Starling photo by Jodie Randall (RSPB Images)

This morning - grey, sleety and cold - I heard my first song thrush of the year as I drove to work. What a way to start the day. If I'd had time, I would have stopped to listen... it's one of my favourite bird songs.

Yesterday I heard a wisp of half-hearted blackbird song, coming from high up in a conifer. I couldn't see the singer, who must have been tucked away on a sheltered branch, but I heard him alright. There's no mistaking that rich sound, even if the bird wasn't giving it much welly.

After the dark, cold, quiet days of the Big Freeze (TM), things have turned around quickly and our birds are getting geared up for another breeding season - even if the weather is still far from ideal.

If you open a window, stand in your garden or walk to the shops, you can't fail to notice all the singing that's going on.

For example, here at the gardens in The Lodge, there's plenty to hear (and see). Blue tits twittering. great spotted woodpeckers chattering and chasing (and the males drumming on dead branches). Nuthatches chasing around and calling at the tops of their voices. Everywhere you go there are great tits teacher, teachering, and wrens, robins and dunnocks all trilling, singing and squeaking for all they're worth.

This frenzied activity isn't limited to little birds, either. Stock doves - prettier, neater cousins of the woodpigeon - are busy going ooooOOOOO, ooooOOOOO, oooOOOOO and looking for tree holes to nest in. And soon we'll see sparrowhawks displaying over the treetops, powering up and swooping down in a rollercoaster style.

Even birds which don't breed here - like the redwings which will be migrating back to Scandinavia and Russia in the near future - will be singing soon. 

And the cause of all this song and dance? It's the increase in daylight hours which has triggered off an surge of hormones, which makes the birds' gonads swell (inside, not outside).

So while it might be nice to imagine that birds are singing because they're feeling romantic and happy and it's spring and the sun's out, the truth is more mundane.

It's chemicals.

Oh well.

Regardless of the cause, now's the ideal time to enjoy birdsong - while you can actually see who's singing! There'll be more species singing come April and May, after all our migrants have arrived, but by then the trees have their leaves and seeing the singer is much more difficult.

February is also a good time to put up a nestbox - there are lots of birds out there which will be in the market for a nest site very soon. And why not pick up a box suitable for a family of robins, wrens or sparrows, instead of the traditional great or blue tits?

At home, there's not so much song but I have noticed dunnocks flirting in the bushes: lots of wing- and tail-flicking and chasing through the twigs. What have you noticed in your garden or out-and-about? Leave a comment and share!