Little Owls Athene noctua ©George McCarthy

The recording area of Sussex consists of the old vice-counties of East and West Sussex (Watsonian areas 13 & 14). They are each local authorities within the historic county of Sussex also containing the city and unitary authority of Brighton and Hove. The region is characterised by its various types of steep sharp chalk hills landscapes known as downland or collectively as the Weald, part of the region’s landscape is in the South Downs National Park. The longest river entirely in Sussex is the River Arun, which is 60 kilometres (37 mi) long. Sussex’s largest lakes are man-made reservoirs. The largest is Bewl Water on the Kent border, while the largest wholly within Sussex is Ardingly Reservoir. The coastal resorts of Sussex and neighbouring Hampshire are the sunniest places in the United Kingdom.

Birding Sussex

East Sussex is bordered by the counties of Kent to the north and east, Surrey to the north west and West Sussex to the west, and to the south by the English Channel. From a geological point of view East Sussex is part of southern anticline of the Weald: the South Downs, a range of moderate chalk hills which run across the southern part of the county from west to east and mirrored in Kent by the North Downs. To the north lie parallel valleys and ridges, the highest of which is the Weald itself (the Hastings beds and Wealden Clay). The sandstones and clays meet the sea at Hastings; the Downs, at Beachy Head.

West Sussex borders East Sussex to the east, Hampshire to the west and Surrey to the north, and to the south the English Channel. Chichester in the southwest is the county town and only city in West Sussex, with the largest towns being Crawley, Worthing and Horsham.

West Sussex has a range of scenery, including weald, downs and coast. The highest point of the county is Blackdown, at 280 metres (919 ft). Over half the county is protected countryside.

West Sussex, being blessed with numerous different habitats, from chalky downland to the great woodland of the Weald; and from the rare sandy heathland of the Greensand Belt through to the bird-friendly harbours and river valleys nearer the coast, has many reserves. They range in habitat from estuarine (Rye Harbour), wetlands & woods (Woods Mill), scrub (Ebernoe Common), grassland (Ditchling Beacon), chalk grassland of the south downs (Malling Down) to lowland heath (Old Lodge).

As with all other parts of the country, the fortunes of many birds are in decline. Wood Warblers are now very scarce and seen on passage only (they were still breeding in the early ’70s) with the same true of Grasshopper Warblers. Tree Sparrow is a much declined and very scarce resident. Willow Tit is now extinct in the county.

On the bright side a recent report noted that it… was a notable year for breeding Honey-buzzards with ten confirmed breeding pairs and five non-breeding pairs. In addition between 25 and 35 other adults were found in suitable habitat during the breeding season which bodes well for the future. The outlook is also bright for Goshawks in Sussex with an apparently increasing breeding population – there may now be in excess of 60 pairs of this impressive raptor which is, in some parts of the county at least, the most frequently encountered bird of prey after Common Buzzard. It was also a positive year for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers with breeding confirmed in five tedrads, probable in six and possible in a further five. Furthermore, Peregrines are doing well with a stable 40 pairs and Dartford Warblers, that suffered badly in the harsh winter of 2018, are recovering well.

This page is sponsored by Exploring the Wild with Simon Ginnaw

Top Sites
  • Ashdown Forest

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    Celebrated as the home of Winnie-the-Pooh, Ashdown Forest is a rare and fragile environment with an ancient heritage.
  • Beachy Head

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    The cliff is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 m (531 ft) above sea level. The peak allows views of the south east coast towards Dungeness in the east, and to the Isle of Wight in the west.
  • Chichester Harbour

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    Chichester Harbour over 3,700 ha of saltmarsh, mudflats and open water, is of critical importance to migrating and wintering wildfowl and waders. These include up to 4% of the world population of Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta b. bernicla. Nearly a third of the site is in Hampshire.
  • Pagham Harbour

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    Pagham Harbour although only a sixth of the area of Chichester Harbour, is deservedly one of the top birdwatching sites in England.
  • Pulborough Brooks

