WLOL Masthead
Wildlife Online-

Wildlife information at the click of a mouse--


SPEED
READ

Content Updated: 5th August 2014

Welcome to SpeedRead! Following some reader feedback -- incidentally, I'd love to hear yours -- and consultation with friends and colleagues, one point has come to light: although most were impressed by the depth of information on the site, they were sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer length of some of the pages. It seems that my original attempts to break up the information in the main articles (using menu sections) has helped, but several people have expressed an interest in a summary of the information; a "quick fix", if you like. Well, here is my on-going attempt to provide just that. Below are brief (no longer than two A4 pages of text) summaries of the biology, ecology and behaviour of the main species covered on the site, along with a few for which full articles aren't yet available. Please excuse the clastic sentence fragments and lack of clause analysis, but this is meant to provide a quick and simple overview of the facts. At the bottom of each section there is a link that will take you to the relevant full article, should you wish to indulge your curiosity further. I am interested to hear feedback on this little project; these and any queries or questions can be directed to the usual address.

Select a species:

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
European Badger (Meles meles)
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)
Reeve's Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)
Chinese Water Deer (Hydroptes intermis)
European Mole (Talpa europaea)
Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
European Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
Water vole (Arvicola amphibius) - NEW!

British Red foxRed Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Size: 60 – 90cm (2ft – 3 ft) head and body length; can reach 1.65m (5.4 ft) including tail. In Britain, average weight of adult male is around 6.5kg (14 lbs), while adult females are approx. 5.5kg (12 lbs). The global range for adults is 3 – 16kg (6.6 – 35lbs). The largest confirmed specimen was a dog fox shot on a farm near Aberdeen, Scotland, during 2012, weighing 17.2kg (38 lb. 1 oz.) and measuring 145cm (4 ft. 9 in.). Larger animals (20kg / 41 lbs or more) have been reported, but remain unverified.

Colour: Highly variable; can range from yellow-red to black (‘silver’). Most common characteristic is white chin and underside with white tip to the tail and amber eyes. Four main colour phases (Red, White, Silver and Cross), which are genetically inherited.

Distribution: UK and most of Europe, North Africa, North America, Canada as far north as some arctic islands, and parts of Asia. Also found throughout China, northern India and Australia (introduced for hunting).

Longevity: Oldest (captive) animal almost 24 years. Typically, foxes live for only 2 years (esp. in urban environment), although more generally a range of 2 to 8 years can be expected. Upper limit in wild is generally 6 or 8 years, although some have been known to reach their mid-teens.

Sexing: Very little sexual dimorphism (i.e. sexes look very similar). Males (dogs), on average larger than females (vixens), with broader heads and longer, narrower snouts than females. During the breeding season the cream-coloured scrotum of the male is descended, helping with sexing, while females with young (cubs or pups) will often have bald stomachs and enlarged teats during the summer.

Activity: Predominantly crepuscular and nocturnal (active at dusk, night and dawn); can be seen diurnally (daytime) lying in thick vegetation or patrolling territories – diurnal activity may be more common in urban environments, and during cub-rearing months in more rural spots.

Dens: Use dens (or “earths”) predominantly during cub-rearing months, although may be used outside this period particularly in bad weather. May lie up in vegetation or in sunny spots (such as on shed roofs or in trees). Natal den sought during February. Several dens may exist per territory.

Territory: Substantial variation by habitat (resource-based). Rural foxes commonly have territories between 200 and 600 ha. (500 – 1,500 acres), extending to 4,000 ha (10,000 ac.) in poor Scottish Highlands. Urban foxes tend to forage over smaller areas; less than 60 ha (150 ac. or one-quarter sq-mi.). Territories often composed of two areas; larger (home range) area containing a smaller (core area) territory. Home ranges may overlap with neighbours; core areas don’t and are violently defended against interlopers.

Diet: Varied – highly opportunitistic. Mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, amphibians, fruit, vegetables, grass and human rubbish.

Reproduction: Breeding season late December to February. Cubs (ave. 4 to 6) born March to late April (peak mid-March). Cubs presented with solid food from 3 wks old and emerge from den in early May (ca. 6 wks old). Cubs weaned by about 8 wks old. Independent by 3 to 5 months; family unit often breaks down from September onwards, with males more prone to dispersal than females.

Behaviour and Sociality: Normally solitary (or in pairs); can occur in family groups where resources allow (e.g. urban areas). When in groups, family members may help care for subsequent litters (guard, feed and play with cubs), but subordinates rarely breed. Have been associated with attacks on pets/livestock and damage to gardens. Can be excluded from pet/livestock enclosures with effort, but very difficult to exclude from garden completely. Calling rare, but not unheard of, outside of mating season. Communicate with scent and body language at close range and with calling over longer distances. Tendency to surplus kill and cache left-over frequently leads to false interpretation that foxes kill for 'sport'.

Threats: Hunted for sport throughout much of range. Many killed by cars in towns and cities. Mange has decreased numbers recently. Predators of adults in most of UK non-existent (potentially Golden eagles in Scotland), although cubs may fall victim to various predators (esp. Golden eagles, Eagle owls, other carnivorans); elsewhere predators include wolves and lynx.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

European Badger (Meles meles)

British badgerSize: Adults usually 70 to 100 cm (2 – 3.5 ft) long. Weight varies seasonally; adults usually 6 to 7 kg (13 – 15 lbs) in summer and 12 to 14 kg (26 – 31 lbs) in winter. Average adult weight in autumn is about 12kg; that for spring is circa 9kg (20 lbs).

Colour: Silvery-grey to black body and tail with paler stomach (thin white abdominal fur) and dark paws. Easily identified by characteristic black-and-white striped face (mask) and white margins to their ears. White (inc. albino), dark and red colour phases known.

Distribution: Most of Europe (excl. north Scandinavia, Iceland, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily) and parts of Asia as far east as China.

Longevity: Average lifespan 2 years, may be 7 or 8 in wild; can live for almost 20 years in captivity.

Sexing: Sexual differentiation arguable; no accurate way of sexing without direct physical contact. Males = Boars; Females = Sows.

Activity: Primarily nocturnal (with some crepuscular tendencies); time of emergence may relate to level of persecution. Often torporic for parts of winter, but do not truly hibernate.

Dens: Referred to as “setts”. Can be extensive, with primary sett (several entrances) and subsidiary setts throughout territory. Regularly change bedding (dried leaves and grass).

