Wildlife in the Cemetery | Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Wildlife in the Cemetery

The Cemetery is a haven for wildlife in the middle of Berkhamsted, with many species of wild birds, mammal and insects. Here are some you may see, depending on the time of year.


Male blackbird

The common blackbird (Turdus merula) is easily recognised by its striking bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring. Its varied song is one of the most beautiful birdsongs in British gardens. Confusingly, female blackbirds are actually brown, often with spots and streaks on their breasts.  Listen to a blackbird song:



Male chaffinch 

The male chaffinch is a distinctive pink and grey with a blue-grey cap and rust-red underparts and black and white wings. The female has similar markings but is much duller. In spring and early summer, the male chaffinch’s song is one of the most enchanting and easily recognisable birdsongs in Britain, with repeating bursts of rapid twittering.  Male chaffinch song:


Blue tit

Blue tit

Another easily identifiable bird is the blue tit, with its bright blue and yellow plumage. The blue tit looks similar to a great tit, but it is smaller and has a blue cap on its head.


Great tit

Great tit

With their blue and white plumage, great tits are slightly larger than their cousins, the blue tit, but they can be recognised by the black cap on their heads.


Coal tit

Coal tit

Even smaller than blue tits, coal tits are mostly coloured black around the head, with beige lower plumage and blue-grey wings.



A staple character of Christmas cards and unmistakable with its bright red breast, the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) has been voted Britain’s favourite bird. Many robins make their home in the cemetery.

Robins can be seen all year round. Their melodic spring song starts in December. Nocturnal robins can be heard singing in the middle of the night as roosting robins are often disturbed by street lighting. When alarmed, robins also make a distinctive “tik-tik-tik” call to ward off other birds. Despite their cute appearance, robins are very aggressive to other birds that invade their territory. However, they can be quite tame around humans and will readily come near people who offer food!

Robin song:

Robin warning call:


Red kite

Red kite in flight

This large, magnificent bird of prey can be recognised by its distinctive forked tail, black and white angled wings and red plumage underneath. With a wingspan of nearly 2 metres, this is one of Britain’s largest birds.

Kites were extinct in England but were re-introduced in 1989 the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy Council. You can often spot a red kite hovering high over Rectory Lane Cemetery, probably hunting a tasty field mouse! 


Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

Rectory Lane Cemetery is an welcoming habitat for beetles and field mice, providing a rich food source for tawny owls, who feed on insects and small rodents. 

If you’re around the cemetery at night, you may hear the call of the female tawny owl, a shrill, “kew-wick” sound. The hooting owl song is the male tawny, a haunting “hoo-hooooo” sound, usually in response to the female call.

The popular “too-whit-too-whoo” description actually refers to the sound of this female-male duet; it originates in Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost: “Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot” (Act 5, Scene 2)

Female tawny owl call:

Male tawny owl call:



A hawfinch in the Rectory Lane Cemetery yew trees

The hawfinch is Britain’s largest finch. It is a shy bird, and only rarely seen as its numbers have declined in recent years, although they have been spotted recently in Rectory Lane Cemetery. Hawfinches have similar grey-pink plumage to a chaffinch but are much bigger. If you are lucky enough to see one, you can recognise it by its large, powerful bill.


Song Thrush

A thrush

The song thrush (Turdus philomelos) is a brown speckled bird. Like its close relative, the blackbird, the thrush is known for its distinctive, melodic song.

Now a protected species, UK thrush numbers have declined by 54% since 1970. It is thought that increased use of pesticides have reduced the availability of snails and earthworms, the thrush’s favourite food. Because we avoid the use of pesticides in the cemetery, we are attracting more thrushes and you may hear their beautiful song here in the summer.

Listen to a song thrush:


Grey Squirrel

One of Rectory Lane's resident grey squirrels

There is a thriving grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) population in the cemetery. They can be seen foraging for food among the graves. When they are stressed by predators, they can be heard “barking” in the trees, a warning signal to others in their colony.

Grey squirrels are actually native to North America. They were introduced to Britain in the 1870s by landowners as fashionable additions to country estates. Since then, they have spread and are now considered an invasive species. The red squirrel, a native British species, has been almost entirely displaced by the greys. This may be because produce more young and can store more fat to survive winters. Grey squirrels also carry the squirrelpox virus, to which red squirrels have no immunity.

Unfortunately, several trees in the cemetery have been damaged by squirrels, shortening their lifespan by many years.

Listen to squirrels barking:



For more information please contact

photo of Kate Campbell

 Kate Campbell

Community Engagement Officer
      07866 024254