sites
  • Alum Bay & West High Down

    Satellite View
    Best in Autumn for migrants Yellow browed are found most years. It can also be good visible migration Larks, Finches, Pipits & Thrushes often pass over in good numbers.
  • Bembridge Harbour & Brading Marsh

    Satellite View
    A good all year round site the harbour and surrounding area can hold up to 100+ Med Gulls in late summer though birds are present all year round. In winter the marsh usually holds Short eared Owls & Hen Harriers. It regularly throws up scarce and rarities.
  • Newtown Estuary

    Satellite View
    Good numbers of waders and wildfowl in winter. Breeding Terns and Gulls in summer. Little Egrets out number Grey Herons here most of the year.
  • St Catherines Point

    Satellite View
    The southern most tip of the Island good migrants and sea watching, try to get a SE wind for best results. Resident Dartford Warbler & Peregrines can be seen in most months. Try late April or early May for Pomeranian Skuas & Mediterranean Shearwater.
  • Ventnor Downs

    Satellite View
    This site has come into it's own in recent years, and regularly turns up high numbers of common migrants as well as some scarce ones. But is best known on the Island as a raptor watch point I have seen 8 species in a day here mid August to mid September are best.
  • Darren J Hughes

County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 311

  • Checklist of the birds of Isle of Wight

    Checklist of the birds of Isle of Wight. Avibase, the world bird database
Useful Reading

  • Birds of the Isle of Wight - A Birdwatching Logbook

    | By Jennifer Moore | Wayward Bird | 2021 | Paperback | 32 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781916899766 Buy this book from
  • Where to Watch Birds in Dorset, Hampshire and The Isle of Wight

    | By Keith Betton, George Green & Martin Cade | Helm | 2021 | Paperback | Edition 5 | 382 pages, 44 b/w illustrations, 60 maps | ISBN: 9781472985408 Buy this book from
  • Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

    Thinking big – a landscape-scale approach to nature conservation. Wildlife needs space. The nature reserves we manage are precious wildlife havens, alive with plants, birds, mammals and insects. But alone, they’re not enough to ensure that our wildlife survives and flourishes into the future. The wider landscape surrounding these sites is often inhospitable to wildlife. Intensive farmland, towns and cities, busy roads and railways all make it difficult for wildlife to move between safe havens.
  • Isle Of Wight Ornithological Group

    Contact: Dave Hunnybun (Secretary), 40 Church Hill Road, Cowes, IOW PO31 8HH
  • Isle of Wight Natural History & Archaeological Society

    January and February - The milder weather conditions in our area may attract movement of birds from the colder north. It is worth watching the Solent, especially Woodside Bay and off Seaview, for divers, grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers. The estuaries at Yarmouth and Newtown should see flocks of Brent Geese, Black Tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and other waders. Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler,Gadwall and Tufted Duck will also be seen. It is also worth looking at St Helens Duver, Bembridge Harbour and the Brading RSPB Reserve. Inland: walking the cyclepath between Shide and Blackwater you might be lucky to see Siskin and Redpolls. Large flocks of finches may be seen roaming farmland and frequenting hedges.
  • Isle of Wight Ringing Group


Abbreviations Key

  • LNR Alverstone Mead

    WebpageSatellite View
    The alluring Alverstone Mead sits within the Isle of Wight National Landscape and consists of four reserves - Alverstone Mead, Bensteads Marsh, Youngwoods Copse and Bretts Meadow. At the centre of the reserve is a hide, accessed via a raised walkway just beneath a canopy of surrounding trees, where visitors can enjoy views across the Mead watching a range of wetland and woodland birds such as kingfisher and treecreeper as well as red squirrel.
  • LNR Arreton Down

    WebpageSatellite View
    Birds such as goldfinch and linnet are also plentiful and migrants such as wheatear, whinchat, redstart and spotted flycatcher are frequently spotted around the reserve. Raven, kestrel, buzzard and barn owl may be seen soaring overhead throughout the year.
  • LNR Bouldnor Forest

    WebpageSatellite View
    Bouldnor Forest nature reserve is full to the brim with exciting wildlife. Red squirrels leap from branch to branch and unusual birds such as tree creepers and bullfinches flit between the trees.
  • LNR Knighton Down

    WebpageSatellite View
    In the spring, enjoy the distinctive ‘little bit of bread and no cheese!’ call of yellowhammer – a bird that’s now an endangered species. Raven, kestrel and buzzard can be seen soaring overhead all year round, and over the warmer months, the dulcet tones of farmland and grassland birds such as skylark and meadow pipit fill the air. In the summer, look out for carline thistle, salad burnet, squinancywort and the increasingly rare bastard-toadflax. During autumn, watch finches feast on the seeds of summer flowers and look for migrant birds such as wheatear
  • LNR Newchurch Moors

