Birdlife of the Great Stour

It won’t come as any surprise to you that a river like the Great Stour is a fantastic habitat for birds. Some of the species you’ll see will be familiar – mallards and mute swans, but if you’re lucky you might also see something more elusive like a beautiful kingfisher flashing over the water.

Grey wagtail

This bird is more colourful than it sounds, with bright yellow on its chest and rump. It can be seen flying over the river, perching on overhanging trees, with its long tail bobbing up and down. It feeds on insects and molluscs.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) collecting food for nestlings, at edge of stream, Dorset, UK, May

Listen to it’s call:



Most sitings of a kingfisher are over very quickly! You will typically see a bright blue-green bird pass at great speed, flying along the river. If you’re lucky enough to see one perch on a twig or low branch, you’ll notice a lot of deep orange in the plumage as well. They nest in river banks and catch fish by diving into the water.


Photo: Ruth King

Listen to it’s call:


If you see a dark-coloured bird creeping around in vegetation in or near the river, this is probably a moorhen or a coot. If you see a white undertail, long green legs and bright red beak with yellow tip then you are looking at a moorhen. They can be seen out in the open, looking for insects and worms in the grass.


Listen to its call:


The coot is larger than the moorhen and has a very distinctive white beak and ‘shield’ above the beak. This is where the expression ‘bald as a coot’ comes from. Lobed flaps of skin on its feet act like webs and allow it to run noisily across water before take off or in displays of territorial aggression.


Listen to its call:

Grey heron

The heron is quite an unmistakable bird: large, mostly grey with some black and white plumage, with a long neck and long, yellow legs. It can be seen in the shallows where it stands very still, waiting for passing fish to come into range of  its long beak. It’s a fairly timid species and you may see them taking off from the river as you approach. They are just as distinctive in the air, flying with the neck tucked in and long legs trailing behind.

heron 09 sandwich

Listen to its call:







Canterbury City Council HLF