Nature's Calendar: May

And just like that, it’s May. It’s been a soggy start to spring, but there's still plenty to see and discover out there. So, who can we expect to spot in our gardens and countryside this month?

A lone Blackcap singing whilst perched on a tree stump.
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Listen to the song of the Nightingale

Ah, the Nightingale (pictured right), the legendary melody maker. For those living in parts of southern England the male’s song raises the birdsong bar during April and May after they arrive here to breed. But they’re rarely seen secret songsters, skulking and lurking in thick scrub. Their presence is often only given away by the brilliant bursts of notes set free with theatrical abandon. They sing during the day and at night to try and attract a mate. But by June most males have paired up, or given up, and the most famous summer songster of all falls silent for another year.  

While the Nightingale stays in the south, another fine songster is out on tour across much more of the UK. Blackcaps, sometimes known as the northern nightingale, can be seen here all year round now, but most join us just for the breeding season.  Their song is a flute inspired ballad to summer, warm in tone and bursting with brightness. You can hear it in woodlands, but also parks and gardens if there are lots of trees and shrubs about.

A close up of a Nightingale looking up toward the sky, against a bring green background.

Skylarks and Yellowhammers

In the countryside another fabled songster, the Skylark, is taking to the skies to perform. If you’re out for a spring stroll around suitable farmland, their rich, fluid and achingly beautiful song can provide an almost continuous soundtrack, the notes dancing and descending around your ears.

Yellowhammers (pictured left) are also in full performance mode. Although less tuneful, the male’s “little bit of bread and no cheese” ditty and bright yellow belly and face are bound to raise a smile. Like many farmland birds, the songs of the Yellowhammer and Skylark are disappearing from many areas, with both birds on the Red List of the UK Birds of Conservation Concern. 

A lone Yellowhammer perched in a tree filled with pink flowers.

Dawn Chorus Day

Whether it’s Skylarks, Blackcaps, Nightingales or Robins (pictured right), the UK’s birdsong spectacular is reaching its crescendo. If there was ever a reason to get up early on a Sunday, this is it.

Whether you're sat in your PJs with a cuppa next to an open window or in the middle of an ancient wood with your flask and big coat, take an early morning moment just to sit back and listen to one of our truly great nature experiences.

If you would like to join us, we’ve got loads of events on at nature reserves across the UK for our
Dawn Chorus Festival.

A Robin perched upon a moss covered branch.

Cow Parsley

Live fast die young is Cow Parsley’s motto. This short-lived perennial brightens our verges this month, with a mass of white flowers erupting along lanes and roadsides.

Cow Parsley has many alternative names, such Queen Anne's lace and fairy lace, because of the delicate appearance of its flowers, which attract Orange-tip butterflies, bees and hoverflies.

Rabbits also come to munch, which is not a huge surprise seeing as though the plant is related to celery, parsley and carrots.

But, by June the flowers are gone, with other similar plants taking on the blooming baton.

Tadpoles inbound

May’s a great month to go pond dipping and one of the highlights can be getting a glimpse of wriggling gangs of tadpoles. By now both Toad and Frog tadpoles will have hatched and be swimming around, hiding from predators and searching for food. At first they’re vegetarian, eating algae and pond plants. But as they get older they switch to eating insects and other minibeasts.

Amazingly tadpoles can control the rate of their transformation into toads and frogs. For instance, they may turn into frogs more quickly to escape a pond teeming with predators like fish. On the other hand, if there’s plenty of algae to munch through and limited predators – or if the weather is too cold – tadpoles can delay and remain in the water for up to a year. But most Common Frog tadpoles become fully formed froglets in around 14 weeks.

Flight of the Elephants

May signals the start of the UK’s elephants taking to the skies. We’re talking Elephant Hawk moths of course, the big moths in the vivid pink and golden green get up.

These moths are night flyers, and they’re fairly common around much of the UK, including in suburban areas. You'll likely see them looking for suitable food plants, with honeysuckle and other tubular flowers a particular favourite.

The moth’s caterpillar is equally impressive, growing up to 8cm with two big eye spots which swell up to scare off predators. They can be seen feeding on willowherbs, fuchsia and bedstraw from July until September.

A lone Elephant Hawkmoth perched on a green leaf.

Hedgehogs hooking up

How do Hedgehogs mate? Very carefully, the joke goes. In the UK these prickly characters can pair up any time between April and September, but the big “rut” takes place this month and next. Head out on a warm evening and you might hear some surprisingly noisy huffing and grunting as the mating games get underway, with pairs chasing and barging around in the undergrowth.

The female Hedgehog will give birth around four weeks after mating. There are usually between three and seven hoglets who will spend up to six weeks with their mother before setting out on their own.

Lone Hedgehog sat on a rotting log, surrounded by golden, fallen leaves.

Visit an RSPB nature reserve this month

May is a fantastic time to visit an RSPB nature reserve. Everything is bursting with life, with many birds busy nesting and birdsong reaching a noisy climax. Resident species such as Robins and Blue Tits are joined by a whole host of migrant birds including Swallows and numerous warblers. Listen out too for the insistent high-pitched cheeps of hungry chicks.

Many RSPB nature reserves also run special events to help you discover the wildlife there, such as pond-dipping, birdsong for beginners and walks with wardens.  

A child kneeling in a meadow, looking through binoculars towards the camera.

How to help nature in May

No Mow May!

Sun’s out, mowers out? It doesn’t have to be this way. By leaving your grass a little longer it has huge benefits for wildlife. For one it lets small flowers on your lawn, such as daisies, dandelions or clover, come into bloom for bees and other nectar collecting insects. You might be treated to a few rarer plants flowering you didn’t even know were there too.

Longer grass also offers a safer space to other insects to live, which can be a food source for birds and other wildlife. Even if you leave just some of your grass to grow longer, it can make a real difference to the wildlife near you.