Territory: Territories of 20 to 50 ha (50 – 124 ac.) common in rich habitats; 150 ha (370 ac.) or more in poorer regions. Group (clan) may average 10-or-more in parts of Britain (solitary or pairs throughout most of range), which defend territory aggressively. Territory marked with scent (latrines).

Diet: Broad, opportunistic diet – includes: earthworms (predominantly in UK), cereals, small mammals (esp. hedgehogs), amphibians, insects, fruit and plant bulbs/roots. Have been implicated in bird nest predation.

Reproduction: Mating can occur during any month (bulk February to May). Embryonic diapause yields mid-January to mid-March (peak early Feb.) born young. Litter size average 2; up to 6 cubs. Cubs appear above ground late-April/early-May (~ 8wks old) and can take solid food at 5 or 6 months old. Mature at 12 to 15 months old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Generally solitary or in pairs; exist in large clans where resources allow (no sign of cooperation within clan). No obvious pecking order observed (although considered probable). Scent highly important to sociality; clan members mark each other with secretions from subcaudal glands. WildCRU documented 16 acoustically-distinct calls from badgers at Wytham Woods (Oxford). Peak period for dispersal is late June through to August/September.

Threats: Widely culled in response to bovine tuberculosis control. No natural predators. High numbers killed on the roads – especially cubs during the summer. Protected by law in the UK.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

British Red squirrelRed Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Size: Max. length about 45cm (18 in.), of which up to 20cm (8 in.) may be tail. Commonly, ~ 21cm (8in.) inc. tail.

Colour: Highly variable; range from black to dull yellowy-brown (“buff”), covering most shades of red and brown. Albinos rare; melanistic (black) common in some regions (e.g. continental Europe), rare in UK.

Distribution: Throughout Europe and Asia, from ~70oN to 30oN; Britain and China represent limits of range. Within UK, still reasonably widespread through S. and E. Scotland, and much (excl. far west) of Ireland. Also found in isolated pockets of England (e.g. Brownsea Island and Isle of Wight) and three distinct populations in Wales.

Longevity: Max. (captivity) is 10 years. In wild, average is 3 yrs; max. in wild probably 7 yrs.

Sexing: Impossible at distance; during breeding season close inspection reveals swollen, darkly stained testes. Distance between genital openings can be used to sex squirrels during handling.

Activity: Diurnal (daytime) species, emerging ~30 min. after sunrise. Bimodal activity periods during the summer (morning and evening) and unimodal in winter (morning).

Dens: Referred to as “dreys”; usually in trees (occasionally on ground). Composed of leaves and twigs; lined with moss. Roughly spherical and typically 30cm (1ft.) diameter. Nursing females may have several dreys in area to facilitate moving young when threatened.

Territory: Range over ave. 70 ha (range 20-100 ha; up to 247 ac.); have “core areas” of intense use and these areas will be defended against intruders. Territory establishment essential for successful reproduction. Territory quality directly impacts fecundity.

Diet: Primarily seeds and plant matter, incl. berries and fruit. Opportunists; diet includes fungi, nuts, seeds, bark, sap, soil (minerals?), roots, cereals, insects (incidental?), bird chicks and eggs.

Reproduction: Females polyoestrus with bimodal peaks: winter (Dec.-Mar.) mating produces young in spring (Mar.-May); spring mating yields young during summer (July-Sept.). Gestation 36 to 42 days (depending on weather and food). Ave. litter is 3 young (kittens). Young outside at 7 wks; fully weaned by 10 wks and independent at 12 to 16 wks. Sexually mature at 6 months old. Breeding heavily influenced by mast crop.

Behaviour and Sociality: Primarily solitary; drey sharing known, individuals seem familiar with each other. Hierarchy system known between and within sexes; males not necessarily dominant to females. Peak dispersal in autumn (some in summer and spring). Spend less time on ground than Greys. Emit various acoustically distinct calls; foot stomping, tail flicking and chasing my accompany agonistic calls. During breeding season, single female may be pursued by several males. Chasing, chattering and tail-flicking often witnessed during mating chases.

Threats: Large numbers killed on roads and by viruses (such as squirrelpox). Habitat loss, encroachment by Greys and changes to habitat management also implicated in species decline. Historically persecuted as pest to forestry. Globally, predators include foxes, wildcats, martens, goshawks, raptors (esp. buzzards), stoats, coyotes, snakes and bobcats.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

British Grey squirrelSize: Max. 55cm (~2ft), of which 25cm (10 in.) may be tail; average about 26cm (~1ft) including tail. Weigh from 400 to 700 grams (14–25 oz.), with most specimens across Europe between 450 and 650g (16 – 23 oz.); average about 550g (19.5 oz. – seasonally variable) in UK.

Colour: Typically grey-backed, grey tails and white (or significantly lighter) underside; flanks vary from grey to dusky red. Melanistic and albino Greys rare; white individuals may be locally common.

Distribution: Native to NE America; introduced to Britain. In UK, Greys found throughout England, although they’re absent from Isle of Wight and apparently scarce from north Pennines to Southern Uplands (ca. 56o to 54o N). Fragmented populations exist in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Longevity: Oldest captive specimen was 20 yrs; Wild ave. 4-5 yrs for females and 2-3 yrs for males.

Sexing: Impossible at distance; during breeding season close inspection reveals swollen testes. Distance between genital openings can be used to sex squirrels during handling.

Activity: Diurnal; seasonally sporadic activity patterns. Active throughout day during autumn; activity diminishes to about 4 hours or less (mornings) in winter, before increasing again to between 3 and 8 hours -- frequently bimodal -- in spring and summer.

Dens: Referred to as “dreys”, usually in trees (occasionally on ground). Composed of leaves and twigs; lined with moss. Roughly spherical and typically 30cm (1ft.) diameter. Nursing females may have several dreys in area to facilitate moving young when threatened.

Territory: Range over between 2 and 10 hectares (5 to 25 ac.) for most of year, but males may cover more than 100 ha (247 ac.) during mating season. Defend core area from intruders; parts of range may overlap.

Diet: Primarily seeds and plant matter, incl. berries and fruit. Opportunists; diet includes fungi, nuts, seeds, bark, sap, soil (minerals?), roots, cereals, insects (incidental?), bird chicks and eggs and human rubbish.

