Header image credit: Richard Stead

As the days get warmer and the sun shines a little longer each day, the nature outside our windows is gearing up for the busiest time of year: spring. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, RSPB England’s Becca Smith takes a look at how our feathered friends and other wildlife woo the ladies* in the form of courtship and breeding rituals as the month of love begins.      * Don’t try these at home  

Picture: A pair of great crested grebes dancing. Credit: Brian Rafferty

Do the weed dance

You’ve heard of Dancing on Ice and Strictly Come Dancing, but the greatest show this spring comes from Great crested grebes performing an unusual display to impress each other.  The male and female birds both dive underwater at the same time, and come back up holding pond weed in their beaks.  They then perform a weed dance– presenting each other with the weed and rising up out of the water, wrapping their necks around each other. How’s that for a Valentine’s gift with a difference!

Smitten bitterns

Bitterns might be one of our most elusive birds, but as the breeding season begins they make sure they make themselves heard. “Booming” to attract a mate, male bitterns issue rumbling songs that be heard up to 5km away! An unusual sound - like the noise you make if you blow over the top of a glass bottle – it is the loudest of booms that are most successful at attracting a female.

Video: A pair brown hares boxing

Ticking all the boxes

Next month will be the prime time to spot boxing hares, but what are all their efforts about? A reasonable explanation would be that the action is an example of two males fighting for territory and breeding rights, but in fact boxing hare fights take place between a male and female.

Female hares will fight or “box” off unwanted attention from those who don’t tick all the right boxes, or even just give the male a hard time to see if he’s got the grit and determination she’s looking for from a mate!

Darling starlings

These magical iridescent birds are all about décor when spring comes around. Male starlings build the base of their nest, then sit nearby it and sing to attract a mate. The female picks him based not only on his charming tunes, but also on his home making capabilities.  She’ll then finish- building the nest, putting the final touches on the décor before settling down to have kids.

Photo: A pair of marsh harriers perform a food pass. Credit: Ben Hall

Sky dancers

The sky dances of marsh harriers and hen harriers captivate us, and the good news is they often captivate the females they’re intended for too. Performing an epic aerial display, the male and female loop and dive through the air while also carrying out spectacular food passes mid-flight, with the male dropping food to the female below. To find out how you can help us to ensure the nations harriers can continue to dance for years to come, visit here.

Roses are red, violets are blue, I say “Toowit” and you say “Twoo”

When you hear the famous “toowit, twoo” of a tawny owl, it isn’t just one owl you’re hearing. The female tawny owl calls ‘twit’ and the male tawny owl replies ‘twoo’. It’s not quite Sonny and Cher but it’s a a short and sweet love song of sorts.

Cygnet-ture moves

Often paired for life, mute swans perform their courtship dance every winter. Watch as they dip their heads at the same time, pressing their necks and breasts together to form wonderful shapes that are bound to end up on a Valentine’s card near you.

While the signs of love in nature are all around us, RSPB nature reserves are only open for essential daily exercise for now. Find the latest on which facilities and reserves are open here.

Picture: House sparrows investigate a nestbox Credit: Mark Thomas

Help wildlife from home

While Big Garden Birdwatch has been and gone for another year (have you submitted your results?), thankfully there’s still many ways to show your appreciation for nature and spread the love from home this February:

Put up a nestbox

It’s not just feeding garden birds that helps boost their chances of survival – with spring around the corner, it’s the perfect time to put up a nestbox for your feathered friends.

What’s more, 14- 21 February is National Nestbox Week, and here at the RSPB we have plenty of advice on buying or even making your own nestbox. Don’t forget, different bird species use different designs of nestbox – whether it’s different shapes or sizes, head to our website for more advice and a simple guide to this activity to do from home for all the family. You can even it as part of your Wild Challenge here.

Picture: Crowds gather to show their love for Minsmere in 2019. Credit: David Tipling

Love Minsmere

Whether you’ve had the pleasure of visiting or not, RSPB Minsmere nature reserve is in urgent need of your love this February.

EDF Energy are planning to build a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C, directly on the border of Minsmere, which is home to over 6000 different kinds of animals, plants and fungi in need of your help.

The 15 February is set to be the final day you can speak up to help protect RSPB Minsmere from EDF's proposal. Take action NOW at loveminsmere.org and don't forget to share with your friends and family too – every voice counts in helping to save this special place for wildlife and for people.