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Nature stirs as spring beckons at RSPB Lakenheath Fen

The month of February brings with it longer days – nearly an hour-and-a-half longer than this time in January. This increase in daylight sets off a chain reaction anywhere across the globe where day length varies, and Lakenheath is no exception. Many plants will be beginning to increase their rate of development, even if this just means tree buds fattening up ready to burst in March, or putting down new roots below soil.

With it, the birds change, too, and the name of the game for this month is usually for breeding males to establish territories in which to keep a mate and potentially raise a family later in the season. Although the worst of the winter weather can often come in February, and much of a bird’s time is spent feeding (especially smaller species), some of the extra time is given over to singing – male birds especially – and this helps to establish territory and advertise their suitability as a mate.

Some of our birds, especially corvids and herons, are naturally early breeders and nest-building will be well under way by now. Our corvids (rooks, jackdaws and carrion crows) nest quite high up in stands of poplar trees, and over the course of a year these nests (which get reused by the same pair of birds) will lose a few sticks and need repairing. Incubation takes around 16-18 days for rooks, and up to 20 days for carrion crows, so by late February the adult birds may well have young to feed.

Cranes at Lakenheath Fen (29014938)
Cranes at Lakenheath Fen (29014938)

Herons are another early breeder and their chicks take longer to hatch – almost a month – and nest colonially like the corvids. We are hopeful that 2020 will be the year that our great white egrets will attempt to breed here. We now have up to six adult birds who roost together overnight and are loosely associated with each other during the day.

If we get a milder spell, we may even see a hardy peacock or brimstone butterfly – a couple of the species that hibernate as adults and are ready to take to the wing on the first sunny days of late winter. At the same time as having these very early signs of spring, we’ll also have our winter visitors – whooper swans, redwing, fieldfare and siskin for example, for at least another month on the reserve.

A bird that could be considered as the earliest migrant bird to reach us is the crane. We have one or two nesting pairs each year but during the winter they move away to feed and socialise together in a large flock around the Ouse Washes, typically numbering at least 50 birds. But in February they separate into breeding pairs and return to their favoured breeding grounds, where courtship and nest-building begins. If you visit us during February you may hear them ‘bugling’– the trumpeting call they make to communicate with each other – it has a lovely haunting quality that carries a long way! Look out, too, for early nest building attempts, much singing from the birds all around you and even some early insects if you’ve come on a warm day.

We hope you enjoy any visit you are planning to the reserve in the coming weeks.

Heidi Jones

Visitor Experience Officer

RSPB Lakenheath Fen

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