Advice

Nature's Calendar: May

From a symphony of bird song at dawn to foraging Badgers and bats at dusk, May is packed full of wildlife moments you won’t want to miss! Take a trip outdoors this month to spot wildflowers bursting into bloom and Swifts arriving on our shores.

A lone Sedge Warbler perched on a reed singing.
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International Dawn Chorus Day

Just before first light, thrushes and Robins begin to sing. It’s the opening act of nature’s greatest show. For a breeding bird, energy is valuable, and singing is a costly exercise. If a male bird can hold a strong tune, he proves to prospective partners that his larder is well stocked.

This month marks the crescendo of the Dawn Chorus as migratory songsters, like Whitethroats and Nightingales, have arrived back on their breeding territory. But plenty of resident birds and early arrivals can still be heard, as they’re still on the lookout for their dream date.

On Sunday 5 May, we celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day. Listen to the Dawn Chorus from the comfort of your local patch (you can even lie in bed and open a window!) Or head on down to an RSPB reserve to hear a different lineup of singers in each unique habitat. Why not lend the ear of one of our expert guides on an International Dawn Chorus Day Guided walk?

  • Hear the whirring and chuntering of Sedge and Reed Warbler alongside the booming Bitterns in reedbeds like Ham Wall and Newport Wetlands.
  • A walk through ancient oak woodlands is accompanied by the whistling of Pied Flycatchers and the trilling of Wood Warblers at reserves like Nagshead and Loch Lomond.
Pied Flycatcher perched on a tree branch.

Badgers go bump in the night

Deep in our woodlands, clans of Badgers snuffle around their ancient underground setts. Around four to eight individuals can live together in a network of twisting tunnels and hollows, where nesting chambers are lined with bedding material to keep young cubs warm. These communal breeding and sleeping spaces are often passed down through the generations, with some setts thought to be over 100 years old.

Their diet mostly consists of earthworms, but these adaptable mammals will forage for fruit, berries and slugs when the ground is dry. Badgers also becoming more and more present in urban settings too, adapting to life in smaller setts and feasting on whatever they can find.

Badgers are less active in winter so are best seen between April and July. The arrival of cubs means more badger activity outside of the sett, and coupled with shorter nights, they’re more likely to be seen foraging in the daylight.

Looking to see Badgers yourself? Take a look behind the scenes at Wild Haweswater’s dedicated Badger hide (and book it for yourself!).

Two Badgers exploring a patch of grass.

No Mow May

Did you know that domestic gardens make up roughly a quarter of UK urban land? Our back gardens account for more land than all our nature reserves combined – that’s a win for nature, just waiting to be unlocked.  

So, why not ditch the lawn mower and let your garden grow wild? Not only does this save you from breaking a sweat on a spring day, but the flowers that could emerge in your garden are invaluable for our pollinators.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your wildlife-friendly garden, then why not head to Flatford Wildlife Garden in Essex? Here, we manage a family-friendly garden with wildlife front of mind. Take some ideas home, either for your own patch or a community green space!

A Brown Butterfly perched on small a green stem topped with small, yellow flowers.

Early Orchids

Along with our back garden blooms, May sees our meadows burst into life. Orchids bejewel our grasslands with their kaleidoscopic colours.

Their heady fragrances attract bees, but these unusual flowers need more than just pollination! Orchids are highly specialised plants, uniquely adapted to their habitats. They are dependent on the presence of particular fungi in the soil which are essential for the seed to be able to germinate. As a result, many UK orchids are quite rare!

In May, take a look for Early Purple Orchids, one of our earliest emerging orchids, which can be found in old woodlands and grasslands. As the weather warms up, keep your eyes peeled for the Common Spotted Orchid, which can even be seen on road verges if they’ve been left to grow wild!

A Southern Marsh Orchid stands tall with pink flowers between a bed of green and yellow grass.

Swift arrivals

A screeching Swift overhead marks the beginning of summer for many. These short-stayed visitors arrive on our shores in May after making one of the longest migration journeys of any of our species. Swifts migrate roughly 3,400 each way, after spending the rest of the year in skies over sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the long journey, their time here is brief, and they leave the UK by the end of July.

Even though their stay is short, their breeding territories are the only place they touchdown. Once a Swift leaves its nest, the next time it’s thought to land again is when it lays its own clutch of eggs at either age two or three.

Along with eating on the wing, it’s thought that Swifts even sleep in the sky. Studies have shown that some bird species can press snooze on one half of their brain at a time while in flight!

Despite all the adaptations which make Swifts successful, their populations are in steep decline. Insect numbers are plummeting, meaning a lack of feeding opportunities for this special species. Their nesting sites are at risk, due to a lack of nooks and crevices in modern buildings. From building your own Swift next box to mapping where your local Swifts are spending the summer, there’s plenty you can do to give this species a helping hand.

Make sure to keep your eyes to the skies over the next few weeks to spot your first Swift of the year!

A Swift soaring in an urban environment.

Emerging bats

The old saying goes ‘blind as a bat’, but did you know that bats have perfectly good sense of sight? However, when they hunt at night, they’re much more dependent on their hearing. Bats rely on echolocation: their very own radar system. They emit a high frequency noise, which bounces off objects and potential prey items, allowing them to paint an audio picture of their surroundings.

The UK is home to 18 species of bats: some we might find flying around our gardens, like the Common Pipistrelle, while others are becoming increasingly scarce sights, such as the Bechstein’s Bat and the Daubenton’s Bat. Like Swifts, some bat species are suffering species decline due to reduced numbers of insects and a lack of roost sites available.

Bats hibernate through the winter months and begin to emerge from the end of April. Head outside at dusk to watch bats forage on the wing for insects. We recommend visiting a pond or lake to see bats skimming the surface for a flying feast!

A Pipistrelle Bat flying under green leaves.

RSPB Nature Reserves to visit in May

Scotland:

Aerial view of the boardwalk across a large body of water.
RSPB Lochwinnoch Nature Reserve, Scotland
Lochwinnoch

Only a short journey from Glasgow, this wetland reserve offers a moment respite from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Maybe you’ll listen to Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler on an early morning stroll, or perhaps you’ll see a Daubenton’s Bats feasting over the water as dusk draws in?

England:

Strumpshaw Fen

Highland cattle graze orchid rich meadows, while Swifts soar over reedbeds and woodlands. From Bitterns to Blackcaps, head to the reserve early to catch the sounds of spring on a Dawn Chorus guided walk.

St Aidan’s

A former industrial sites, this inner-city reserve has been transformed into a slice of paradise for wildlife. At first light, hear Bitterns boom and Cetti’s Warblers sing, or venture out at twilight to detect bats on a Nocturnal Wildlife walk.

Wales:

Conwy

Wake up early to hear Reed Warblers and Water Rails join the Dawn Chorus. The reserve’s flower-rich grasslands and meadows are bursting with life: spot Early Marsh Orchids in May, and Bee Orchids in June and July.

Ynys-hir

A wander through a mosaic of ancient Celtic woodland and wet reedbed at dawn is accompanied by the song of Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers. This Dawn Chorus is set to a stunning backdrop of southern Snowdonia and the Cambrian mountains.

Northern Ireland:

Aerial view of Portmore Lough, green fields and water stretching towards a large lough.
Portmore Lough RSPB reserve
Portmore Lough

Listen to Skylarks sing and watch Swallows swoop over the flower-rich meadows. Common Terns nests on islands throughout the summer months, while Daubenton’s Bats skim over the open water at dusk.