Our top 10 wildlife sightings for February

Love is in the air in February! Listen out for birds singing and look out for early spring flowers.... Written by Kate Titford, BBOWT.
Woodpecker at The Avenue Washlands, Stewart Abbott

Woodpecker at The Avenue Washlands, Stewart Abbott

1. Drumming great spotted woodpeckers

Listen out for great spotted woodpeckers drumming on trees to announce their presence in the woods. Did you know their sharp bill is powered by strong neck muscles and their brain is protected from all the drumming by a special type of bone that absorbs the stress. 

Male great spotted woodpeckers have red feathers at the nape of their necks while females have no red on their heads at all. 

Heron by David Tipling 2020VISION.JPG

Heron by David Tipling 2020VISION.JPG

2. Grey herons and heronries

Grey herons build their large nests in trees by rivers or lakes. You’ll often see many nests in the same tree and these groups of nests are known as heronries.

Male herons put on a courtship dance to attract a female. The male will stretch his long neck upwards and then lower it over his back with the bill pointing upwards.

Great crested grebe, Hilton Pete via Flickr

Great crested grebe, Hilton Pete via Flickr

3. Great crested grebes

Great crested grebes also have an elaborate courtship dance. If you're lucky enough to live close to a river or lake with great crested grebes, watch as the males and females mirror each other on the water, diving down and rising up in perfect unison.

Great crested grebes were once very endangered in the UK. Historically they were hunted for their soft feathers which were used a substitute for fur and elaborate head feathers which were used to decorate women’s hats.

Frogspawn

(C) Katrina Martin / 2020VISION

4. Frog spawn

Frogs breed before toads and you may see great jelly masses of early frog spawn in ponds in February. If you have a pond in your garden, don’t introduce frog spawn from elsewhere, wait until frogs find your pond and create their own.

Toad, Neil Shaw, via Flickr

Toad, Neil Shaw, via Flickr

5. Toads

Toads breed later in the spring than frogs but this month you should see them start to return to their breeding areas. Some toads have to cross roads to reach the ponds. You can help them cross safely by becoming a toad patroller.

Once toads do breed look for long strands of toad spawn in ponds compared with the large masses of spawn that frogs produce.

6. Hazel flowers

Hazel produces female flowers and male catkins at this time of year. The tiny flowers are bright pink. Take a close look and be amazed by this minute flower waiting to catch pollen released by the catkins.

Catkins

(C) Bob Coyle

7. Catkins

Hazel catkins hang like little (lamb’s!) tails from bare branches, wafting pollen in the breeze.

Hazel isn’t the only plant that produces catkins but is one of the earliest. Other trees that produce catkins include willow species and alder.

Lesser celandine

(C) Shirley Freeman

8. Lesser celandine

Look for a sunny splash of colour from lesser celandines. They have shiny, heart-shaped leaves and flower in early spring. You might spot them in damp woodland or along stream banks and ditches. They're an important source of food for early insects emerging after winter.

Common dog violet

(C) Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

9. Violets

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is the first of the violets of the year to bloom. This is the only violet which has a fragrance so take a sniff if you see one!

Later in spring look for common dog-violet in woods and hedge-banks. Hairy violet grows in grassland and scrubby areas on lime and chalk.

Primroses

(C) Philip Precey

10. Primroses

The sight of primroses in woodland, on hedgebanks and waysides is a sure sign that spring is on its way. Did you know the name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning first rose of the year.