Weekly Facts – Ecology 1

The weekly facts to learn this week are –

a) Animal – Learn the name of one local animal, how to identify it, its habitat and food.

b) Bird – Learn the name of one local bird, how to identify it, its habitat and food.

This week, the animal I shall look at will be the Grey Squirrel and the bird shall be the Robin.

Robin

European Robin

European Robin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a really interesting experience while I was out walking today. I saw a Robin sat on a hedgerow. I normally see them every time I go for a walk, but this time was different because it came very close to me. I stopped and said hello and it nervously hopped down the branches to eat some dark-coloured berries. It ate a berry and then hopped down onto the ground and back along the path. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Robin do that so I am feeling quite chuffed about it.

One of the most commonly seen birds in Britain, the Robin (latin – erithacus rubecula) is 14cm tall and easily identified by its orange-red face, neck and breast. It’s upper body is olive-brown, it has white feathers under its tail, and it has a short thin beak and long black legs. Juveniles are harder to identify due to their lack of a red breast.

There are an estimated 6 million pairs that can be found all over the UK in woodlands, copses, hedges, gardens and parks. The Robin is seen defending its territory all year round, with males and females holding separate territories in winter. As a territorial creature, it rarely moves more than 5km but sometimes does migrate to Spain. Its urgent “tic tic” call or high pitched “tsweee” song can be heard throughout the year.

Sometimes it hunts for food from a perch, watching for movements below. At other times it searches as it hops along the ground. The Robins main foods are invertebrates e.g. spiders, flies, worms and beetles, or fruits and seeds e.g. berries or grains.

Females Robins start building nests of leaves, moss and grass in late March. The nests are usually quite low e.g. in a bank hollow or a tree stump. The males try to court and attract the females with their bright red breasts. Usually four or five eggs are incubated by the female for two weeks. Five to Six weeks after birth, the young robins are ready to fly the nests and become independent

Grey Squirrel

Did you know that Monday 21st January is National Squirrel Appreciation Day in the UK? A common sight throughout the UK, the Grey Squirrel (latin – Sciurus Carolinesis) is an intelligent, resourceful, agile and confident creature. At up to 30cm in length, with silvery grey fur, a white underside, strong muscular back legs, smaller front legs and a big bushy tail, this well-known creature can be seen in deciduous woodlands, parks, hedgerows and even gardens all over Britain.

An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis...

An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The grey squirrel is not native to Britain, but was brought over here from North America by rich landowners in the late 19th or early 20th century. Unfortunately, it is displacing our native red squirrels because it is bigger, bolder, able to digest acorns & bark, and it carries a deadly pox virus which the red squirrels are not immune to. The grey squirrel has also become very successful at urban living and regularly annoys bird lovers by trying to eat food from bird feeders.

Squirrels can be seen throughout the year eating a variety of foods. In Spring, they often eat the new leaves and buds on trees, and in Autumn they spend lots of time collecting and storing acorns & nuts for the coming cold months. They usually live about 3-4 years but can live for up to 10 years at times and there are now an estimated 2 million of them in Britain.

Squirrels live in a nest called a Drey, built high up in a tree or in a hollow tree trunk. These are compact, spherical structures, usually the size of a football, and are made of twigs, bark and grass. In Summer, these dreys are quite light and airy, but they are made thicker and warmer in Autumn as this will act as the Squirrels home in the cold winter months, when they will only venture out to gather food stored up in their thousands of caches scattered nearby.

They have a winter mating season and female squirrels gather extra bark and leaves in early February to line her drey ready for the birth of her young. Squirrels can often be seen courting in late winter, the chattering males chasing females around in order that the quickest and strongest can mate with her. The female will give birth to an average three young after a six week gestation period – usually around March or April. The male has no further involvement with the female and she is left as a single parent. Young Grey Squirrels will leave the nest after three or four months and start breeding themselves after reaching the age of one.

Grey Squirrels are active during the day, but especially at dawn and dusk, foraging in trees and on the ground. They are very agile in trees and can leap up to 6 metres between trees. Their sharp claws help them to grip bark, while their tails help them balance. They use their tail to communicate with others, twitching them if they’re uneasy or suspicious, or to ward off predators.

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