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    Pulborough Brooks attracts hordes of humans, but also thousands of wintering wildfowl.
  • Rye Harbour

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    You can discover our amazing wildlife all day, every day of the year, along many miles of path, with five birdwatching hides accessible to wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 408

Useful Reading

  • Bird Watching in Sussex

    | By Rob Yarham | Snake River Press | 2009 | Hardback | 96 pages, B/w illustrations | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781906022129 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Sussex

    | By Sussex Ornithological Society Edited by Adrian L R Thomas | British Trust for Ornithology | 2014 | Hardback | 608 pages, colour photos, colour illustrations, colour distribution maps, colour tables | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781908581310 Buy this book from
  • Birdwatching at Pulborough Brooks Through the Seasons

    | (A Guide to the West Sussex RSPB Nature Reserve) | by David Golds | SB Publications | 2010 | Paperback | 132 pages, colour photos throughout | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781857703542 Buy this book from
  • Where to Watch Birds in Surrey & Sussex

    | By Matthew Phelps & Ed Stubbs | Christopher Helm | 2024 | Paperback | 320 pages, b/w illustrations, b/w maps | ISBN: 9781399404235 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • County Bird: Stonechat Saxicola torquata

Museums & Universities
  • The Booth Museum

    The Booth Museum is all about birds, butterflies, fossils, and bones. Founded as a Victorian collector's private museum, the Booth Museum now brings natural history to life with interactive displays and hands on activities.
  • Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

    The Friends is an extraordinary group of over 2,000 members, who have been raising money for nearly 50 years to improve the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, working with the Sussex Wildlife Trust to conserve the landscape and to protect wildlife.
  • Henfield Birdwatch

    Welcome to the Henfield Birdwatch website. We are a group with an interest in birds and wildlife in general. We welcome people whatever their birding knowledge. We have group walks, talks, meet regularly for lunch and some people like to share their sightings online.
  • RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

    This is the website of the Brighton & District 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 Chichester Local Group

    This is the website of the Chichester 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 Crawley & Horsham Local Group

    This is the website of the Crawley & Horsham 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 East Grinstead Local Group

    This is the website of the East Grinstead RSPB Wildlife Explorers. RSPB local groups are a great way to meet friendly, like-minded people in your area while learning more about birds and wildlife
  • RSPB Eastbourne & District Local Group

    This is the website of the Eastbourne & District 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 Hastings & St Leonards Local Group

    This is the website of the Hastings & St Leonards 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.
  • Shoreham District Ornithological Society

    Welcome to SDOS - for everyone interested in birds in and around Shoreham-By-Sea, West Sussex.
  • Sussex Ornithological Society

    Formed in 1962 by a small group of young people, the Sussex Ornithological Society has grown to become one of the largest county bird clubs in Great Britain with a current membership of around 2000.
  • Sussex Wildlife Trust

    Sussex Wildlife Trust was formed in 1961 and now has more than 10,000 members. They manage some of the finest sites in Sussex as nature reserves and have 38 reserves covering some of the finest ancient woodlands in Western Europe, spectacular chalk downland, heathlands, grazing marsh and wild flower meadows.
  • WWT Arundel Wetland Centre

    While other parts of the natural world hibernate, WWT Arundel comes to life in winter.

Abbreviations Key

  • Chichester Harbour Conservancy

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    Chichester Harbour Conservancy is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty comprising 11 square miles of water and 11 square miles of land with 17 miles of well marked and lighted channels which, with its easy access to the Solent, makes it an ideal water recreation centre. There are many inter-related activities such as sailing, fishing, walking and wildfowling as well as nearly 9,000 vessels over 3 metres in length, 3,200 moorings, 2,000 berths in four marinas and 14 sailing clubs…
  • LNR Weir Wood Reservoir & Nature Reserve

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    Weir Wood Reservoir in the Ashdown Forest is mostly water, surrounded by strips of open grassland, scrub and woodland. Low lying meadows also form part of the reserve.
  • NNR Castle Hill