Reproduction: Produce 1 or 2 (if mating begins in December) litters of 2 to 4 kittens (ave. 3, max. 8), following 42 to 45 day gestation. Peak of mating/chasing during January. Litters produced during spring (mid February-late April) if good crop of mast, or summer/autumn (mid July-mid November) if crop less bountiful – occasionally, litter in both seasons. Kittens eat solid food and leave drey at about 7 wks; weaned by 10 wks. Sexually mature at 10 months to 1 yr old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Primarily solitary; drey sharing known, individuals seem familiar with each other. Hierarchy system known between and within sexes; males not necessarily dominant to females. Peak dispersal in autumn (some in summer and spring). Spend more time on ground than Reds. Emit several acoustically distinct calls; foot stomping, tail flicking and chasing my accompany agonistic calls. During breeding season, single female may be pursued by several males. Chasing, chattering and tail-flicking often witnessed during mating chases.

Threats: Widely persecuted in the UK as part of Red squirrel conservation plans – implicated in Red squirrel and native bird decline. Many killed on roads. Persecuted as a pest to forestry. Globally, predators include foxes, wildcats, martens, goshawks, raptors, stoats, coyotes, snakes and bobcats.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

British hedgehogEuropean Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Size: Range from 24 to 35cm (9.5 - 14 in.) long; 2 to 5 cm (1 – 2 in.) is tail. Weigh between 500g (1 lb) and nearly 2 kg (4.5 lb); weight varies according to sex and season.

Colour: Spines (up to 7,000 on adult) on back, hair on underside. Generally brown in colour; spines have white/cream band. Leucistic individuals (white or pale yellow spines) known; partially leucistic and albino animals rare. No melanistic animals reported.

Distribution: Widespread (although perhaps declining) throughout lowlands of Britain (every county and most offshore islands), across much of western Europe north to southern Scandinavia and Finland, south to Mediterranean – found along treelines up to 2,000 m.

Longevity: Aging difficult. Oldest captive specimen 15 yrs. Ave. age in wild widely cited as 5 or 6 yrs, although reality probably closer to 3 yrs; the upper age limit in wild is probably 6 to 8 yrs.

Sexing: Impossible at distance. Penis situated approx. medially (where one might expect to see a belly button).

Activity: Nocturnal (some crepuscular or diurnal tendencies in sick or nursing hogs). Range up to 1km per night. Hibernate during winter if climate requires.

Dens: Build summer and winter (hibernacula) nests. Summer nests flimsy cf. hibernacula. May lie up in long grass during daytime in summer; typically exhibit low nest fidelity.

Territory: Solitary, with no evidence of territoriality. May range over relatively constant area (of up to 32 ha/79 ac. in males and 10 ha/25 ac. in females). Some scraps have been observed at feeding stations, but confrontation possibly avoided through scent-mediated mutual avoidance.

Diet: Adult beetles, earwigs and earthworms comprise bulk (~85%) of diet. Also take caterpillars, slugs, snails, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, centipedes, millipedes, flies and larvae. Plant material rare. Some evidence to suggest attacks on vertebrates (e.g. frogs, birds and small rodents) and raiding of bird nests for eggs.

Reproduction: In UK breeding season (“rut”) runs from mid May to late September. Peak births probably June/July, although some studies show peak courtship during August, leading to peak pregnancy during September. Mating usually preceded by aggressive courtship, involving circling, butting and grunting. Females polyoestrus; in favourable conditions can produce 2 litters. Ave. litter 4 or 5 (range = 2 to 11) after ~35 day gestation. Leave nest to forage with mother at 4 or 5 wks old (late-July); weaned by 6 to 8 wks and independent by 4 months. Late litters (“autumn ophans”) may have insufficient time to fatten up prior to hibernation.

Behaviour and Sociality: Generally solitary; often intolerant of conspecifics, although may tolerate company at feeding stations. Intriguing behaviour reported includes self-anointing (covering spines in frothy saliva-stimulant mix), running in circles, attacks on snakes, suckling from cows and carrying off fruit on spines – the latter two are widely considered unlikely.

Threats: Seemingly in decline throughout much of UK, although data are lacking. Many killed on roads; strimmers, tidy gardens, bonfires and insecticides/molluscicides widely considered detrimental to population. High level of predation by badgers. Persecuted locally where implicated in bird declines. Protected by law in much of Europe.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

British Red deerSize: Adults usually between 1.7 and 2.6 m (5.5 to 8.5 ft) long; full-grown stag stands about 1.2 m (4ft) at the shoulder, while hinds are slightly smaller, at 1 m. Weight 90 to 260 kg (200 – 570 lbs) – seasonally variable.

Colour: Red-brown summer coat; grey-brown winter coat. Rump patch yellowish colour; stags (males) develop mane during winter. Stags have large antlers that are shed and re-grown each year.

Distribution: Found throughout Europe; introduced to parts of America, New Zealand and Australia. In UK (native), most common in the Scottish Highlands, although they do exist in isolated pockets across the island. Population estimated at 350,000+; growing at ca. 0.3% per year.

Longevity: Max. age limit considered to be ~25 years; records of wild individuals living beyond 13 to 15 years are rare.

Sexing: During much of year males can be identified by presence (or development) of antlers. Females tend to be of slighter build than males.

Antler Cycle: Antlers cast March to mid-May (peak mid-March to mid-April). Grown during the summer and velvet shed July/August.

Activity: Primarily crepuscular; may be seen resting, grazing or wallowing during the daytime. Some evidence of nocturnal activity in heavily persecuted populations.

Habitat: Spend daytime on open, grassy hillsides, moving to woodland at night. In Scotland during summer, primary daytime habitat is high ground with new heather growth; typically, move to lower ground during winter. Sexes live apart during most of year; hinds monopolize grassy area, stags confined to nutrient-poorer heather regions.

Territory: Non-territorial, although will defend groups of females (and thus area on which they graze) from competitors during rutting (breeding) season. Establish “stands” during the rut, which comprise a group of females that the stag will move with and defend against other males. Outside of rutting season, males move in loose groups. Home range varies according to habitat (smaller in woodland) and feeding and resting stations; may vary sexually (e.g. Scottish highlands males = 800 ha/2,000 ac.; females = 400 ha/988 ac.) and seasonally.

Diet: Opportunistic omnivores. Diet includes: grasses, heather, lichen, shoots, bark, leaves, herbs, rushes, buds, nuts, fungi, fruit and berries. Diet changes seasonally (e.g. grasses, sedges and rushes in summer, shrubs in winter). Carnivory known.

