Wildlife this month - May

The last summer migrants arrive:

May sees the last of the summer migrants arriving back, with the tail-enders such as spotted flycatchers coming in this month. 

Swifts will also be arriving this month to join the swallows and martins that have already returned from Africa to breed. Swifts are actually more closely related to hummingbirds than to swallows and martins but they share a similar lifestyle. It is a marvel how these birds find their way home to us but we should not forget that other creatures achieve similar feats.


Early May is the chance to enjoy the grand finale of wild birdsong as partners are found and territories declared.

Later in the month many birds cease their singing as the hustle and bustle of parenting replaces the rivalry of courtship.


The painted lady butterfly migrates from North Africa to these shores and should be appearing during May. For a butterfly this seems truly miraculous and deserves our respect! Painted ladies look rather like a paler version of the more common lesser tortoiseshell, so watch out for them in your garden.


Insects are particularly associated with this month: one being the cockchafer or ‘May bug’. The adults appear this month for a few brief weeks following several years underground in their larval form. After dark these large brown beetles sometimes fly with a loud thump into the windows of lit rooms, as they go about the business of seeking a mate.

On clean and fast-flowing streams mayflies will emerge this month and be a treat for fish, bats and birds!


The hedgerows have been flowering for several weeks now but the blossoms of blackthorn, which dominated in April, are superseded this month by hawthorn (also commonly known as ‘May’). Good weather is needed for the insect pollinators that will ensure a bountiful berry crop in the autumn.

Meadow flowers: 

This is one of the peak months for meadow flowers and a huge selection can be seen in suitable habitat. Through the efforts of conscientious farmers and the practice of leaving wide margins around fields, we are seeing increasing numbers of wildflowers in the countryside. Dormant seeds can lie in the soil for years waiting for an opportunity to sprout and wildflowers can consequently re-colonise quite quickly, given the right conditions.


The first of the widespread orchid species is in flower from mid-April and will still be flowering in early May. Watch out for early purple orchids on commons, in meadows and light woodland .