Wildlife Enquiries

Wildlife

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

Wildlife Enquiries

'Good morning, Wildlife Enquiries...' We take hundreds of calls and e-mails every day. Find out what everyone's asking this week
  • Dissecting owl pellets

    Friday October 3rd

    With some of our team out training our colleagues in the world of wildlife enquiries Claire and I decided that we would use our time to brush up on our wildlife skill set. Having taken delivery of a fresh batch of owl pellets we set about dissecting them on Friday...at lunch time.

    First we selected a pellet that we felt would have a good haul of bones and hopefully an intact skull having never actually dissected owl pellets before we chose a rather large one and set it to soak in water with some alcohol disinfectant. The pellet was produced by a barn owl. They are quite large and characteristically black in appearance often with a varnish like gloss when fresh.

    They are also the best material for pellet studies as many are produced at the same site and the bones they produce are remarkably intact.

    Having bought in my dissection kit and put on gloves that Claire had provided we set about pulling the soaked pellet apart. It was easy enough and the fur parted like meat that had been cooking for hours. Although the large white grub of a clothes moth was enough to put us of eating for the rest of the day.

    We removed 3 skulls from one pellet as well as scapulars, jaw bones, ear capsules, what felt like thousands of rib bones and vertebrae.

    Each dish was a soup of fur and bones, the fur lead us to expect mammal remains and we were right as we pulled the remains of three (Blind, after being eaten and regurgitated) mice.

    On the dark blue card we arranged the bones and examined them under the lamp placing them into position and identifying them with the key. Feeling like we were in Wildlife silent witness or CSI RSPB we thoroughly enjoyed our day brushing up on our wildlife skills and I would encourage anyone to have a go as well.  

  • Pigs in the garden!

    Well, Hedge Pigs really. I hadn’t seen hedgehogs in my garden for years, but this year I’ve had two or three adults visiting most nights. I had my suspicions when I kept noticing a very neat corner of the buggy nibbles I put out for the birds in the ground feeder tray had been eaten away. I’ve managed to watch them feeding a few times and found them mooching about in the garden too.

    I’ve always considered my garden to be wildlife friendly, but I have been adding a few things and making a few changes to improve the habitat and hopefully increase the wildlife.  I’ve left more parts of the garden to go wild by only cutting back new growth where it’s in the way. This is an easy thing to do and it costs nothing, I’ve also been planting more wildlife friendly plants in order to encourage more insects into the garden. I’ve also installed a new nest box, the old one fell apart, which was used by a pair of Blue Tits a few weeks after putting it up.

      

    Hedgehog - Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    If you have hedgehogs in your garden, I thought I’d outline a few do’s and don’ts and give you some pointers about their hibernation habits. It’s long been thought that hedgehogs hibernate in the autumn and don’t wake until the spring. We now know this isn’t true. Depending on the weather hedgehogs will start hibernating around October time. This is why you need to be careful about bonfires on and around November 5th.  The best advice is to build them on the day or go to an organised firework event. If the weather is mild the hedgehogs can wake periodically during the winter. However, it takes them a lot of energy to wake so they are likely to be hungry. A hedgehog needs to be about 600g in weight before hibernating, so if you find one in your garden which is a good size and is fit and healthy, leave it alone, it will hibernate when it’s ready. A hedgehog will use 20% of its body weight to hibernate, so if you find one which is underweight and we have a cold winter, you’ll need to find an animal welfare charity to care for it over the winter months. Now is a great time to put a ‘hogitat’ in your garden to give your hedgehogs somewhere safe to hibernate.

    Food – Some dos and don’ts

    • Don’t give them milk, they are lactose intolerant and milk can make them quite ill
    • Don’t feed them bread. Bread isn’t very nutritional and just bloats them up (combined with milk it’s even worse)

    • Do put out fresh water
    • Do feed them cat or dog food including dried cat biscuits as these won’t go off as quickly as the fresh food or hedgehog food

    If you find a hedgehog out in the open asleep in the winter, it needs help as it won’t be hibernating. You need to pick it up and bring it indoors (gardening gloves are a good idea).  Place the hedgehog on a towel on top of a hot water bottle and call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. You can also look on the Help Wildlife web site below to see if there is someone nearby who can help.

    You can view the hogitats and hedgehog food we sell on the link below, where there is additional advice on where best to site your hogitat.

    http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/birds-wildlife/wildlife/mammals.html

    http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/birds-wildlife/wildlife/mammals.html

    http://www.helpwildlife.co.uk/index.php

     

  • In at the deep end

    Summer is drawing to an end and the signs of change are all around us. If you have a pond in your garden, now is the time to take action and do a bit of pond maintenance, if needed! So, you’ve been marvelling at all the wildlife making the most of your pond, some are more easy to see than others, but there’s a whole ecosystem going on in there. We often get asked how to encourage more birds into people’s gardens. Supplying water is just as important as providing food, whether it’s a shallow dish on the ground, a birdbath or a pond. Water will also encourage a whole host of other wildlife into your garden, so don’t think it’s only the birds and the fish that will benefit from all your labours.

    The best time to do some pond maintenance is in late September and October. Tadpoles should have left the pond by now and other adult amphibians have not yet gone into hibernation. Avoid doing any pond maintenance in the winter as this will disturb hibernating amphibians and expose them to the cold.

     

    Planting Yellow Flag Iris - David Levenson (rspb-images.com)

    • Remove any blanket weed; this can cover the pond surface in warmer weather. If your pond is new, it can take a few years to settle down, but once it’s established the wildlife in the pond should keep the blanket weed under control
    • Plants can quickly take over a pond, so thin them out carefully. Having plants in aquatic baskets can make this job a bit easier, as it can control the amount of growth and make then easier to control
    • It’s very important that any vegetation you remove from the pond is placed on the edges for a few days. This will allow any wildlife to make its way back into the pond. After a few days you can compost the vegetation you’ve removed
    • Only clear a third of your pond at a time. This will allow areas to stay established while newer areas settle down. In this way you will develop a rotation for the pond
    • Don’t be too concerned if the water level has dropped during the summer. If your pond requires topping up try to use rainwater as tap water is higher in nutrients and can cause algal blooms to increase
    • If the water conditions are right in your pond, you shouldn’t have too many problems. Ponds which are overstocked with fish can have problems as the fish will increase the nutrient levels. Long, hot spells and calm water can also have a detrimental effect.      Installing a pump and a simple water feature can help keep the water moving, but the most important factor is not allowing the water level to drop too low.
    • You can reduce the amount of algae in the water by using barley straw. A chemical reaction between the straw and algae slows algae growth, allowing established algae to die off naturally. The straw needs to be packed in net bags and floated on the surface of the water. Plastic water bottles tied to the net will help to keep it on the surface and enable the water and algae to pass through it. You need at least 10g per square metre of surface area (approximately 0.5oz per square yard). If the algae bloom is particularly bad you can increase to 25g per square metre and reduce the amount as the algae diminishes
    • Remember, if your pond is fine you don’t have to do any maintenance. Any removal of plants will cause disturbance, so whatever work you need to do, try to keep it to a minimum 

    If you want to create a wildlife pond or improve the one you have, there is more information on our website (see link below). You could also add a purpose built home to the edge of your pond to help the frogs and toads in your garden too (see links below).

    http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/gardening/pondsforwildlife/index.aspx

    http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/birds-wildlife/wildlife/giving-nature-a-home/frogilo-frog-and-toad-shelter.html

    http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/frogitat-frog-and-toad-house.html