Look out for migrant birds this spring
The clocks have gone forward, the daffodils are out and the sun is shining (occasionally). Spring is finally here - so for the bird lovers among us, it means there's an exciting few months in store. The birds that fled the cold weather for the winter will be starting to return, so it's a great time to look out for beauties like Swallows, Sand Martins, Wheatears and migrant warblers such as Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.
We thought we'd put together a few tips on how and where to spot returning migrants - and how your garden could become a haven for them until they leave our shores once again in autumn.
What to look for
Lots of species make the long journey to Britain to enjoy our spring and summer, so this is just a short list to get you started - check out the British Trust for Ornithology's blog for more, as well as arrival details.
The Chiffchaff is a small brown warbler that you might be lucky enough to see any time from now. These birds flit through the trees of lowland woodlands and parks, so keep an eye open for them if you go on a spring walk, and listen for their distinctive, repeated "chiff chaff" song.
Swifts are well worth looking out for from late April onwards, as they'll dazzle you with their aerobatic displays and high-speed flights. You may see them darting around buildings in town and country in fast moving 'screaming parties'.
Cuckoos typically arrive in April and tend to prefer hedgerows, woodland, moorland and scrub in terms of habitat - so again, you might be best spotting them on walks. However, they do occasionally practise their nest-stealing behaviour in gardens, usually targeting Dunnock nests, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.
Spring also sees the return of the Swallow, a welcome sign of warmer weather for many people. Also very agile when flying, like the Swift, they tend to prefer open fields and so are more familiar to rural dwellers than urban birdwatchers.
If you're in south-eastern counties like Essex, Kent and Sussex, listen out for Nightingales in thick bushes from April onwards. Their quite plain brown appearance belies their beautiful song and they're just a little larger than Robins.
Finally, if you happen to visit wetland habitats this spring, see if you can spot a Reed Warbler. They're found in their highest concentrations in East Anglia and along the southern coast and tend to frequent reed beds.
Spotting migrants from home?
So what can you do to boost your chances of witnessing these ornithological treats from the comfort of your own home? Well you obviously won't be able to see all of our migrant species from your window as some have more specific habitat requirements than this, but there are plenty of ways to entice those that are attracted to gardens this spring.
If you want birds to nest in your garden, then make sure you have nest boxes and birdhouses in place as soon as possible. Otherwise, returning bird species might not immediately identify your garden as a good location and end up looking elsewhere. You can find a variety of nest boxes and bird houses on offer here.
Offer birds nesting materials
Birds can create nests from all sorts of things, such as hair, twigs, grass clippings or our organic nesting wool, so leave plenty of suitable materials out in your garden. If birds find an environment where everything they need to nest is easily on hand, they'll certainly be encouraged to stick around.
Plant flowers that bloom all through spring
Some plants will flourish at the very start of spring, while others could bloom later on. So if you want to attract a variety of migrant birds, plant a good range of flowers. Not only do they provide a strong visual clue that your garden could be a great stopping off point, they can also offer a great source of nourishment. These could be complemented with shrubs and trees that bear fruit, as they will also be valuable food sources for birds. Click here for a great selection of plants that could draw migrant birds straight to your home.
Put out feeders
Migrant birds clock up a staggering amount of mileage during their long journeys. So why not make sure your garden has plenty of food supplies for them, beyond the flowers, shrubs and trees that you've already planted? Your outdoor space could make the perfect pitstop where travelling birds can rest and refresh themselves for the next leg of their trip.
Provide a mixed menu
Not every variety of bird will eat the same food, so offer a range of alternatives to help you attract the widest possible selection. Just about everything you'll need to lay on a tempting and eclectic menu for migrant birds can be purchased here at the CJ Wildlife website.
Clean and replenish bird food supplies
Birds are far more likely to be drawn to food sources if they are clean and stocked with fresh seed. So keep an eye on your bird feeders throughout the spring months to make sure they are in the best possible condition with the most tempting food supplies.
Experts use everything from bird rings to satellite tracking technology to monitor the movements of various species. But for the keen amateur ornithologist, nothing can equal the satisfaction of having the most beautiful varieties of birds drop in at your door.
By making your back garden or yard an enticing environment for them, you may be treated with regular visits and the chance to view the start of a brand new bird family.