It’s not just the birds that’ll flock to Norfolk’s gardens
- Credit: Archant
It's not just about the birds... in the last of our Big Garden Birdwatch series, Rupert Masefield of the RSPB urges us to keep an eye out for other garden wildlife too. And not only for this weekend...
This year the RSPB is asking people again about other wildlife that may visit their patch, to help us build a bigger picture of what is happening to our garden wildlife. Of course, you won't see hedgehogs, frogs or toads during Big Garden Birdwatch, because they hibernate during the winter - but we DO want to know how many gardens have been homes for these important UK species in recent warmer months.
These squirrels have grey fur and often sit upright with their large bushy tails arched over their backs. Grey squirrels are active during the day, foraging for food in trees and on the ground – they often visit peanut feeders in gardens. In the autumn they spend time storing nuts to eat during the winter. Their nest, called a drey, is a compact, spherical structure. It is slightly larger than a football and constructed of twigs, leaves, bark and grass. Grey squirrels tend to breed in between January and April and, if food is plentiful, they may have a second litter in the summer. Originally from North America, grey squirrels, were released in the UK by 19th-century landowners. They are extremely successful are now very common and widespread. Many people find grey squirrels cute and they are often the only wild mammal seen regularly in gardens and urban areas. Unfortunately, the grey squirrel carries the virus squirrelpox which is deadly to red squirrels. The spread of the grey squirrel population has been the main factor in the decline of the native red squirrel due to the spread of squirrelpox and because grey squirrels out-compete red squirrels for habitat. Grey squirrels also damage woodlands in the UK.
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Hedgehogs have a rather rounded body covered in short, dark, yellow-tipped spines, and a short tail. The face and undersides are covered in coarse hair. They are widespread and common throughout mainland Britain. In the summer they spend most of the day sheltering in a nest of leaves, moss and grass. They come out at night and can be heard snuffling and grunting as they forage for food. In the autumn they find a sheltered spot, often under a hedgerow, to hibernate. Although their eyesight is poor, they have good hearing and a well-developed sense of smell. Hedgehogs are good runners, proficient climbers and can even swim. If attacked they roll into a tight ball so only their spines are exposed.
Muntjacs are also known as barking deer, due to their distinctive call. They are small, stocky deer that are russet brown in summer, grey brown in winter. Muntjac have short antlers and the males (known as bucks) have two 'tusks' that point downwards. These 'tusks' are actually teeth (canines). Muntjacs, inset, have expanded very rapidly and are now present in most English counties south of the M62 and have also expanded their range into Wales. Due to their rapidly increasing numbers and density they are becoming of significant environmental concern. High muntjac densities cause problems for new tree growth in woodlands which can have an impact on native wildlife, as well as contributing to the loss of some plants of conservation importance such as the bluebell. Muntjacs cause relatively little damage to commercial vegetation and crops compared to other deer, but can cause much damage in gardens and can wipe out a rose bush in a very short time!
Roe deer are relatively small, dainty deer. They are one of only two deer that is truly native to the British Isles (our other native deer is the red deer). Their coats are bright rusty red in summer, turning to a dull, slate grey in winter. Males (bucks) have short antlers with three prongs. They are mostly active at twilight, and will bark like a dog when alarmed.
(Source: British Deer Society)
This species has famously adapted its lifestyle to many of our towns and cities, where you are much more likely to see them than in the countryside. It is our most common predator, and has thrived despite extensive persecution by man over the centuries.
In poor light it can be mistaken for a dog but a closer look will reveal its striking reddish-brown coat and its distinctive white-tipped bushy tail, known as its 'brush'. The tail makes up a third of its entire body length of just over a metre.
The female (vixen) is a few centimetres shorter than the male (dog). The foxes' success is due to it being an omnivore - so it does well in our urban areas where there are plenty of leftovers...
Another highly successful omnivore, the brown rat can be found wherever people are. Its fur is general brownish grey, but can be much darker – but it is not to be confused with the genuine black rat which is now a very rare species in the British Isles. It prefers grain-based food but does eat meat too. As well as spoiling foodstuffs, its habit of gnawing inedible materials can cause other damage. It is largely nocturnal.
Badgers – or brocks, as they are sometimes called – are stocky, with short legs and silvery-grey fur. They have very distinctive black and white markings on their faces. Badgers are common throughout Britain. They live in family groups in a series of underground chambers, called setts, which are often used by successive generations. They emerge at dusk to spend the night foraging for food and playing, which strengthens their social bonding. Badgers can live for up to 14 years.
Common frogs have smooth skin that varies in colour from grey, olive green and yellow to brown. They have irregular dark blotches, a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum, and dark bars on their legs. They are able to lighten or darken their skin to match their surroundings. Common frogs are most active at night, and hibernate during the winter in pond mud or under piles of rotting leaves, logs or stones. They can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs.
Common toads vary from dark brown, grey and olive green to sandy-coloured. They have broad, squat bodies and warty skin. They tend to walk rather than hop. These toads are widespread and common in mainland Britain. Common toads excavate a shallow burrow that they return to after foraging for prey. They secrete an irritant substance from their skin and puff themselves up to deter predators. Common toads tend to live away from water, except when mating, and hibernate during the winter in deep leaf litter, log piles and in burrows. Common toads can live up to 40 years.