I am writing this in Aquitaine, about 500 miles (750 km) south of Sussex. The weather tends to be a little milder here with temperatures about 5 – 10 degrees higher generally and less rainfall. Consequently, the signs of spring tend to appear a little earlier. Yesterday, we saw our first flock of about 50 common cranes, first rising on a thermal gliding round and round to gain altitude, and then after about 20 minutes they formed a chevron in the sky and flew off to the north-east towards their breeding grounds in north eastern Europe. A few also breed in East Anglia. We were also able to photograph a white stork perched on the top of a telegraph pole, newly arrived from Africa, and can be watched breeding here in Aquitaine. Almond blossom is also beginning to appear and other birds such as the robin, mistle thrush and blackbird are paired up and preparing for reproduction. Indeed, I suspect that the mistle thrush has already got a nest with eggs, as these are regular early breeders often nesting as early as February, even in England. I have also been watching a magpie build its nest which, characteristically, also has a stick canopy over the nest-cup, in a tall tree nearby.
The first birds to start breeding in the spring are the resident passerines or perching song birds such as the many types of thrushes which include robins, nightingales, stonechats and blackbirds as well as the familiar ‘spotty’ thrushes. Some owls such as the barn owl also make an early start. Then the woodland migrants, such as the flycatchers, redstarts and warblers, especially chiffchaffs, sing in chorus, pair up, build nests and lay eggs, so that they can feed their nestlings on the short-term seasonal abundance of emerging insects which in turn feed on the newly sprouting leaves in the deciduous trees.
As the season progresses from the spring equinox (21st March) to the summer solstice (21s June). For single-brooded birds such as blue tits, this is the critical window of opportunity to produce a brood of fledged young. Multi-brooded species such as swallows and house martins, which feed on flying adult insects, keep churning out offspring until the autumn. However, the seabirds, also single-brooded, do not actually start laying eggs until May or June. They synchronize their breeding with the northbound migration of the shoals of herring.Bottom of Form
Dr Martyn Stenning