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    Of the 58 UK species of butterfly, 31 have been recorded on Castle Hill, including adonis blue, chalkhill blue, small blue and silver spotted skipper. This grassland contains a wide variety of grasshopper, cricket and leafhopper species, including rarer species like the long-winged cone head and Roessel’s cricket. Rarest of all is the wartbiter cricket which has its largest UK colony here. Birds include whitethroat, linnet, yellowhammer, dunnock and blackcap. Kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, red kite and peregrine have also been seen.
  • NNR Lewes Downs (Mount Caburn)

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    Skylarks, meadow pipits, yellowhammers, corn bunting, kestrels and buzzards are amongst the birds that find their homes and food on Mount Caburn. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the speedy peregrine falcon.
  • NNR Lullington Heath

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    Over 250 types of plant grow here. More than 98 types of bird have been seen, 50 of which nest on the reserve.
  • NNR Pevensey Levels

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    Waders and wildfowl include redshank, lapwing and snipe. Smaller birds of wetland habitats include reed bunting, yellow wagtail, reed, sedge and Cetti’s warbler.
  • RSPB Medmerry Nature Reserve

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    Medmerry is one our wild and wonderful reserves, found on the south coast, near Chichester. If offers long walks and bike rides, with panoramic views, glorious sunsets and plenty of wildlife.
  • RSPB Pulborough Brooks

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    Pulborough Brooks is set in the sheltered Arun Valley within the South Downs National Park. The Visitor Centre and reserve is open all year and boasts a great variety of habitats including wetlands, woodland, and heathland. Pulborough Brooks is a haven for a wide range of wildlife, and a fantastic day out for people of all ages.
  • RSPB Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

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    The Nature Reserve is in the Rother District in the County of East Sussex, England. It lies on the coast to the south of the Cinque Port town of Rye, to the west of the River Rother. Within the wider area of ROMNEY MARSH the land has several national and international designations of its wildlife interest. There are eight Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); a candidate Special Protection Area (SPA); a candidate Ramsar wetland site, a potential Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and an Important Bird Area (IBA). Rye Harbour Nature Reserve has all these designations.
  • RSPB The Forewood

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    The Forewood is a substantial block of woodland situated in the Parish of Crowhurst, which lies between Hastings and Battle in East Sussex. I was born and brought up in Crowhurst, and for much of my early life lived at the housing estate which backs onto the South-East corner of the wood. It was one vast playground and adventure park combined, and my knowledge and love of natural history comes mostly from my childhood spent there. The purchase of the wood in the early 1970s by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds secured it's future, and led me to join this excellent organisation…
  • SWT Nature Reserves

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    Across Sussex, the Trust owns a number of wonderful but tiny nature reserves that for a number of reasons are difficult to access. Some are also home to species that are particularly sensitive to disturbance.
  • WWT Arundel Wetland Centre

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    Spot water voles from the boat safari, hand feed rare geese at World Wetlands and stroll gentle pathways to quiet spots to watch Sussex wildlife. Stunning views from the café make it perfect for relaxing, and kids will love the play areas and pond dipping.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Sussex Birding

    Twitter Page
    This is the place to share all your news,sightings and photos of birds in and around the sussex area.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Chichester Harbour Water Tours

    Boat Trips
    2 hours bird watching trips. Visit this area of outstanding beauty on the Sussex coast. A boat trip with Chichester Harbour Water Tours enables you to see much of this unspoilt area from the water, from the narrow harbour mouth between Sandy Point Hayling Island and East Head to the Dell Quay, Bosham, Thorny Island and Emsworth channels. once afloat you will be able to appreciate that the indented harbour shoreline of which there is 48 miles, includes a wide variety of habitats these are sand dunes, mudflats, shingle banks and woods all valuable refuges for seabirds and other interesting wildlife
  • Plovers Birdwatching Breaks