Reproduction: Rutting season covers later September to late October (peak around 10th October), with a single (rarely twins) calf produced after 8 month gestation. Most calves born in June, but may start as early as May. Calf suckled for ~6 to 9 months and is independent at about 1 year old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Hinds live in groups for most of the year (leaving only to have young). Hierarchical system present; single dominant hind with her yearlings and mature daughters from previous matings (possibly with own offspring). Males spend most of the year either solitarily or in small 'unstable' bachelor groups and feed voraciously during spring and summer. Males become antisocial during breeding season, engaging in roaring contests and parallel walking; disputes involve rearing on hind legs and kicking with front feet (when antlers developing) and locking of antlers (once antlers mature). Males and females known to use mud wallows.

Threats: Hunted for sport in parts of their range, although stag hunting with hounds is now illegal in the UK. Roads can pose threat to deer; people often killed or seriously injured upon collision with deer. Sometimes come into conflict with forestry or private land owners because of the damage they can do to trees and flowers. Possibly biggest threat to species as a whole is the hybridization with Sika deer - two species can cross-breed to produce fertile offspring. Currently mixed data on the spread of Sika genes in the Red gene pool.

Learn More!

Click to Return to Menu

British Roe deerRoe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Size: Adults between 95cm and 1.3 m (3 – 4 ft) long; males (bucks) stand 64 to 67 cm (2 ft) at shoulder. Weight between 15 to 35 kg (33 – 77 lbs).

Colour: Red-brown coat in summer, grey-brown in winter; white rump; tail virtually absent.

Distribution: Common (native) throughout UK (except Ireland) and Europe except Iceland, northern Scandinavia and Mediterranean Islands; range extends east to Asia. Apparently absent from areas of the midlands and Wales. Population increase estimated at ca. 2.3% per year; current population around 800,000+.

Longevity: Ave. in wild 5 to 7 years, with max. wild of about 12 yrs. Max. age of 20 yrs (in captivity).

Sexing: Males have antlers, which grow to max. ~30cm with 3 tines per antler typical; antlers grown in winter and shed during autumn. Sexed by shape of rump patch; females (does) have tail-like mass of hair at the base of tuft (called the "tush"), bucks don’t.

Antler Cycle: Antlers cast October-December (peak in November) and re-grown during winter; velvet shed mid-February/March.

Activity: Feed throughout day and night, but peak of activity is crepuscular. Long periods where deer “lie up” to ruminate.

Habitat: Spend much of time in shelter of woodland or upland areas; will move to long grass and shrubby undergrowth for browsing; make more use of open spaces at night. Found in farmland.

Territory: Maintain exclusive territory during mid-July to mid-August (rut), may begin establishing territories during late May. Home range varies with season and sex (5 to 100 ha / 12 – 247 ac.). In good habitat defended territory ave. ~ 7 ha (non-territorial males ave. ~15 ha / 37 ac.); does ave. ~7 ha (17 ac.), which overlaps with related individuals.

Diet: Herbs, bramble, tree shoots, flowers and ivy. Some evidence that food selected based on nutritional value.

Reproduction: Rut runs from mid-July to mid-August (peak around 7th August); some, more sedate, rutting documented during the autumn (usually mid-Sept. to mid-Oct, but sometimes into December) known as "False Rut". During rut, buck will usually mate with several does. Young (kids) produced after 6 or 7 month (diapause during winter) gestation; peak kid birth in late May/early June - twins common (ca. 75% births), single kids less common (ca. 20%), triplets occasional (ca. 5%). Kids lie in grass for first week; suckled for first 2-3 months and independent by following spring (1 year old).

Behaviour and Sociality: Generally solitary; may form groups during winter; does frequently accompanied by kids and home ranges may overlap with other females. Any sociality seems scent-mediated. Bucks may fray trees and shrubs with antler and face glands during the rut. Bark, especially at dawn and dusk, when disturbed - not descriptive of sex, although males tend to bark more than females.

Threats: Hunted for sport in parts of their range, although stag hunting with hounds is now illegal in the UK. Roads can pose threat to deer; people often killed or seriously injured upon collision with deer. Sometimes come into conflict with forestry or private land owners because of the damage they can do to trees and flowers. Study in Sweden found high kid mortality from agricultural mowers. Some evidence that they may be displaced by Muntjac (number ~20% lower when Muntiacus present) and less competitive in habitat containing Fallow, Sika and, especially in conifer plantations, Red deer.

Learn More About Deer!

Click to Return to Menu

Fallow Deer (Dama dama)

Melanistic Fallow buckSize: Adults 1.3 to 1.7 m (4 – 5.5 ft) long; buck (male) stands 85 to 110 cm (nearly 3 to 3.5 ft) at shoulder. Weight 35 to 130 kg (77 – 287 lbs). Females (does) slightly smaller than bucks.

Colour: Red-brown coat with white spots in summer and grey-brown coat in winter, with less distinct spots. White rumps with black borders; large palmate antlers on males. Four recognised colour phases: Common (Rust with black dorsal line), Menil (Tan with brown dorsal line), Black (or Melanistic - right) and White (not Albino).

Distribution: Common throughout UK (naturalised, not native) and much of Central Europe; absent from Iceland and most of Scandinavia. Introduced to America and New Zealand. Bulk of British population in England and Wales; patchy distribution in northern England and Scotland. Population estimated to be growing at ca. 2% per year; current numbers put at 150,000 to 250,000.

Longevity: In wild reach 8 to 10 yrs, exceptional ages of 16yrs known; oldest captive specimen was 20 yrs old.

Sexing: Males have antlers for much of year (shed in spring), laryngeal prominence (Adam’s apple) and penile sheath.

Antler Cycle: Antlers cast late March to early June (peak mid-April to mid-May); velvet shed August/September.

Activity: Active throughout day and night, with peak at dawn and dusk. Open spaces used at night by disturbed populations. Seasonally variable activity patterns; alternate between periods of feeding and ruminating.

Habitat: Areas of mixed or deciduous woodland and grassy open spaces with shrubby undergrowth for shelter and feeding. Can be found in open conifer stands.

Territory: Non-territorial - overlapping ranges. Prepare for rut late August and early September; maintain rutting stands to which does are attracted ('lekking'), or may 'herd' females more akin to Red deer, depending on location/habitat – peak rut in October. Home range varies with season and habitat: e.g. in New Forest (UK) males = ~50 to 250 ha (123 – 618 ac.), females = ~50 to 90 ha (up to 222 ac.).

Diet: Primarily grasses; bark and shrubs may be taken during the autumn and winter.

Reproduction: Rut during October (peak around 20th) and a single calf is born after 230 day (~33 wk / 8 mo.) gestation (typically during May/June); twins rare (<1% births). Calf suckled for 6 to 9 months; stays with doe for first year.

