July, 2011

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • This weekend...crack a case of mistaken identity

    Hummingbird hawkmoth by ComputerHotline

    Each year during the summer months, we get dozens of reports of hummingbirds on the loose in the British countryside. But hummingbirds are only native to the Americas, so how can this be?

    The answer lies in an unassuming moth – the hummingbird hawkmoth - which looks uncannily like a miniature hummingbird.

    Like hummingbirds they feed on nectar from flowers, but they are much smaller, with a wingspan of just 5 cm. They are also unlikely to win a beauty competition if competing against a hummingbird, as they lack the characteristically vibrant colours of their namesakes.

    Small but perfectly formed

    Nevertheless, these tiny creatures are mesmerising as they dance and flit between blooms, poking their proboscis into flowers to drink the energy-rich nectar.

    Their wings beat at an incredible 70 - 80 beats per second, which allows them to hover in the same way real hummingbirds do. But all this activity takes a lot of energy, so they have to spend the majority of their time collecting the nectar they need to power their flight (they will even continue to feed whilst mating!).  

    'Butterfly of the night'

    Although the French word for moth is the beautifully descriptive 'papillon de nuit' or 'butterfly of the night', this is a bit of a misnomer for the hummingbird hawkmoth, as it is a day-flying moth, making it easy to spot when you're out and about.

    Hummingbird hawkmoth by belgianchocolateDespite their size, and correspondingly tiny brain, hummingbird hawkmoths also possess an amazing ability to remember their favourite flowers, and will often return to them at the same time each day. So if you spot one flitting around your flowerbed, or poking its proboscis into your patio plants, the chances are you’ll see it again!

    The warmer climate in the UK is attracting larger numbers of the these moths, which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe in early summer, so you stand a very good chance of catching a glimpse of one.

    If you do, you can help Butterfly Conservation keep track of how hummingbird hawkmoths are doing in the UK by adding your sightings to their interactive map. And we'd love to hear your stories too!

     

  • Monday's Magic Moment: Bright and beautiful

    Think you have to travel halfway around the world to see animals as vibrantly coloured and exotic-looking as this little chap? Well, think again!

    Head over to a patch of heathland in South West England, or sand dunes in the North West, and you could be lucky enough to see a male sand lizard basking in the warm summer sunshine, just like this one. 

    Isn't he handsome?!

    You'll find thousands more amazing images, like this one by Geoff Simpson, at RSPB Images.

    And don't forget, you can order a print or canvas of any image you see on the RSPB Images website - just perfect for a present!

  • This weekend... meet the moorhen family

    Here's something to watch out for this weekend, if you go for a stroll in your local park, along a river or stream or just about anywhere with a little bit of water.

    Meet Mr and Mrs Moorhen (who both look the same - to us, at least)

    This is Junior Moorhen - the same size as the adults but dull brown all over. And yes - moorhens do climb trees. They've got long claws.

    And here's Baby Moorhen - small, black and fluffy. Not sure if it's cute or not. What do you think?

    The really interesting thing about the Family Moorhen is that the older chicks from this year sometimes help to feed their younger brothers and sisters. Moorhens can have two broods per year, laying between 5-7 eggs each time, so the parents must be glad of some extra help.

    Let us know if you spot this fascinating behaviour, and if you think the chicks are cute or ugly...