Winter wildlife in North Wales

Hundreds of thousands of birds come to North Wales for their winter holidays (hint, hint…). While you’re here, you can see seal pups, clouds of acrobatic choughs, murmurations of starlings, and the biggest roost of ravens in Europe.

  • Grey seals on the North Wales coast

    An Atlantic grey seal swimming in Welsh waters
    Atlantic grey seal

    Our largest resident carnivore is a common sight in Wales: around 5,000 grey seals live in our waters. They can be seen almost everywhere along the coast, but if you want to combine guaranteed seal-spotting with a fabulous walk, then strike out onto the headland at Porthdinllaen to visit the resident colony. The seal pups are born from August to December, spending their first month of life as cute bundles of white fluff on the beaches. On the way back, stop for a drink at the beachfront Tŷ Coch pub and consider whether the Latin name for the grey seal - ‘Halichoerusgrypus’, meaning ‘hooked-nosed sea pig’- is just a little harsh. 

  • A tern flying over Gronant
    A tern flying over Gronant, North East Wales by Gav Jones

    Gronant's are the best-preserved dunes on the North Wales coast, a beautifully wild strip of sand dune, marsh, shingle and beach, stretching from Prestatyn to Point of Ayr. It’s the winter home to all kind of birds, including 100,000 waders and 20,000 waterfowl. But our favourite visitor is the pretty little snow bunting, which comes down from its Arctic breeding grounds to spend the mild winter months here.

  • A kingfisher flying at the Spinnies Nature Reserve
    A kingfisher at Spinnies Nature Reserve, Snowdonia by

    When early industrialists diverted the River Ogwen, they cut off a large loop in the river which has gradually evolved into the wildlife oasis it is today. Set amid a small woodland, a series of ponds and a lagoon provide shelter and food for many species of wildfowl and waders. More than 185 species of bird have been spotted here, and the Spinnies is one of the best places around to enjoy abundant little egrets and kingfishers. 

  • Two ducks flying the RSPB Reserve at Point of Ayr
    Ducks at Point of Ayr RSPB Reserve, North East Wales by Ross Davies

    RSPB Point of Ayr reserve really comes into its own in winter when thousands of migrant birds flock to the marshes and dunes of the Dee Estuary. High tide is the best time to visit, when the rising waters force the birds onto the saltmarshes, so you get even closer views of the waders, and the commotion caused by a passing peregrine, merlin or hen harrier.

  • A raven at Newborough Forest on the Isle of Anglesey

    A raven near Newborough Forest, Anglesey

     by Ciaran Bradshaw

    You might associate ravens with the Tower of London, which is home to seven of these fabulous birds, the biggest and cleverest of the crow family. Newborough Forest has – wait for it – more than 800 of them, who return at dusk to roost in the high conifers. If Europe’s biggest raven-roost isn’t a big enough draw, Newborough leads on to Llanddwyn Island, one of the most wildly romantic spots on Earth. 

  • Here’s a great example of a community getting together to save its wild spaces from the developers. Thanks to local campaigners, Eithinog's 10-hectare haven of unspoilt grassland, gorse, copses and gorse scrub is now managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. It supports an astonishing range of delicate, multi-coloured fungi, such as pinkgill, waxcaps and earth-tongues, as well as Wales’s only fairy club fungus. 

  • Oystercatcher
    Oystercatcher

    The beach at Llanfairfechan is the starting point for a pleasant half-mile stroll to the saltmarsh of Glan y Môr Elias, which is like a luxury hotel for roosting seabirds. A raised path runs through the marsh, where you’ll certainly see several thousand oystercatchers, large numbers of wigeon, teal and pintail, as well as godwit, greenshank and little egret. As a bonus, there are also lots of interesting smaller birds like linnet, wheatear, firecrest and goldcrest.

  • Great crested grebe
    Great crested grebe

    The great crested grebe is a handsome fellow, with a fancy ruff and punk hairdo which it loves to display in the breeding season. In the winter, they retreat to coastal areas like Traeth Lafan's vast network of tidal sands and mudflats on the north mouth of the Menai Strait, where Britain’s largest population of grebes gather to moult and spend the colder months. Other eye-catchers include red breasted mergansers and golden eye.

  • South Stack lighthouse and nature reserve, seen from above
    South Stack, Anglesey by Crazy Horse

    The chough is the show-off little brother of the crow family, with its distinctive red legs, red beak, and a cheerfully anarchic personality. Nationally they’re very rare, but you’d never guess it from a stroll along the clifftops on RSPB South Stack. During autumn and winter, choughs gather here in flocks, offering wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping. 

  • A starling seen at RSPB Conwy in North Wales
    A starling at RSPB Conwy, Llandudno by Ashley Cohen

    It’s nature’s most spectacular free shows: hundreds of thousands of starlings, forming shifting clouds and mesmerising patterns in the dusk sky, before falling to the reed beds to roost. They’ve reported as many as 350,000 birds in a murmuration (if you don’t believe us, you count them). Situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary, with magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, RSPB Conwy Reserve is delightful at any time of year.