Behaviour and Sociality: Generally speaking a gregarious species that live in groups of, at times, a hundred individuals. Social structure in does, with single dominant female, although social structure highly variable with environment. Mixed sex groups may form at good feeding sites.

Threats: Hunted for sport in parts of their range, although stag hunting with hounds is now illegal in the UK. Roads can pose threat to deer; people often killed or seriously injured upon collision with deer - Fallow more frequently hit by cars than other deer species. Sometimes come into conflict with forestry or private land owners because of the damage they can do to trees (esp. ancient woodland), crops and flowers.

Learn More About Deer!

Click to Return to Menu

Japanese Sika deerSika Deer (Cervus nippon)

Size: Adults 1.14 m to 1.7 m (5.5 ft) long; stag (male) stands 80 to 90 cm (3 ft) at shoulder. Adult males average 64 kg (140 lbs.), females 41 kg (90 lbs.), and newborn calf weighs ca. 3 kg (7 lbs.). Females (hinds) slightly smaller than stags. Size highly variable in accordance with habitat quality.

Colour: Two moults per year leading to red-brown coat with white spots (all ages) in summer and grey-brown or black coat (with less distinct or absent spots) in winter. White rumps with black stripe down tail and brown border; white metatarsal glands on hock. Antlers similar to Red deer, although smoother texture and max. 4 tines per antler – single front-pointing tine on each antler.

Distribution: Introduced from Japan some time ca. 1860. Now scattered populations across UK, including England, Scotland and Ireland – largest populations in Scottish Highlands. Absent from much of England and Wales. Population estimated at ca. 35,000; thought to be increasing at ca. 5.3% per year. Outside of UK, scattered populations in Europe (e.g. German, France and Czech Republic) – native range is Japan and South-east Asia.

Longevity: In wild reach 8 to 10 yrs, exceptional ages of 15 yrs known.

Sexing: Males have antlers for much of year (shed in spring), laryngeal prominence (Adam’s apple) and penis sheath.

Antler Cycle: Antlers cast late March to late May (peak in April); velvet shed during August.

Activity: Active throughout day and night, with peak at dawn and dusk. Much time spent in woodland and surrounding grassland.

Habitat: Areas of mixed or deciduous woodland and grassy open spaces with shrubby undergrowth for shelter and feeding. Can be found in open conifer stands and parks.

Territory: Non-territorial. Prepare for rut late September; maintain rutting stands between hind resting and feeding sites – rut runs during October and November. Stags can range over 40 to 60 ha (100 – 150 acres) depending on age (will tolerate subordinates on territory); hinds range less – 18 to 22 ha (45 – 54 acres).

Diet: Primarily grazes grasses, herbs, and sedges, although will browse for leaves, shoots and ivy; bark, shrubs, fruits, berries and fungi taken according to season.

Reproduction: Rut early October to early November (peak around 20th October). Single (twins very rare) calf born after roughly 8 month gestation (bulk during May and June). Calf suckled for 6 to 10 months; stays with hind for first year and is sexually mature at about 16 months old.

Behaviour and Sociality: During late spring and summer (i.e. outside of rutting season), hinds may live in small social groups with calves, although in some areas (e.g. New Forest) majority seen either solitarily or with single calf; stags live either solitarily or in small bachelor groups. Mixed sex groups of adults established during rut and can persist until hinds leave to calve in spring.

Threats: Hunted for sport in parts of their range; generally shot by stalkers. Controlled in areas with peripheral populations of Red deer – Red and Sika can hybridise to produce fertile offspring, thus diluting the ‘pure-blood’ Red gene pool. Roads can pose threat to deer; people often killed or seriously injured upon collision with deer. Sometimes come into conflict with forestry or private land owners because of the damage they can do to trees (esp. bark stripping in commercial plantations).

Learn More About Deer!

Click to Return to Menu

Reeve’s Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)

Reeves Muntjac deerSize: Smallest deer species found wild in UK. Adults 90 cm to 1.15 m (3.8 ft) long; weigh 9 to 18 kg (20 – 40 lbs). Adults stand ca. 40 to 50 cm (1.5 ft) at shoulder. Males ‘stockier’ than females.

Colour: Uniform chestnut-to-sandy brown above, buff/paler underside and darker markings on face – tail gingery in colour. Prominent white patch on rump only apparent when tail raised (animal alarmed).

Distribution: Native to south-east China and Taiwan. Introduced to the UK from China – date of introduction uncertain, although believed to be sometime during the early 20th Century (1901 release from Woburn Park). Now common throughout Britain; current population estimated at 150,000+ and numbers thought to be increasing (ca. 8.2% per year).

Longevity: Captive deer have survived for more than 20 years (female). Accurate records from the wild reach 13 years (female), although some suggestion that some may live longer.

Sexing: Males are bucks; females are does. Males have simple (single spike), backward-pointing antlers, which grow from prominent pedicles on the skull (striking when looking at animal’s skull) and reach 6 to 8 cm (3 in.) long. Defined annual antler cycle mediated by testosterone, despite breeding year round – average growth period for antlers 106 days. Buck has tusks (enlarged upper canines) that grow to 6cm (~ 2-3 cm / 1 in. visible below gum) and that protrude from the upper lip. Does have tiny canines (~1.7cm) only visible on inspection of the mouth. Tusk erupts ~3 months old and is complete by ~2.5 yrs in bucks; female canines don't erupt until doe is ~1 yr old.

Antler Cycle: Antler cycle not coupled with breeding; antlers cast and re-grown on schedule regardless of buck's fertility. Antlers cast late April to mid-July (peak May/June); velvet shed August-October.

Activity: Active throughout day and night.

Habitat: Areas of mixed or deciduous woodland with shrubby undergrowth for shelter and feeding. Increasingly common in urban areas, where they inhabit parks and gardens.

Territory: Maintain territory throughout the year, although ranges may overlap – animals live solitarily or in small family groups (buck, doe and most recent fawn). Size of range varies according to habitat; may be up to 30 ha (74 acres) in coniferous woodland – bucks typically range further than does.

Diet: Primarily leaves and shrubs such as bramble, ivy and hawthorn – grasses dominate diet during spring and early summer. May strip bark and fruits taken according to season; will take garden plants.

Reproduction: Breed all year round (although testes less active during summer), with single fawn born after 7 month gestation (two litters per year); fawn loses spotted coat by 8 wks and is weaned by 12 wks old, although intermittent suckling may continue for sometime afterwards. Pedicles notable in male fawns by ca. 5 months old and both sexes mature at ca. 10 months old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Live solitarily or in small family groups. Emit loud bark (similar to a large dog) when alarmed and may make a clicking noise by grinding their teeth when alarmed or suspicious. May fray bark and saplings when marking territory and cleaning velvet off antlers – frays appear similar to those of Roe, but closer to ground.

