Bopping Birds - Nature’s Strictly Come Dancing Stars

Guide

The Strictly Come Dancing final is upon us, but let’s be honest, these human cha cha sliders ain’t got nothing on nature’s best groovers and gliders. And we’re not talking your exotic birds of paradise here, we’re talking about the birds which strut their feathery stuff right here in the UK. Here are our sensational six UK birds whose flawless routines would be sure to get the Strictly judges all in a flap.

Common Crane

Common cranes mate for life but break out the moves for their partner every spring to show they’ve still got the skills as well as the bills. What they lack in refined style they make up for in passion, energy and unadulterated joy, flapping their huge wings and jumping incredibly high while occasionally throwing greenery about. It’s a bit like watching a much more impressive version of two toddlers high on sugar at a wedding disco.

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Wedding Disco

Where and when to see it: In Britain migrating cranes are mostly seen in the south and east, with small breeding populations in Norfolk and Somerset. They usually perform their mating routine in late winter and early spring.  

RSPB Reserves:

The RSPB has been a key part of The Great Crane Project which has helped to re-establish cranes in the south west of England. Find out more here.

Great Crested Grebe

These elegant birds are basically like the pros of Strictly - the male and female should be split up and each given a mallard to train up. In early spring they change out of their winter plumage into their glad rags, complete with fantastic crests from which they get their name.  Then, once a pair likes the look of each other, the dancing starts. It is a beautiful routine of synchronised head shaking, each mirroring the action of the other. Sometimes they twist and bob before returning to face each other as if to say “ta-da!” Their signature move is known as the weed dance, which does it no justice at all. The pair dive down and come up with water plants in their beaks, rush towards each other and then almost appear to walk on water, shaking their heads and admiring each other’s physical prowess. It’s a moment of real dancing quality destined for a top score.  

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Fandango Fire

Where and when to see it: Their courtship displays can be seen from February and throughout spring at lowland lakes, gravel pits, reservoirs and rivers.

RSPB Reserves:

Hen Harriers

The male hen harrier takes dancing to new heights with his acrobatic routine full of drama and pizazz. The skydancer might look like he is lighting up the sky for no-one, but he knows there are female eyes upon him, hidden in the heather, watching his every move.  This is a bird that likes to get down, and then up, and then get down again. ascending high into the air and then dropping like a stone in spectacular style.

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Rollercoaster Rock Out

Where and when to see it: Hen Harriers breed and perform their sky dances in August and September in the upland heather moors of Wales, Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as the Isle of Man. In winter there is no dancing but the harriers still make a spectacular sight in farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys.

RSPB Reserves:

You may be also interested in the Skydancer Project, run by the RSPB which raised awareness and promoted the conservation of hen harriers.

Pigeon

It is not widely known, but when Maroon Five penned their global smash ‘Moves Like Jagger’ they were referring to the feral pigeon. Chest puffed out, wings back, head strutting, the male pigeon likes to get his Jumpin Jack Flash on, almost anytime, anywhere to try and impress, although peak breeding is between March and July.  Their moves are so cool that there are rumours they are the reason behind their original name - the Rock Dove.

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Jumpin' Jack back to back

Where and when to see it: Feral pigeons are found almost everywhere except uplands, but particularly in urban and suburban areas. The wild rock dove, which is the wild ancestor of domestic and feral pigeons, is now only found on the northwest coasts of Scotland, on islands and on Northern Ireland coasts.

Black grouse and capercaillie

Black grouse Tetrao tetrix, adult male on lek. Corrimony RSPB reserve. Scotland

These two different species are united by their love of the dance off. The males turn up for the local lek, or disco, like buff body builders in the latest designer gear. The tension mounts, the big guys eye each other up and occasionally a brawl breaks out, but the dancefloor is where we find out who is bringing the real fire. Black grouse choose a shuffle approach, scooting along with their heads down and tails up. The bigger capercaillie takes it to the next level, its impressive tail fanned and head held high, making its own drum beat with a strange clicking sound. The fittest takes centre stage and owns it like feathery Liam Gallagher.

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Blue Steel Beats Dance Off Classics

Where and when to see it: Black grouse are found in the upland areas of Wales, the Pennines and most of Scotland. They are best found on farmland and moorland with trees nearby. They lek for much of the year, the key period being April and May.

Capercaillie are generally confined to native pinewoods in Scotland. They are a rare and declining bird and highly sensitive to disturbance. It is illegal to disturb them during the breeding period (April – mid August) so best to watch them from the comfort of your home via the web.

RSPB Reserves:

Black Grouse

Capercaillie

Starling

There will be no red light of doom once the judges see this routine. Although not officially a dance, the beautifully choregraphed performance is a worthy inclusion in any competition. The starlings gather together in their thousands at dusk to roost, choosing a place they feel is safer from predators and the elements.  Some say the result is like the best line dancing flash mob they have ever seen, thousands of birds moving in perfect harmony wearing little Stetsons and boots. Fortunately we can’t hear the terrible country song they are dancing to, so the result is one of the most beautiful sights in nature and warms many a heart on a cold winters eve.

Favourite Spotify Playlist: Achey Breaky Country Gold

Where and when to see it: Starlings are widespread throughout the UK except the highest parts of the Scottish Highlands. The murmurations take place in winter at places such as plantations, reedbeds and in city centres.

RSPB Reserves where murmurations have been seen: