What are the highlights of natural life in farmlands in individual months? 

Does the cycle of field works affect the natural life? 

Or does it influence the protective measures that are undertaken? 

These are some questions we will try to address in our series describing what happens in wildlife in individual months.


December is usually the beginning of winter. In the fields and meadows there is not much work – the tradition says that from St. Martin’s day, that is the 11th of November, there is a break from field works. Often, there is already snow on the ground (however lately it is hard to predict).

            As we know, many birds fly away from Poland, mostly because they can’t find anything to eat. Unfortunately, in the recent years, some of the species have “noticed” that they can find something to eat throughout the year near human settlements. Some of them have discovered dumping areas and they feed there. Other are waiting for people to provide food for them.

            In cities, we can easily notice mallard ducks in parks and swans in water tanks. By feeding them as early as in autumn, before the freezing temperatures and snow appear, we encourage them to stay and resign from flying to the south. When the real frosty weather comes, people often forget about feeding, or give them wrong types of food (for example bread). It ends in a tragic way.

            The most visible in the rural areas are white storks that decided to stay. We receive many calls asking for help in this regard – often already in October. Is the help really needed if the bird is healthy?

            It is very difficult to help. Let’s try catching a healthy stork… it is simply impossible. Moreover, until the snow is there, storks will find something to eat, even in a garbage bin. And if there is food, it will be able to fly. When it can fly, it can then still fly away – maybe it is a young bird that has hatched late, and couldn’t join the others as it was still too weak? And when it gets stronger, it will fly away?

            The problem begins when the snow falls – finding something to eat becomes impossible. Then, help is possible and, in most cases, necessary. We have to observe if the bird is in a good condition. For example, if it doesn’t sleep on high objects, if alarmed it flies or walks away? There are known cases of storks staying throughout the whole winter without people’s help. If they find a dumping area, where they can find meat waste, they will have enough food to survive.

            Most often, food is not available for them. After a few days the birds are getting weak, we can catch them and move them to an asylum for birds. We have to keep in mind that storks are dangerous – they have sharp and strong beaks! We need to make sure that our face is not within their reach! You can learn more about catching and transporting storks in our guidebook.


November in Poland does not always look the same. Sometimes it’s warm and sunny, and sometimes already on the All Saints Day (i.e. the 1st of November), there is deep snow. At that time, we need to think about feeding the birds.

            What are the general rules for feeding? The most important is: if we start feeding, we can’t stop until the winter ends. Birds very easily get used to places where they can find food, and later, especially in critical moments (deep snow, very low temperatures), will come to receive certain help. And if we won’t feed them at that time, it will end tragically for them.

            When should we start feeding? Only when the birds can’t find food, that is after the first bigger snowfall.

            Everybody knows the traditional feeder filled with sunflower seeds. We need to have a big supply of those seeds – while in town, I use around 50 kg! Of course, you can provide other grains – crops, rape, agrimony, flax, poppy seeds, fruit or pumpkin pits. Cut fruits, such as apples, will be an excellent addition for, for example, blackbirds, fieldfares or bohemian waxwings. Pork fat and other fat mixtures – yes, but only after making sure that they do not contain salt and vegetable fats. This is the base of what should be used to feed the birds.

            We can feed them in other ways as well. We need to remember about the field birds, such as partridges. Winter is a very difficult period for them and they need our help. We need to give them the seeds in a field, in a place that snow would not cover. The best way is to create a shelter by making a small tent from 1-meter wood planks from both sides. The partridges will be able to hide and the snow won’t fall in that place.


Autumn is a period when birds fly away. Many species leave very quickly – they finish breeding and they go. Curlew, which we have mentioned before, depart despite not having finished breeding or they have lost it – one of our chipped females has appeared on the wintering ground already in the middle of June! Most birds fly away in September or October.

            We are unable to notice some of the journeys. Many young birds fly in loose flocks, mostly at night. In some of them we can notice that they gather in small groups before the journey (for example, swallows and starlings) and one day they just disappear. The journey of predatory birds is difficult to notice. Buzzards or sparrow hawks create very loose groups and only skilful observers, who can watch the sky for hours, can see them fly away. One buzzard flies, then the second one and later two other join… Sometimes there are a few of them gathered in an air tunnel, where they can climb up the sir. But they fly away from it separately.

            With storks, it’s a totally different story. We all know the so called “assemblies” – groups of different sizes staying in the meadows. The birds from the neighbouring areas can keep flying in even for a few days – they often sleep together at a safe height, e.g. on power line poles or trees. Later, they fly away.

            Storks’ journey has finished. Now, in October, we can observe crane flocks. They are much more impressive – there are fewer places where they gather, so the groups are definitely bigger. During the day, the birds fly away to feed themselves before the journey, and at night they come back to spend the night together. The biggest Polish flocks consist of thousands of birds, e.g. in the Mazurian Nietlickie Marshes.

            Such crane flocks are not only gatherings before the journey. Here the birds pair up to breed next year. The paired birds fly together to the wintering grounds and return also together. As we can see, even though the birds have just finished their breeding season, they already think about the next one.

            We need to know that before the winter, birds are not the only ones leaving Poland. Many species of bats spend their winter in South and Eastern Europe, and those staying during winter often fly 100 or 200 km to the wintering grounds. Insects also migrate – a few species of butterflies cannot survive the winter in our country, they fly away to northern Africa. We can observe such behaviour in the red admiral and painted lady species, which come to Europe from Africa in spring.


August is when the harvest ends. Most of all you need to pay attention to the nests of Montagu's harrier where big nestlings may get killed by the harvesters (see July)!

            Even though the summer is still at its best, the first birds take up their journey to the south or to the west, where they winter. Some do it already in July, but some migrate even earlier! In 2014 it turned out that Eurasian curlews, once they lose their clutch, they do not repeat it, but rather fly away. On June 19, one of adult females with a transmitter enabling us to locate her via the GSM network started her migration west and after 28 hours she was already spotted above the sea in the northern Netherlands where she spent the winter.

            However, in August the departures are on for good. Most of curlews, swifts (birds similar to swallows), house martins and barn swallows, yellow wagtails, hoopoes and cuckoos leave. The end of the months sees the peak of stork migration - we can see large groups of these birds popularly referred to as gaggles. They usually group in rich meadows, where they can eat their fill before the journey. They travel in waves - first the birds with no clutches in the given year leave, then this year newborns, finally adult birds who successfully managed to fledge their young. For them the summer has been really exhausting.

            Usually the birds who migrate early, fly far away. Storks, cuckoos or swifts go all the way to the South Africa, barn swallows, house martins, hoopoes, yellow wagtails - to the middle part of the continent. Those who leave later, such as lapwings or skylarks fly only as far as Southern Europe. Of course the birds who migrate further away travel much longer - storks who depart in late August reach their destination only some 3 months later!

July is the time of harvest. From early July the rapeseed harvest begins, then followed by the grains. Since the works are fully mechanical, various types of harvesters are in common use. This means that the person harvesting the crops is unable to spot clutches of birds hidden there. Problems arise in case of late nesting birds.

            As probably most of our readers already know, these include Montagu's harrier. They nest on the ground, right among the growing rapeseed and the grains. In case of late clutches or early harvest, their nestlings still can't fly. A working harvester means their sure death.

            Is there anything that can be done? First we need to find the nest. Then we need to monitor the clutch, so that we know the nestlings are still in the nest during the harvest. If they are, there is a number of options successfully applied by people cooperating with our Society.

            If the nestlings are big, almost fledged, then for the time of harvest you can take them out of the harvester's way and leave a tuft of plants (a square meter will do) where they can hide. Big nestlings of Montagu's harrier can manage even an approaching fox or a dog. For the parents the change of environment will be irrelevant.

            However, if the young are still not very big, then it would not be wise to leave a small piece of unmown green. It could attract predators, and the smaller nestlings would not know how to defend themselves against a fox. Then you should make a fence that would protect the nest. We build special two meter walls, but it is sufficient to fence the nest with a net, e.g. Izola or welded (2x2 m in size). The birds don't seem to have a problem with such fence, while the chicks are well protected against foxes or wandering dogs.

            It is getting warmer and warmer, even hot sometimes, with quite frequent rain and storms. It's June. When you look at fields and meadows you can see a feast of colours - red, blue, purple and yellow intertwined. Sometimes this is the so called weed that we want to elaborate on now a little.

            What is weed? These are plants that grow spontaneously in fields and in meadows, often undesirable, as they reduce the volume of harvest, can be poisonous... Once the agriculture became mechanical and chemical, some of these plants almost vanished. Cornflowers, bluebottles and poppies are still quite common, but what about, let's say, a corncockle? You won't find them anymore in some regions of Poland.

            There are some species of weed that are strictly connected with one particular plant. Not long ago you could still see a lot of flax grown in Poland. There you would find some species that were linked with it. The most interesting was Cuscuta epilinum Weihe (flax dodder) - a parasitic plant, whose seeds produced a plover able to independently survive for up to 20 days. During that time it had to find flax it would wind around in order to suck life-giving substances out of. Cruel as it sounds, the flax managed it well.

            The second species was Camelina alyssum (Flax Gold-of-pleasure). Unfortunately the volume of corps was reduced and cultivation processes were intensified (meaning in this context that the flax seeds were selected and camelina alyssum seeds - eliminated), not only did it disappear from our country, but you can no longer find it anywhere else in the world!

            You can say that bluebottles or poppies will never perish - they are everywhere. But... Only a few decades earlier, the corncockle was also ubiquitous and now you have to really try hard to find it! Also... Some weed species “support” cultivation - crops from fields with a small addition of weeds are higher!

            Is there anything that can be done? In Western Poland, but also in Western Europe some conserving cultivations are created with these plants. E.g. by the Museum of Rural Opole Region (Muzeum Wsi Opolskiej) you can still see a dozen of endangered plant species. And us? Well, let's leave them be at baulks or fallows, sometimes even among crops. Let them make our villages pretty.

 May is here. Spring is in bloom, sometimes it gets really hot. Most of the birds are busy clutching, but some other migratory species only now arrive to Poland. We can see migration of e.g. Montagu's harrier, whinchat and nightingales at its peak, however, other migratory birds show up as well. In early May you can spot first red-backed shrikes and barred warblers.

            Some animals spend winter in the tropics, others decide to winter in Poland. Spring is the time for the big wake-up.  You can hear croaking coming from shallow waters... These are fire-bellied toads. They are fully awake and start their mating season. Hamsters also wake up after the winter spent underground in their burrows.

            In the second half of May the first harvest on meadows arrives. Unfortunately this is also when the birds start to hatch or even fledge. Species nesting in the grass are in bigger trouble than those nesting in crop fields. Grains and rapeseed are harvested much later, when most birds have already fledged. However, in May hatching is usually in its early stage. What is worse, even protection measures applied by naturalists, are hardly effective. During the hatching period the birds are mistrustful, sometimes even the slightest interference around the nest makes them leave the clutch. Therefore, if we want to protect the nest, we should leave a handsome piece of unmown meadow, which is sometimes impossible. It is easier to do e.g. during harvest in July, when e.g. the nestlings of Montagu's harrier are big and they can survive on just 1 square meter of untouched crops.

            In case of birds fledging their chicks it's a bit easier - we have to remember to give them the chance to leave the meadow and we should never start mowing from the edge to the centre! We should start in the centre first and then go in a spiral, moving away from it. This will give the flightless birds a chance to escape the mown fragment of the meadow and go to another!

            We all know what  April  looks like. Sometimes it's warm, sometimes it's chilly (sometimes you will even find yourself under a thick blanket of snow). We all know too well the common proverb to be true. However, it is already spring for the nature, spring that is very short. You have to get back to life.

            April is when a lot of birds arrive. First storks come in late March, but most of them fly in right about now. They start building nests - usually they fix their old ones, but young birds have to build a new home. Let's not forget that one-year-olds or two-year-olds build their nests on a trial basis – they are small, not meant for hatching. Only the older storks build proper, lasting nests.

            This is also the month when we see grey wagtail migrate in big together with the black-tailed godwit, Eurasian curlew and lapwing. Some late species arrive, such as - yellow wagtail, swallow, Montagu's harrier, corncrake, nightingales, quail, hoopoe, whinchat, although they will keep on coming all through May. Also some last skylarks arrive.

            Once they are here, they have to start hatching. Most of those already in Poland start right in April, sometimes already in late March. Whimsical weather does not discourage them from early attempts. Thus, in late April you can already spot nestlings of some small bird species. There are some exceptions, of course - ravens lay eggs in late February, while brown owls may even do so in January!

            April is also when amphibians show up in large numbers in waters. First newts, common toads or brown frogs can be spotted as early as in March, but only know they come in masses, together with frogspawn. Now you can also see some European fire-bellied toads and common spadefood toad.

In March we feel the first breath of the real spring. Of course, here or there we can see some catkins appear earlier or a bud opening sooner, but only in March we can encounter the small, spring explosion. Naturalists, first of all, notice the arrival of birds.

