How to spot a butterfly: 10 top tips

Butterfly Conservation’s Richard Fox shares his expert advice on how to see these lovely insects this summer. 

Tortoiseshell butterfly.

1 Watch the forecast as most butterflies fly only on sunny, calm days, or on overcast days over 20°C.

2 Pick your site – flowery places with long grass are often good for butterflies; to see rarer species you need to go to the right habitats.

3 Think like a butterfly – most seek warm, sheltered, south-facing spots.

4 Pack binoculars for scanning the canopy, the tops of hedgerows and the middle of nettle and bramble patches.

5 Move slowly, as butterflies have keen eyesight, and watch your shadow so that it doesn’t fall on them.

6 Learn the plants on which the caterpillars and adults of each butterfly prefer to feed. Some species tend to stay close to their larval foodplants as adults.

7 Plan ahead to see a particular species as different butterflies fly at different times of the year.  

8 Carry a field guide to help you identify the species you see. 

9 Take a photograph for reference (especially if you've seen something unusual) and confirm the sighting when you get home. 

10 Don't leave it too late to see a butterfly as sightings tail off in the late afternoon, even on warm, sunny days.


Find out more about the Big Butterfly Count.

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