British wildlife in February

From fruiting fungus to winter birds, here is selection of the month's best wildlife spectacles from around the British countryside in February.

Hazel catkins

Celebrate the month ahead with our photo gallery of beautiful wildlife photographs from around the UK in February.


If you are planning to see wildlife, please follow the latest government advice regarding coronavirus, and bear in mind that there are different restrictions in place between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and in more localised areas as well.

Scarlet elf-cup

Scarlet elf-cups
Also known as scarlet cup fungus, the scientific name for these moss cups is ‘Sarcoscypha coccinea’. © Getty

The naturalist (and BBC Wildlife columnist) Nick Baker has compared them to split billiard balls, but scarlet elf-cups can also resemble carelessly discarded pieces of satsuma peel. But they’re a different type of fruit altogether – the fruiting bodies of a beautiful fungus called the scarlet elf-cup. One of it’s many other traditional names was fairy bath, and it is not hard to see why superstitious folk might imagine pixies taking a dip in these mysterious little ‘hot tubs’ lying on the woodland floor.

Scarlet elf-cup is a common widespread species you can find from late autumn through to spring, but most sightings come in February and March, when the smooth inner surfaces of this eye-catching fungus seem to glow amid the browns and greens of leaf litter and moss. It grows on damp, decaying logs and branches, often clustered together in groups known as troops. there are several related species in Britain, all with a similar cup-like form. One, the green elf-cup, is an autumn species that stain the wood on which it is feeding, turning it luminous bluey-green.

Stock dove

Stock dove standing on grass
Stock dove is a species that hides in plain sight/Credit: Getty

When was the last occasion you spent any time watching pigeons? The stock dove is one of those species that hides in plain sight, largely because we so often mistake it for its larger and more familiar relative, the wood pigeon. However, if you pause awhile to scan pigeon flocks in winter fields, you should discover that it is rather more common than you thought. The stock dove is a prettier, neater-looking bird, with two black wing bars and button-like black eyes that give it an ‘innocent’ appearance.

Find out more about British birds:

Small Tortoiseshell

Alerted Small tortoiseshell
Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) perched on a leaf with green and blue background about to fly away/Credit: Getty

Small tortoiseshells have evolved to hibernate in cool, dry places with a stable climate, so unheated rooms and shed are perfect. Like overwintering red admiral and peacock butterflies, they’re liable to be disturbed by any of us moving aorund, radiators coming on, or midwinter sunshine through a window. It can be upsetting to see them flutter helplessly, but gently catch and re-locate them and they will cool down again. Every small tortoiseshell is precious, since the species’ population declined by 78 per cent between 1976 and 2018, though last summer was their best since 2014.

See how to make a butterfly-friendly garden

Wood Mouse

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) on root of tree
Wood mouse on the root of a tree. © CreativeNature_nl/Getty

Wood mice remain active all winter, relying in part on caches of food laid down in autumn. Don’t be fooled by the name. Apart from on a few Scottish islands and mountains, you can encounter these endearing nocturnal rodents, also known as field mice, just about anywhere. They’re more than happy to share our homes, so just because the mouse is indoors, that does not make it a house mouse. The best way to tell the species apart is by the ears, which are much larger than wood mice.

Learn more about wood mice

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins
Catkins in bloom/Credit: Getty

Hazel catkins were once known as lamb’s tails. partly for the obvious resemblance but also perhaps because both are welcome signs of the coming spring. Dangling from bare twigs, these pendulous flowers spikes-botanists would call them inflorescences-are covered in hard, golden scales and are entirely male. They are among the first flowers of the year to appear on any native British tree. Hazel also produces female flowers, but you need to hunt for them as they’re minuscule by comparison-tiny red tufts strangely reminiscent of sea anemones.

See how to identify common catkins found in the UK

Little Auk

Little auk
Hundreds of starling-sized auks can be seen along the Scottish coast/Credit: Steve Round

When people meet their first puffin, they often comment how much smaller it is than expected. The little auk is a third smaller still. This plankton eating seabird does not normally visit British or Irish waters, as it’s a creature fo the High Arctic, breeding on vast cliffs in places such as Svalbard, sometimes in colonies a millions strong. During winter gales, exhausted birds end up ‘wrecked’ far to the south. After the worst storms, hundreds of these very tame, starling-sized auks may be seen close inshore, mainly in Scotland and along England’s east coast.


Mallards are thriving in the UK/Credit: Getty

This month, park-lanes ad other wetlands can feel like cheesy discos, full of head-flicking, rump-waggling, whistling, cooing and bling. Male ducks are in prime condition and busy courting. Drake Mallards display in groups, frequently pumping their heads up and down, or rising up out of the water. There’s a lot of splashing and energetic chases, as rival jostle to be the one swimming beside a female. Mallards are thriving in the UK: a major new report on our bird populations shows that breeding numbers have almost trebled since 1970.

Watch wildfowl at a wetland centre: