The most welcoming signs of spring

From snowdrops to the dawn chorus, after the dark days of winter, the first signs of spring offer promise of new life and warmer, lighter days. Here is our guide on the first signs of spring look out for across the British countryside.

Daffodils in a woodland

What are the first signs of spring?

The first signs of spring are a welcome sight after the dark, cold days of winter. In the UK, the first signs of spring are signalled by the sound of birdsong, buds on trees and early spring flowers, such as snowdrops.

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Our guide on the first signs of spring to look out for in the UK, including the best places to visit in the British countryside to spot spring wildlife.

1

Snowdrops

Delicate snowdrops appear in the UK from January to early March. While they are often quickly buried in snow, these lovely nodding white flowers hint that the dark days and long nights of winter will soon be drawing to a close.

Snowdrops in woodlands
Head to your local woodlands to spot snowdrops in January and February (Getty)

When do snowdrops bloom in the UK?

Snowdrops flower between January and March, often appearing en masse and creating a characteristic ‘white blanket’ coverage. The species has long been associated with winter – the latin name, Galanthus nivalis, literally translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’. They thrive in lightly shaded woodland areas and can be found all around the UK.

In the 1950s, snowdrops would not typically flower until late February, but during the past few decades the teardrops of white have appeared ever earlier, and in particularly mild winters, snowdrops may not even wait for a New Year to begin.

See our Snowdrops guide: best snowdrop walks in the UK and how to grow

Denbighshire, Llandegla, bridge over river Alyn, daffodils, springtime, national flower of Wales

2

Dawn chorus

Singing us into spring, the birds really get going with their morning melodies by early March as they seek to attract mates and defend their territories. The early-worm-catchers are the skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds whereas smaller birds such as wrens and warblers seem to stay in bed until it’s a bit warmer.

If you’re lucky it is possible to be serenaded at certain locations by both nightingale and bittern at the same time. Mike Dilger shares his favourite spots for listening to the dawn chorus.

Listen to the dawn chorus recorded by editor Fergus Collins on his podcast from the Blorenge Mountain in Monmouthshire.

Robin singing
Wake to the joyful sound of the dawn chorus in spring (Getty)
3

Lesser celandine

Bright yellow stars at the woodland’s edge and the hedgerow’s foot. Flowers from February to late April.

Yellow Lesser Celandine flower in English countryside with space for copy or text.
Yellow Lesser Celandine flower in English countryside with space for copy or text.

A beginner’s guide to native British wildflowers

The simple beauty of wildflowers is a joy. Our guide to native British wildflowers looks at lovely flowers that bloom over summer.

Spring flowerLorton Meadows, Dorset

4

Buzzards skydancing

Britain’s commonest bird of prey, the buzzard is the species most often seen soaring. It wheels about in the air on broad wings, with its tail fanned out and wingtip feathers widely splayed. Eats birds, mammals and carrion. When male buzzards begin showing off their skydiving skills you know that they’re thinking of settling down with a mate, so warmer weather must be on its way.

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo, single bird in flight, Warwickshire, June 2014
Common buzzard, Buteo buteo, single bird in flight, Warwickshire, June 2014

A vantage point near a wooded hill is the perfect place to watch their rollercoaster-like aerobatic displays which see them corkscrewing down from a great height, then soaring back into the skies.  Best time to spot from January.

British birds of prey guide: how to identify raptors and where to see

Learning a few key characteristics – such as wing shape, flight style and colour – can help you distinguish one bird of prey species from the next, even from far below. Here is our expert guide to British birds or prey, also known as raptors, and best places to see in the UK.

Osprey in flight (Photo by: John Wright)

5

Daffodils

These vivid flowers are one of the first signs that spring is truly under way. Bursting with the promise of sunny days just around the corner, these joyful yellow flowers blossom from late February to early April.

Daffodils
Daffodils
Getty

Did you know that galantine, a compound extracted from daffodils, is used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s as it slows the progress of the disease?

Here is our pick of the best daffodil walks to enjoy this spring

6

Great crested grebes’ water ballet

From mid February, park lakes and reservoirs become aquatic stages for the strangest and most elegant avian courtship display as the two birds mimic each other’s movements.

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7

Bumblebees

The warmth of the sun will soon be awakening our queen bumblebees, who will need plenty of nectar in March and April to recharge their batteries as they go hunting new places to start a colony. When she has found a suitable nest, the queen makes a mound of pollen and secreted wax into which she lays her first brood of eggs.

Out of the UK’s bee species, 24 are bumblebees. These are also social bees, though colonies are significantly smaller and vary slightly depending on the species. A well established colony could comprise of up to 400 bees. Tongue lengths vary so different species feed on different flowers.

Summer Macro bumblebee image on thistle,taken at Glan Oughterard Co Galway.
Summer Macro bumblebee image on thistle,taken at Glan Oughterard Co Galway.

British bee guide: how to identify, where to spot, and how to attract bees to your garden

The UK is home to more than 270 different species of bees. Our bee guide looks at how to identify common British species, best places to spot and plants to grow to attract bees to your garden, plus what to do if you see a struggling bee.British bee guide: how to identify, where to spot, and how to attract bees to your garden

 

Honey bee on Echinop Thistle

8

Cherry blossom

As light flows slowly into our woodlands and hedgerows, once-bare branches begin to bloom. The brief blossoming of rowan, wild cherry and hawthorn is a magical spectacle, wreathed in ancient folklore.  A fleeting but fabulous burst of cherry blossom is one of the most breathtaking signs of spring – except when it appears in December when it’s a sign that temperatures are topsy turvy.

Cherry blossom tree spring background with copy space
Cherry blossom tree spring background with copy space

Japan is the best place to enjoy the pink and white eruption of the lovely prunus, but you don’t have to venture far to see a dramatic display in the UK.

See how to identify spring blossom

9

Brimstone butterfly

Big, bright and fluttering in a woodland ride  or garden near you, these dairy-yellow insects are the whole reason butterflies have butter in their names. They are among the first insects on the wing and can be seen on warm days in March.

brimstone butterfly while sucks up the nectar
brimstone butterfly while sucks up the nectar

That fluttering flash of buttery yellow in the spring sunshine is probably a male brimstone and may also be the inspiration for our word ‘butterfly’. The female’s wings are whitish green and, like the male’s, have an orange spot on each side as well as leaf-like veining, which blends in beautifully when they alight on bramble and ivy.

Guide to British butterflies: how to identify and the best places to spot

Britain has around 60 glorious butterfly species. Butterflies are remarkably emotive creatures, not least because they are essential elements of spring and summer sunshine. 

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10

The arrival of the first swallow

Swooping, fork-tailed in pursuit of the year’s first insect life, this African visitor arrives in April hunting for the year’s first tasty insects and generously remains with us until September. It’s impossible not to smile when you see your first swallow.

Swallow, Hirundo rustica, single bird in flight against blue sky, Portugal, March 2010
Swallow, Hirundo rustica, single bird in flight against blue sky
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Look out for the flash of red on its throat, its white underparts and the long tail streamers that distinguish it from its close cousins the swift, house martin and sand martin.