    The emphasis is very much on a personalised service, with a maximum of four people, at a leisurely pace and visiting only local sites across the Dungeness peninsular and surrounding Romney Marsh. The result is minimal travel that affords maximum stress free birding - all birdwatching sites are within a 20-minute drive of Plovers and most are on the doorstep. There will be ample opportunity to elaborate on the finer points of identification and fieldcraft, along with tips on a range of subjects from optics to field guides.
  • WildStarts

    If you're looking for a personal guided birding trip in Sussex, London or South East England, you've found the right place.
Places to Stay
  • Medmerry Park

    fter a long day of birdwatching, there’s nothing better than returning to a comfortable and relaxing base. That’s where Medmerry comes in – our holiday park is located right next to the Medmerry Nature Reserve, making it the perfect base for your birdwatching adventure.
  • Rye Windmill B&B

    Catch a glimpse of a huge array of birds around the countryside or on one of the local nature reserves
Other Links
  • Bird Watching in Pett Level, East Sussex

    Below are listings for bird watching in Pett Level and the surrounding area. You can add your listing to this category here.
  • Brent Lodge Bird & Wildlife Trust

    Brent Lodge Bird & Wildlife Trust is a wildlife hospital based in West Sussex. We are a voluntary organisation that has been treating and rehabilitating injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for over 40 years. We receive over 3,000 patients each year.
  • Garry Bagnell's Birding World

    Diary, trip reports, photographs & my birding stats
  • ObsessedByNature

    Wakehurst Place Gardens and the Loder Valley Reserve occupy nearly 200 hectares (500 acres) and offer a wide range of habitats to breeding and visiting birds…
  • West Sussex Birding

  • Laurence Pitcher - Beachy Head Birder

    An avian highlights retrospective of Beachy Head and the Eastbourne area. In fact much of this years action took place away from headland, which overall had a poor year. A persistent north east airflow in spring and a continual westerly one in autumn meant expected scarcities like Bee-eater, Wryneck and Yellow-browed Warbler all went unrecorded. Notable birds credited with finders initials.
  • Andrew House - Birding the Selsey Peninsula

  • Bola Akinola - The Birds of Climping Gap & Lower Arun Valley

    The Climping Gap remains one of the last undeveloped sites along the coast in West Sussex. This site is dedicated to Birds seen in and around the Climping Gap area by myself and a few die hard friends, that live in the area and have been birding the local patch for decades. (Please email your sighting's to or Tweet to @BirdsofClimping).
  • Cliff Dean - Birding Walks in RXLand

    I started watching birds nearly 60 years ago in SE London, where I grew up.
  • Just Fledged

    I take my dog Odin out walking twice a day, every day and in doing so I have managed to start my 2024 list with a good number of everyday species. The highlight of these has got to be the waxwings...
  • Martin Peacock - Martin's Sussex Birding

    Welcome to my blog. I am a keen birder and nature photographer from Worthing in West Sussex. This is an online diary of my sightings, both the interesting and the not so interesting, hopefully supported by a few decent photographs. I am not a twitcher or competitive lister but, if the bird is still around once the crowds have gone away, I might go and have a look. Comments are always welcome.
  • Matt Eade's Blog

    my birding is mostly in Cuckmere Haven, Splash Pount or on Seaford Head where I try very hard to find rare/scarce birds or just enjoying seawatches. Elsewhere, my travels take me far and wide around the globe in search for some of the rarest or most unique species of birds, whilst aiming for a high world list.
  • Matt Phelps - Matt's birding diary

    Occasional updates on my birding in and around Pulborough
  • Paul Trodd - Plovers

    Based in Dungeness, but entries for visits to East Sussex
  • Tricia Ryder - Tricia's Tales

    A lover of wildlife and birds in particular and a keen photographer who's learning all the time! For me there's nothing better than the great outdoors and escaping into it as often as I can; even if it's only a walk very locally. I love the sea and water in any form. There's something magical about reflections in very still water.
  • Worthing Birding

    Welcome to our blog covering all bird and wildlife sightings around Worthing, West Sussex. We hope to encourage others to enjoy the wildlife that surrounds our town and share sightings. The area boasts many promising sites, though few get much attention from birders.

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