The magic of UK summer wildlife: eight species to look out for

Make the most of the warmer weather by heading outdoors to find some of our special summer wildlife, suggests Jamie Wyver of the RSPB

Looking forward to a summer of BBQs, long balmy evening strolls and relaxing days at the beach? You stand a good chance of finding wonderful wildlife during your outdoor adventures.

From flitting bats to basking lizards, here are eight birds and animals to look for during the warmer months

1. Swift

This incredible bird spends its entire life on the wing, only landing to nest. Swifts come to the UK in late April or early May and stay with us for around 12 weeks before returning to Africa. You can help these birds, whose numbers have declined in recent years, by putting up a swift nesting box or installing a ‘swift brick’ where they can raise their chicks. Another way to help is to add your sightings to the RSPB swift survey

Image: Ben Andrew (

2. Basking shark

A bus-sized gentle giant, this shark explores British waters during the summer. Basking sharks drift beneath the waves with their massive jaws open, sucking in a thousand tonnes of sea water per hour. Using large bristles in their mouths they strain out plankton, fish eggs and the tiny larvae of crustaceans. If you’d like to see the second largest fish in the world, head to coasts around the tip of Cornwall, or the Scottish islands of Coll and Tiree

Image: Paul Naylor

3. Four-spotted chaser dragonfly

These attractive summer flyers have dark spots on the ends of their wings. Look out for them around ponds and lakes, in grassland, heaths, woods and uplands. In 2017, RSPB ecologists found thousands of these stunning insects spending the night in the reedbeds at the charity’s Ham Wall nature reserve

Image: Graham White

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4. Hobby

The hobby is a small falcon which spends the summer around heaths, woods and water where it can find small birds and large dragonflies to eat. It is incredibly agile in the air, snatching large insect prey and munching it while still flying. Look out for hobbies on warmer days between April and October

Image: Ben Andrew (

5. Nightjar

The nightjar is a moth-munching bird of dusk and dawn which can be found on lowland heathland. Nightjars arrive from southern Africa around the same time as swifts and feed in similar way, swooping through the air with their beaks wide open to catch insects. They’re a conservation success story here: conservation action on heaths has resulted in them moving from the UK Red List to the Amber List. If you’re lucky enough to find them this summer listen out for their unusual ‘churring’ call

Image: Andy Hay (

6. Common pipistrelle

The commonest of 18 types of bats you might see in the UK is the tiny common pipistrelle. This nocturnal animal is less than 5cm long and weighs less than a 10p coin. You can find common pipistrelles after the sun sets, flitting around woods, farms, and even urban areas, snapping up midges, mosquitoes and other flying insects

Image: Hugh Clark /

7. Sand lizard

Like the nightjar, this lizard is a heathland specialist. It needs soft, sandy soil to lay its eggs in, and plenty of insects (especially grasshoppers) and spiders to eat. Look for the bright emerald green males during the breeding season. You can see these smart little animals on the RSPB’s Arne nature reserve, along with, if you’re very lucky, all five other native UK reptiles. With Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and Natural England, the RSPB has also been reintroducing them to its Farnham Heath reserve in Surrey

Image: Ben Andrew (

8. Swallowtail butterfly

For a chance to see one of our most impressive butterflies you’ll need to take a trip to the Norfolk Broads on a warm, calm summer day. This insect is a fenland specialist whose caterpillars feed only on milk parsley. A good place to find them is RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk from late May to early July, then again in mid August

Image: John Markham (

Information about RSPB nature reserves can be found here

Featured image: Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, perched on milk parsley, photographed by Ben Andrew (


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