Threats: Generally not hunted for sport (possess small, simple antlers that generally aren’t appealing to hunters). Shot on sight in many managed woodlands as considered a pest. Roads can pose threat to deer; people often killed or seriously injured upon collision with deer. Sometimes come into conflict with private land owners because of the damage they can do to crops, flowers and ancient woodland (esp. understorey). Foxes take fawns and in some areas they may account for as many as 50% of fawn deaths.

Learn More About Deer!

Click to Return to Menu

Chinese Water deerChinese Water Deer (Hydroptes inermis)
Two sub-species in this monospecific genus: Chinese water deer (H. i. inermis) and Korean water deer (H. i. argyropus). Classified within the Capreolinae (New World, or telemetacarpal, deer) and seem most closely related to Roe (Capreolus sp.) and Moose (Alces alces).

Size: Adults stand ca. 50 cm (~ 2ft) at shoulder and weigh 11-19 kgs (24-42 lbs), although most ave. 15 kgs (33 lbs). Females tend to weigh more than males.

Appearance: Vaguely similar appearance to Roe, although often described as ‘teddy bear deer’, owing to thick winter coat. Muscular deer with hind legs longer than forelegs, black shiny eyes and nose and large highly mobile ears. Variable coat colour; thick pale brown or grey-brown common in winter, while short red-brown coat common in summer. Males have long canine teeth (‘tusks’) protruding from upper jaw. Neither sex has antlers.

Distribution: Native to China and Korea. Apparently fairly widespread in Korea and originally relatively widespread in China, but now appears largely restricted to eastern Yangtze Basin in central eastern China. First imported to UK in 1873 by London Zoo; later introduced to Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire during April 1896 from where first known escapes occurred during 1940s. Well established in wilds of Bedfordshire by 1960s and 20 culled on surrounding Woburn land in 1972. Currently distributed discontinuously in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, with unconfirmed reports from Devon, Somerset and Essex. Naturalised with increasing range. Most recent survey (2004) estimated 1,500 free-living in Britain.

Longevity/Mortality: Ave. 6 yrs in wild, although 10-12 yrs recorded. 13 yrs, 11 months recorded in captivity (Whipsnade). Mortality high among fawns, up to 40% die by 4 wks old.  Predation generally not significant mortality source (most stillborn or die from exposure/hypothermia), but foxes probably most significant predator. Various injuries sustained during fights, tend to fare badly in prolonged cold/wet/snowy weather.

Sexing: Males possess extended mobile curved upper canines (tusks) typically measuring 4.5-5.6 cm, up to 7.2 cm (1.7-2.2 in., up to 2.8 in.); females also have canines, but these are much smaller (less than 1 cm / 0.5 in.).  Tusks protrude below bottom jaw and are erected for use in combat; erupt at ~6 months old, clearly visible by ca. 1 yr, and fully grown by ~2yrs. Males are “bucks”, females “does” and young “fawns”.

Activity: Crepuscular (peaks early morning and late evening), often most active immediately after sunset; spend ca. half daytime activity period feeding in bouts of ca. 20 min (followed by rest/rumination). Much activity associated with rut during December/January.
Habitat: Typically fenland, river shores and coastal areas with reed beds/tall grasses. May also inhabit arable fields (winter wheat, oilseed rape, etc.) and woodland with peripheral open areas in which to feed.

Territory: Males may (ca. 30%) maintain territory year round (marked with scent and faeces), but arrangement flexible with environmental conditions and many fail to maintain one.  Females sometimes territorial peri-partum. Range size varies with season and sex: 2-44 ha recorded, often 5-15 ha during rut. Bucks may follow does to best feeding grounds and establish smaller territories (0.5 ha).

Diet: Concentrate selector, feeding on locally abundant vegetation including sedges, herbs, grasses, bramble and woody plants. May take agricultural crops, including carrots, potatoes, winter wheat and peanuts. Reports of deer eating chickweed in fields rather than crops and captive populations have refused hay, even when starving.

Reproduction: Rut usually Nov – Jan, with bulk of activity during Dec, although ‘close following’ of does by bucks may begin in Oct. Bucks follow does emitting ‘squeaking’ call; may circle them to try and keep does on territory. Most prolific deer species - up to 7 fawns (typically twins or quadruplets) born after 6-7 month gestation during May/June. Open fields often picked for giving birth.  Fawns ca. 600g-1kg (1.3-2.2 lbs.) at birth; can stand after ca. one hour; start eating solid vegetation after few days; are fully weaned by 3 months and stay with mother until autumn. Sexually mature at first rut (~7 months old), although 1st winter males less adept at holding territory and many won’t breed.

Behaviour and Sociality: Typically solitary outside of breeding season, although may aggregate to feed during winter when food scarce. Females sometimes form loose associations outside fawning season, but scatter if disturbed. Communicate with scent (esp. from pre-orbital glands) and sound: alarm barks; clicking/chittering (chase associated); squeak (breeding); gentle whistle (communication with fawn). During rut males parallel walk and ‘dance’ around each other striking with canines; does sometimes fight by rising on hind legs and ‘scissor kicking’ with front feet.

Threats: Conservation conundrum as declining in native range, but appears to be thriving in England (estimated 10% of global population now in England) where it’s considered an invasive species. Mild pest to agriculture, but doesn’t fray trees and typically found at low densities in fairly robust habitats.

Learn More About Deer!

Click to Return to Menu

European Mole (Talpa europaea)

British moleSize and Appearance: Range is 5cm to about 20cm (2 - 8 in.) in length, but average closer to 12cm (5 in.). Weight range 60g to 120g (2 - 4 oz.). Short tail and large spade-like forelimbs for digging; mole 'swims' through soil. Tiny eyes (1mm diameter) and ears (small ridges under fur). Fur isn't 'slanted' and so can be brushed forwards or backwards, allowing the mole to move in either direction in tunnel system. Head, feet and tail covered with very sensitive hairs that monitor vibrations and wind disturbance in tunnel system; informs mole of food presence or danger. Internally, mole is well adapted to subterranean lifestyle, including lungs enlarged to fill rib cage and twice erythrocyte (red blood cell) density of other mammals.

Colour: Fur usually velvety dark grey or grey-black, but various colour morphs have been recorded, including white, cream, apricot, tan and piebald animals. A 16cm (6 in.) albino specimen is preserved in a museum in Gers, Midi-Pyrénées (France). Moults three times per year, dependent on latitude.

