Meadows are full of flowers during summer, with butterflies, small mammals, and birds finding food and securing nesting sites in the grasses. Although the sight of a flower-filled meadow is not as prevalent as before due to pesticides, there is still plenty of wildlife to see.
Meadows include flowers such as orchids and buttercups that attract butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps. Birds, including skylarks, lapwings, and swallows, can be found around meadows, while barn owls and kestrels feed on small mammals, including meadow voles and field mice.
If you are visiting a meadow, then this guide will give you an idea of just some of the wildlife to look out for.
Orchids can be seen in many meadows free from ploughing or man-made pesticides. Because orchids leave an unpleasant taste, most wildlife usually leaves them alone. Orchids can often be seen above other plants, and they attract lots of insects, including bees.
Different orchids have distinct flowers that will attract different types of insects. Butterfly orchids have white flowers and are pollinated by moths that get to the pollen with their long tongues. Butterflies often can be seen visiting pink-flowered pyramidal orchids.
Purple orchids are often the best colours to watch bees and wasps going about their daily lives, while bumblebees pollinate the bee orchid, a flower that looks like a bee.
Other flowers also thrive because of their taste. Yellow buttercups have poisonous leaves allowing them to grow without interference from cattle and sheep. Their brightly coloured flowers do attract lots of insects, however.
Another flower that attracts lots of insects is the invasive birdsfoot trefoil or granny’s toenails, as I knew it when growing up due to its seed pods. Other plants, including common broomrape, meadow cranesbill, meadowsweet, and yarrow, can also be spotted in summer in many meadows.
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Meadows, especially in summer, are a great place to find a variety of birds. Many birds find plenty of food around meadows, and the long grasses can make a safe nesting site.
With lots of seeds to eat, birds such as the Yellowhammer and Corn bunting thrive in meadows and will also feed on an assortment of insects. Meadow pipits and Skylarks also feed on insects and use the ground to look for spiders, worms, and anything else they can eat.
Skylarks blend into meadows well because of their markings. Their drab colours help disguise it against the bare earth and dried grasses, keeping them safe against predators and helping them catch food.
Lapwings feed on slugs and earthworms, pulling worms out of the soil using their bill. They can often be seen swooping over the meadow, making their presence known with their squealing call.
Swallows can also be seen swooping over meadows in summer, feeding on insects. If you are out for a walk and you see a swallow swooping low, it may mean that it will rain soon. An old wives tale, maybe, but one that has saved me from getting wet on numerous occasions.
Mammals are not the most prevalent type of animals in meadows, but you may be able to spot them if you look carefully.
Rabbits are an essential part of a summer meadow. Rabbits will feed on the grasses in meadows but more importantly, they also feed on the seeds of the surrounding trees and shrubs. This helps to stop the meadows from being overrun by trees and shrubs and helps to prevent them from turning into woodland.
If a meadow looks like it has been mown, it could be because many rabbits are living there. Rabbits will eat the grass down to the ground, and their burrows will become visible along the meadow border.
Small mammals can also be spotted in meadows, including moles, field mice and field voles. These can bring birds of prey to the meadow, and Kestrels and Barn owls may be seen flying in search of their next meal.
Larger mammals such as badgers can be seen at dusk digging up earthworms, and if you are lucky, you may be able to see foxes teaching their cubs how to find food.
When walking through a meadow, it is often worth taking a minute to stop and listen to the sound. Millions of insects can live in just one acre, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a huge diversity.
Grasshoppers and crickets, including the Meadow grasshopper, Common green grasshopper, Common field grasshopper, and the Underground mole cricket, can be seen. They create their song by rubbing their legs against their wings. The noise they make can get loud, especially when lots join in.
Bees and wasps can often be seen flying from flower to flower, collecting nectar and helping to pollinate the flowers.
Meadow ants are incredible insects that help meadows thrive. Meadow ants help protect aphids that feed on roots. In a symbiotic relationship, the aphids provide honeydew which the ants feed on.
Butterflies and moths are probably the first insects you will notice when walking through a meadow. Copper butterflies can move to different flowers, moving quickly while looking for nectar. Skippers can also be seen, especially in July and August, where the brown and orange wings show up against the brightly coloured flowers.
Many of the blue family of butterflies can also be seen, with the Holly blue, Silver-studded blue, Chalkhill blue, and Small blue being able to spot by their spotted underwings. Males have blue upper wings, while females have brown wings. They can often be seen around puddles on the ground.
Butterflies are prevalent in summer as copper butterflies may have three broods in a good year. If you look closely, you may see their eggs and caterpillars on the plants, although they match the colour perfectly, so they are hard to spot.