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Five feathery signs that spring is here

The arrival of the spring equinox is a welcome reminder that winter is behind us and we have warmer weather and lighter evenings to look forward to.

The changing of the season can also we seen as nature shows us green shoots, leaf buds on trees, blossom on blackthorn and the first buzzing of bees. 

Another sure sign that spring is upon us is the return of migrant birds to the UK and the spirit-lifting birdsong they bring – something we can all appreciate following a difficult year.

Millions of migrant birds head here to breed, and their songs add extra volume to the morning symphony which culminates in International Dawn Chorus Day on 2nd May. 

Swallow perched on overhead cable (RSPB)

Swallow perched on overhead cable, Hertfordshire (Chris Gomersall/RSPB)

Guy Anderson, RSPB’s migrants recovery programme manager, said “Every spring is special and there’s always a great deal to look forward to.  But I think all of us are in need of an extra boost this year, which the new season certainly promises.

“For me, the greatest joy of all is hearing and seeing our returning migrant birds.  These guys face all kinds of challenges, some flying from as far away as South Africa to reach the UK.

“I think we’re all incredibly eager to hear and see that that natural world is still turning and migrant birds are free of travel restrictions.”

Common Cuckoo (adult male) perched on a lichen-covered branch, Surrey (Ben Andrew/RSPB)

Next time you take a walk listen out for the RSPB’s five feathery signs that spring is at the door:

  • Chiffchaff – one of our earliest migrants to return, you may have already heard one in any southern woody glade – it’s simple ‘chiff-chaff’ song immediately brings to mind a sunny spring day.
  • Wheatear– another early arrival, reaching our shores in March. Often pausing in open bare or short grass fields in the lowlands, before heading for northern and western uplands and coasts to breed. Males are dressed in blue-grey feathers with black wings, a peachy chest and a black bandit mask. Females with more muted shades, but all with the bold white flash on the tail as they take flight – the name ‘wheatear’ probably derives from ‘white-arse’!

Common swift adult in flight, Cambridgeshire (Ben Andrew/RSPB)

  • Cuckoo – the most poignant of spring calls, nothing says spring like the meaningful calling of this iconic migrant.
  • Swallow – whilst one does not a summer a make, their return in April is a sure sign that spring is in session. Many areas had a poor year for swallows in 2020, so let’s hope 2021 is better.
  • Swift – one of our latest returnees but surely one of the most popular, their scythe-like silhouette in the air and their noisy screaming parties really do help to get the festivities started.

Northern wheatear Oenanthe adult standing on meadow amongst flowers, Isle of Mull (Ben Andrew/RSPB)

For more information on the spring migration and how to identify the birds you spot, visit www.rspb.org.uk

Main image: Chiffchaff perched in the leaves of a tree, Co. Durham  (John Bridges/RSPB)

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