Distribution and Habitat: Widespread throughout much of Britain and Europe in deciduous woodland, grassland and farmland, although rarely seen. Rare in conifer forests, moorland, flooded fenlands and in agricultural fields that are regularly ploughed (destroys tunnel network, driving moles to field periphery). MoleWatch (2008) data suggest they're reasonably widespread in England, although there are notable absences around some major conurbations (e.g. London and parts of Thames Valley). Absent from Ireland and, although present in Scotland, there are few data to confirm distribution. Distribution extends from Britain east into central Russia, north to southern Sweden and Norway, south into northern Spain, northern Italy and much or the Ukraine. They are apparently absent from most of Spain, Portugal, most of Italy, Greece and the southern Ukraine.

Longevity: Typically less than a year, although up to three years known in wild. Six years is captive record.

Sexing: Males often larger than females, although not by much (average male is only approx. 5% larger). Sexual separation often requires dissection owing to both sexes having very similar-looking genitalia (difference in size to the order of a millimetre), although the distance between the openings can be used to separate sexes outside breeding season, with practice.

Activity: Spends most of life underground, where it patrols tunnels roughly every four hours looking for food and intruders. Spend more time above ground in summer, looking for food, bedding and females. May move above ground when searching for a territory - surprisingly quick above ground. Active throughout year; more so during breeding season. Most active during the night, although diurnal activity common. Triphasic activity patterns (with three activity periods, each ~ 4 hours, per 24 hrs); two periods during breeding season as males search for mates. Territory defence and tunnel extension accounts for just over 50% activity. Females most active when suckling young. No apparent ability to store fat, so cannot hibernate during winter.

Dens: Lives in a network of tunnels, which it expands throughout its life (at up to 20m / 66ft per day). Displaced earth is pushed to the surface, creating ‘mole hills’. Mole hills serve to direct airflow into the tunnel system, ensuring there is a steady breeze throughout the network even on calm days above ground (helps transfer smell of food in tunnels to mole). Large chambers off the main tunnels are lined with vegetation and used as resting sites. Estimated that mole may move 6kg (13 lbs.) of earth per 20 minutes while excavating tunnels. Fortresses (network of tunnels) may be built over nests, esp. in winter, and may act to conserve heat. Tunnel systems may extend beyond 1m (3.5ft) down.

Territory: Highly territorial and tolerate others only during the breeding season. Males holder larger (often twice size) territories than females. Core areas defended vigorously, but some overlap in peripheral tunnels; aggression reduced by different time use of tunnels. Size and shape of territory highly variable and dependent upon prey availability; average male territory in summer is 3,000 m2 (0.75 acre) cf. nearly 8,000 m2 (2 acres) in winter – females stable throughout year, ranging from 1,300 to 2,100 m2 (0.5 acre).

Diet: Predominantly earthworms (90% in winter, 50% in summer), will opportunistically take insects (e.g. centipedes, millipedes and larvae) and molluscs. There are records of them preying on small rodents -- mice and shrews -- as well as snakes and lizards, small birds, frogs and other moles – probably feeding on carrion. Some suggestion that their saliva is toxic and used to paralyze worms that are later cached (common in spring and autumn); one cache contained >1,500 worms. Excess earth removed from prey by pulling it through claws. Very fast metabolism requires it to eat at least every 6 hours; eats 40-50g (~ 1.5 oz.), or ~25 worms, per day . Hunt in tunnels, which act as food trap (invertebrates fall in). Apparently rarely eat vegetables, although study from Berlin found Ascomycota truffles in stomachs of 30% of moles caught in pine forest. Hunts using touch from vibrissae on nose, tail and feet. Snout covered in thousands of tiny touch-receptors called Eimer's organs (named after German zoologist Thomas Eimer who described them in 1871) that are very heavily innervated (~5,000 organs on nose associated with ~105,000 nerve fibres). Can apparently smell earthworms through ~8cm (3 in.) of clay.

Reproduction: Promiscuous with a brief breeding season (March to May) and oestrous (est. less than 24 hours). Male enters female’s tunnels and mates with her. Young born from April to June, after a 30 day gestation. Female digs and lines nest chamber; typically use one, but may have three-or-more and move young if disturbed. The average litter size is four young, but the range is two to seven. Fur growth is complete by 14 days old and start to leave the nest at about one month old; weaned at 4-5 weeks, independent by 6 weeks and sexually mature at about 10 months. Female-only parental care.

Behaviour and Sociality: Solitary outside of breeding season. Make various noises, including squeaks, purrs and shrill twittering, which are presumably used for communication. Wide range of scent glands that transmit information about individuals; secretions crucial for territorial defence. Vacant territories often filled within 24 hours.

Threats: Often killed by predators, but apparently distasteful and so frequently left uneaten. Predators include birds of prey (Tawny owls and buzzards), herons, stoats, weasels and foxes; some taken by domestic cats and dogs. Tooth wear, and subsequent starvation, one of major causes of death. No longer widely hunted for pelts, although commonly killed as garden/agricultural pests. Not considered endangered, although uncertain of numbers – old estimates put UK population at around 31 million, but this is likely to be inaccurate.

Benefits: Consume many species that gardeners consider pests and excavated soil makes good compost. Evidence from Swiss Alps that moles may aid the colonization and spread of Water voles (Arvicola terrestris) in grassland habitats.

Click to Return to Menu

Brown HareBrown Hare (Lepus europaeus)
Sits within the Lagomorpha order of mammals, in the family Leporidae (rabbits and hares). One of 32 species within the Lepus genus; appears more closely related to African than other European hares. In Britain, sometimes considered subspecies Lepus europaeus occidentalis, but seems little justification for separation from European populations. Appears to have been introduced to Britain either during the late Iron Age or early in Roman occupation.

Size: Globally head and body length ranges 40cm to 70cm (16-26 in.), with a short (7-13cm / 3-5 in.) white tail. Large (8-10cm / 3-4 in.) ears. Adults weigh 2.5kg to 7kg (5.5-15.5 lbs.) according to season and habitat.

Colour/Appearance: Larger size, long black-tipped ears, loping gait, longer hind legs, and larger (furred) paws distinguish it from rabbits. Thick black tip to ears; tail black above and white below. Fur on back is dense (red-brown, grizzled with black) and composed of three types (underfur, pile hair and guard hair) each of different length and thickness. Yellower colouration to flanks and red chest with white belly. Moults twice per year (spring and autumn). Coat light brown, with reddish tinge in winter; white, albino, black (melanistic) and sandy morphs are known.

