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Salt Marsh Winter

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Salt Marsh Winter at Portbury Wharf

The salt marsh winter is exciting and busy. It is perhaps the most active time on the salt marsh in terms of wildlife because 1000s of birds migrate here. In fact this estuary is one of the UK’s most important areas for winter birds many of which are at risk.

A fling of several hundred Dunlin

Our winters can be cold but not as cold as Greenland Iceland and Northern Europe. So many birds that nest and breed up north in the summer, head south to our warmer winters. In spring when the arctic temperatures rise and the light increases they will fly back north to nest.

Some birds come in their thousands like the flings of dunlin, others in their hundreds or less. It is a sad fact that the populations of many of these birds have plummeted over recent decades. So it is important that we help them survive the winter by giving them space to feed and rest.

So Portbury Wharf is a very important area for wintering wildfowl. Some wading birds will keep mainly to the estuary edge and salt marsh where they can find food in the mud at low tide. Others will be happy on the pools in the nature reserve. But it is not just water birds that come here. In the hedgerows look out for the winter thrushes like fieldfares and redwings who will be searching for juicy berries.

Salt marsh winter


Birds of conservation concern that visit the salt marsh

There are 30 birds which you might see on the salt marsh in winter that are either Red listed (at highest risk) or amber listed. Some of these are mainly migratory ie you will only see them in winter or you will see a lot more of them. For instance you may see a few curlews all year round but you may see over 50 together in winter.

Image Name Conservation Status
Black-headed Gull AMBER
Black-tailed Godwit**± RED
Common Sandpiper AMBER
Common Snipe± AMBER



This bird is the most threatened of all our birds. Read more



Dunlin**± Read more AMBER
Gadwall AMBER
Grey Wagtail** RED
Herring Gull RED
Jack Snipe± AMBER
Kestrel AMBER
Kingfisher AMBER
Lapwing± RED
Lesser Black-backed Gull AMBER
Linnet RED
Mallard AMBER
Merlin** RED
Mute Swan AMBER
Oystercatcher AMBER
Redshank AMBER
Reed Bunting AMBER
Ringed Plover RED
Shelduck AMBER
Short-eared Owl** AMBER
Shoveler± AMBER
Skylark RED
Starling RED
Male wigeon

Wigeon± AMBER

** these are also “passage” birds ie on their way through in spring and summer

±mainly winter migrants


How can we help the birds at Portbury Wharf?

A salt marsh winter and dunlin gather by the old jetty
Dunlin by the old jetty

As you can see many of the birds that fly incredible distances to spend the winter with us are now endangered. Some may even be nearing extinction. While they are here the birds on the nature reserve’s pools should be safe, at least from human disturbance.

Special care for birds on the salt marsh

As the salt marsh is such a popular area, birds here are not as safe as those on the reserve. So it is important that we share the area with our wildlife and give them plenty of space so they can get enough food and rest to survive the winter.  So if you are enjoying a walk by the salt marsh then keeping close to the sea wall (dogs too) will ensure they are not driven off. 

salt marsh winter curlew and redshank

There is a biodiversity as well as a climate crisis so we can all help the wildlife on our doorstep.

See our salt marsh index for fascinating salt marsh facts