    WebpageSatellite View
    The low lying wetlands, visible from the rights of way, are home to important wetland species. At the water’s edge you may spot a water vole, kingfisher, snipe or woodcock. Many dragonflies use the site including scarce chaser and small red damselfly. Among the melody of the songbirds, including bullfinch, treecreeper, long tailed tit and blackcap, the distinctive drum from greater spotted woodpecker can be heard.
  • LNR Ningwood Common

    WebpageSatellite View
    The mix of habitats is fantastic for wildlife – it’s a haven for red squirrels and dormice. In the summer, you can follow the woodland path and look for silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals flitting about in the sunlight. If you’re an early riser, listen for the iconic song of the nightingale at one of its few remaining strongholds. Later at dusk the elusive nightjar can be heard churring and the ghostly silhouette of a barn owl silently hunting its prey emerges from the trees.
  • LNR Sandown Meadows

    WebpageSatellite View
    A diverse mix of wetland habitats make Sandown Meadows a wonderful place to embrace the outdoors at any time of the year. Watch out for the bright blue and orange flash of a kingfisher diving in the water for fish, or the silent heron poised at the water’s edge, ready for action. Birds such as coots and moorhens pick their way through the long grass and reeds around the ditches. You may hear the tell-tale ‘plop’ of a water vole as it makes a quick getaway. Dusk is the best time to look across the fields for barn owls silently hovering above the grass, hunting for mice and voles. In the summer, enjoy the song of Cetti’s and reed warblers, and the chattering of long-tailed tits in the reeds. In winter, watch wildfowl and waders such as shovelers, teals and lapwings come to feed and roost.
  • NNR Newtown

    WebpageSatellite View
    A quiet backwater with a busy Medieval past, now bursting with wildlife...
  • RSPB Brading Marshes

    WebpageSatellite View
    Brading Marshes is the RSPB's first reserve on the Isle of Wight. It covers most of the beautiful valley of the lower River Yar running from the village of Brading to the sea at Bembridge Harbour.
Sightings, News & Forums
Places to Stay
  • 9 The Ruskins

    This delightful family holiday home can be found just a short stroll from the beautiful beaches of Bembridge and a wonderful array of traditional shops and restaurants. Light filled and with oodles of space, 9 The Ruskins is a contemporary semi-detached home, perfect for family holidays or groups of friends looking for an island getaway.
  • Appuldurcombe House

    Our very individual and picturesque stone holiday cottages are set within the 300 acre Appuldurcombe Estate, with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. An excellent location for family holidays and from which to explore the Island both walking and cycling. Our Owl and Falconry Centre offers flying displays daily with birds of prey from around the world. You can also learn to fly with confidence one of our trained birds on our residential/non-residential falconry courses. Please note, no dogs allowed in the Falconry Centre. Dogs allowed ON LEADS in Appuldurcombe House and Grounds
  • Brambles Chine - Colwell Bay

    Brambles Chine is a fully furnished self catering holiday bungalow on the Isle of Wight, located by the sea at Colwell Bay, near Freshwater sleeping up to 6 people. Nearby are the towns, beaches and attractions of Yarmouth, Colwell Bay, Freshwater, Totland Bay, Alum Bay and The Needles rocks and lighthouse
  • Maytime & Plum Tree Cottages

    Both set in rural locations ideal for nature lovers
  • Nettlecombe Farm

    Nettlecombe Farm is nestled in the heart of the rolling Isle of Wight countryside. It offers nine award winning dog friendly self-catering cottages, unique farm feeding experiences, three coarse fishing lakes, yoga and pilates, educational visits, car charging for guests and discounted ferries.
Other Links
  • Bird Watching on Isle of Wight

    Majestic sea cliffs and sweeping beaches; the quiet solitude of ancient woodlands; an ever changing patchwork of worked fields; the timeless and enduring presence of the downs: intricate inlets of tranquil creeks; long distance views from the coastal heath and downland; winding paths; shutes and hollow ways in the countryside; Chines and steps down cliffs to miles of beaches; all make the landscape a perfect place for birdwatching.
  • Bird watching on the Isle of Wight

    The Isle of Wight is a great place to watch birds - some of the best sites are on National Trust land. Over 200 species are recorded on the Island each year. Quite a few rarities visit us due to our proximity to mainland Europe and migration routes. There's a wide range of habitats: muddy creeks, ancient woodlands, open downs – and of course nowhere on the Island is far from the sea.
  • Birding on the Isle of Wight

    Latest Sightings
  • Its all about the birds

    This guide is divided up into five different sites, with a map of each area and the key species you may find there. On each area page there is a rough outline of some recommended routes around the area with detail on the distance and any notes about the type of area you will be visiting, There are also some examples of the types of facilities in the area such as public transport, access and refreshments.
  • Red Funnel - Bird Watching

    Our guide to bird watching on the Isle of Wight

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

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