            First, as early as February, appear skylarks, lapwings and cranes. This year (i.e. 2016) we could notice them already in January! After them, usually in the beginning of March, we welcome curlews, reed buntings, black redstarts, starlings and white wagtails. Later, other birds fly in. What does it mean to naturalists? All the artificial nest sites have to be ready. New nest boxes have to be hanged, the old ones cleaned and renovated and all works on the storks’ nests have to be finished.

            It does not mean that in March we cannot do anything useful for the nature. We can, for example, plant willows.

            The easiest way is to plant a willow’s osier in the ground. But they do not always adapt, and obviously we have to wait for a very long time to see a tree. So, the best way is to use a few-meters-long, straight branch (referred to as a live stake), that we have left after the winter pollarding. The advantage – we have a few years old tree straight away, with the height we wanted.

            We also have to ensure that the live stake settles in well. For this purpose, we place one end in water for one month. It can be a bucket full of water, a ditch or a pond. After a month, we have a live stake with roots! After planting, we have to make sure that they do not dry out. Unfortunately, when the soil is dry, you have to water them.


February is coming – winter is in its full form, but the spring is getting closer. It’s the last moment to think about it.

            Many of us help the birds by hanging nest boxes. We have to remember to take care of them. In the late autumn or winter we need to look into the boxes and remove the old nests. Otherwise, the box will be blocked and can’t be used anymore! And if the birds will decide to make another nest, it will be very close to the exit. Like this, the predators can easily take out the nestlings through the hole. Martens or cats have pretty long paws!

            The nest boxes can be also occupied by, for example, hornets. A box with a hornet nest won’t be occupied by birds for many years.

            While cleaning the boxes, we should check their technical condition. Are they properly fixed to the tree, is any of the walls about to fall off? We don’t want the box to fall from the tree in the middle of the breeding season or break! Such renovation is often about placing a few extra nails and doesn’t take too much time.

            Except for the renovation of nest boxes that are already hanging, it is good to place some new ones. Let’s make sure they are good, so the birds can safely lead their nestlings out from it. What do you need to take into consideration while buying or making a box?

            Firstly, it has to be deep. In the case of small birds, from the hole to the bottom there has to be a minimum distance of 20 cm, and in next box for starlings – over 26 cm. In such a box they will be safe.

            Secondly, the hole has to be of proper size. For small birds around 33 mm (unless we want to attract a blue tit – then it has to be 28mm), for starlings – around 47 mm. Bigger holes will make the lives of predators easier!

            Thirdly, if the woodpeckers tend to make the nest boxes holes bigger in our area, it is good to fix a small metal plate around the hole. This way we will increase the durability of the box.

            Fourthly, the hole has to be as long as possible, i.e. the planks in this area have to be very thick. In case of starlings, we recommend three layers of 2 cm plank – in such tunnels of 6 cm, predators won’t be able to bend their paws, making it impossible to reach the nest.

            You can read more about our nest boxes on our website http://bocian.org.pl/schronienia


January is usually the heart of the winter. The snow, the freezing temperatures... although, recently, we do not observe this phenomenon too often. The winters aren’t snowy and frosty, which causes changes in animals’ behaviour. More and more often we can observe birds staying in Poland during the winter, even though they were supposed to have migrated to warmer places, e.g. to Africa. The return from wintering grounds is quicker. However, the vegetation is dying, which makes winter a perfect season for pollarding willows.

            Headed willows are created by humans. Thanks to systematic cutting of the branches, there is a characteristic shape – low trunk ended with a “head”, from which the thin branches grow. Such willow is very precious for the landscape – except its scenic values, it serves an important function in the nature. In the rotting head, many birds and mammals find shelters or make nests; beetles feed themselves with the rotten wood…

            If we want to plant a willow, it is better not to use a thin branch, but a thick (10-15 cm in diameter) piece of branch. Its length depends on how tall we want the willow to be – usually it is 3-4 meters. Next, we start to trim the branches. In the year of planting, we are removing all of them, except for the ones that are on the top. Next, for 10 years, we remove all the branches every year or every 2 years. In case of older trees, we pollard them every 5 years.

            As we have written before, pollarding should be done in autumn and winter – between November and February. Some time ago, branches that have been cut were used in many ways – the thinnest ones were used to weave baskets, the thicker ones for fencing, and the thickest were used as firewood. Currently their use is limited, but we can’t forget about pollarding. Unfortunately, when the branches are too big and heavy, the trunk is breaking and the tree is dying.