Ready for the second installment of Twelve Coombes wildlife highlights? Here we go...!
...eight shrews ashrinking...
Shrews can’t hibernate. Their small body size, and the fact they need to eat every 2-3 hours, mean they wouldn’t be able to take on big enough fat reserves. So instead they carry on hunting, searching for insects, slugs, snails and earthworms in amongst the leaf litter.
However, shrews are at a greater risk of heat loss over the winter months, so have come up with a funky trick. They shrink. The common shrew can reduce its size by 20-30% from summer to winter. This includes shrinking not only its body, but also its brain, bones and most other internal organs. And then come spring, the shrew will return to its usual size once more! By shrinking, the shrew reduces its need to take in as much energy from food, as well as reducing heat loss due to its smaller surface area.
Common shrew by Chris Shields (RSPB-images)
...seven tawnys toowit-twooing....
Come along to Coombes Valley late afternoon or early evening, and you’ll most likely hear the calls of tawny owls protecting their territories throughout the woods. The iconic “toowit-twoo”ing of owls is actually the call of two individuals. The female tawny hoots “kee-wick”, and the male replies “hoo-hoo-oooo”. The reason tawny’s are so vocal at this time of year is because they are guarding their breeding territories ready for the breeding season.
Tawny in flight by Chris Gomersall (RSPB-images)
...six roe deer sharing...
During the winter, the usually solitary roe deer we have here at Coombes gain a bit of a social life. They form small groups, ‘bevies’, during winter and early spring. This occurs when individuals are sharing a food resource. As winter comes and food resources become scarcer, the resources still available will be wanted by many a deer.
Another cool fact about roe deer is they change their coat in winter to blend in with the wintery surroundings. Their summer coat of reddish brown is replaced by a winter coat. This is more a browny-grey colour, flecked with yellow. These winter colours blend into the trees so well that you may often only notice them due to the sight of their bottoms, which becomes a striking white colour!
Roe Deer bevy by Andrew Parkinson (RSPB-Images)
The goldcrest is the UK’s smallest bird, weighing roughly the same as a 10p coin. However, for such tiny creatures, they’re incredibly hardy. During the winter the numbers of goldcrests in the UK increases, with our own populations being supplemented by migrants flying across from Scandinavia. That’s right, this 5g bird, with a wingspan of 15cm, flying across the North Sea at winter. Like, I said, it’s a hardy bird!
Goldcrests survive the cold winters by spending their nights roosting together, and their days replenishing their fat reserves.
By huddling together through the cold nights, goldcrests share heat. Two birds roosting together can reduce their heat loss by a quarter, and three birds can reduce it by a third!
However, this cosy behaviour is not enough alone to help them through the cold nights, it can also help them burn off up to 20% of their body fat keeping warm. This is why they spend their days hunting for food in order to build up their fat reserves once more.
You can help out goldcrests and other winter birds by leaving out fat for them to eat! For more information on feeding your garden birds this winter, check out the RSPB website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/whatfood/
Goldcrest in winter by Ray Kennedy (RSPB-images)
Keep an eye out for the next installment. What will be number one?