Distribution: Native to northern, central, and western Europe and western Asia. Introduced to United Kingdom, eastern North America, southern South America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile), western Australia and New Zealand. Also introduced to several islands, including Orkney, Inner Hebrides, Isle of Man, Tasmania, the Falklands, Barbados and Reunion. Absent from most of Ireland (naturalised in northwest), most of central and western Scotland, Sardinia, Balearic Islands and much of Iberia. In Britain, replaced by Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) above ~300m (1,000ft).

Longevity: Maximum of 13 yrs in captivity. Most wild animals do not exceed 6yrs (some populations average <2yrs), although one 12yr old wild animal was recorded from Poland.

Sexing: Males called bucks; females called does. Little sexual dimorphism, although males ~5% heavier than females.

Activity: Largely nocturnal, although occasional bouts of daytime activity (esp. during breeding season). Much of day spent resting in form or grazing. Swims well, although usually only when pursued.

Territory/Habitat: Generally an animal of farmland, preferring open habitat. Seem to need mix of crops, grass, fallow, hedges and wild flower strips to provide food year-round. May be found in city parks and cemeteries, in deciduous woodland, on moors and dunes; rare in conifer forests. Does not build warrens as rabbits do; instead dig out shallow depression (‘form’) in which to crouch; deepest at rear where animal’s back end sits. Faithful to form, which becomes long and deep with prolonged use. Rely on camouflage and form for concealment from predators; very difficult to spot when crouched in form. Average adult range ~300ha, although this may be shared by several animals (UK densities 1-4 per ha), each concentrating on a different patch. No apparent territoriality. May move 1,700m from feeding to shelter each day, depending on habitat – day range usually smaller than night range.

Diet: Herbivorous; more selective than rabbits. Predominantly flowering plants in form of grasses and herbs (often cultivated); grasses dominate in summer, herbs in winter. Occasionally take cereals, strip bark (esp. during harsh weather), graze saplings, leaves, flower heads, vegetables and windfall fruit. Some suggestion that they’ll eat carrion during harsh weather. Engage in ‘refection’, whereby the first soft, round pellets (caecotroph) are eaten in order to pass the material through the digestive tract again (gain protein and vitamins) – equivalent to rumination of ungulates. Secondary, hard oval faeces generally passed at night and aren’t eaten. Gut microbes become established in the leveret from mother’s milk and consumption of caecotrophs.

Reproduction: Induced ovulators; act of mating stimulates doe to ovulate (increasing chance of conception). Breed throughout most of year. Sperm present in buck’s testicles all year (winter pregnancies known), but largely inactive Oct-Nov, after which reactivation starts; complete by February and testes maintain peak weight until August. Bulk of breeding activity Feb-Oct; female averages 3 litters per year (long breeding season usually sees young born January-October, although most leverets born April onwards). Litters average 3 young (leverets), with smaller litters early and late in season (common range 1-4); large litters (up to 10) are rare. Gestation is ~42 days and leverets born above ground in form, fully furred with eyes open and weighing ~110g (tripled weight by 1 month). Females leave young immediately after birth (which hide in vegetation) and move away to feed, returning briefly (once or twice per day for 1-5 mins) to suckle them; young gather in birth form ~1hr before sunset and follow female when she arrives. Start eating solid food after ~1wk and weaned at ~1 month (although late litters may suckle for 3 months); fully grown by ~5 months and sexually mature at 6 months (males) or 8 months (females). Leverets (Lagomorphs in general), unlike most mammals, don’t have many micro-organisms in their digestive tract while suckling. Instead of protection being transferred in doe’s milk, an antimicrobial fatty acid (called ‘milk oil’) is produced in the leveret's stomach (a result of enzymatic reaction to the mother's milk) and provides some protection against enteritis.

Behaviour and Sociality: Largely solitary, although several may live in close proximity and form loose aggregations when foraging, especially during the evening. Aggregations may also form during breeding, where males establish dominance and drive off subordinate males from females. Boxing (‘Mad March’) behaviour often seen during March/April and is practiced by both sexes, although usually females fending off overzealous males. Several scent (anal, groin, and mouth) glands presumably have communicative role. Typically silent, although screams when distressed (sounding like ‘wailing child’) and makes occasional whistling and grunting noises.

Threats: Hunting (Game Bag) records suggest a significant decline in hare numbers in Britain post 1960s and this has largely been attributed to changes in farming practices. Hunting may also have been a factor. Dead hares rarely found (other than road casualties); coccidiosis (caused by protozoan Eimeria) is often fatal to leverets in humid conditions. Apparently not susceptible to myxomatosis (occasional records, but very rare). Can be vulnerable to fox predation and some studies suggest that fox control boosts hare numbers. Other predators include bears, lynx, stoats, weasels, badgers and polecats. Some birds of prey (esp. buzzards and Tawny owls) are known to take leverets, while others -- goshawks, eagle owls and golden eagles -- can take adults.

Click to Return to Menu

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
Tawny owlEleven subspecies described, probably only eight valid; British subspecies Strix aluco sylvatica lighter in colour and heavier than the type (S. a. aluco) race.

Size: Reasonably small owl, with adults standing 30-46cm (12-18 in.) tall and weighing between 380-660g (13-23 oz.). It has a wingspan of 81–96 cm (32–38 in.).

Colour/Appearance: Reddish-brown above, paler underside. Dark feathers around face; dark eyes. Two or three colour morphs found in Britain -- brown, grey and rufous (red) -- with some intermediates described. Some authorities do not separate rufous and brown morphs. Some indication that different colour morphs may have differing survival probabilities associated with risk of predation, metabolism and immune system strength.

Distribution: Most common owl of central Europe. Found throughout UK year-round, but apparently absent from Ireland; rare visitors to islands (e.g. Isle of Wight). RSPB estimated breeding population of 19,400 birds.

Longevity: Wild birds generally don’t exceed 5 yrs old, although an 18 yr old wild individual has been documented. In captivity, 27 yrs has been recorded.

Sexing: Sexually dimorphic in size, with females larger than males. Females are 20-40% heavier, and have a wingspan 5-10% larger, than males. Likely that males and females can be distinguished based on call types, but some authorities dispute this (see: Behaviour and Sociality).

Activity: Hunt nocturnally, but may be active during the daytime. Can be found sitting in trees or at roost sites during the day. Despite being common, they are rarely seen, although daytime calling is relatively common in some areas.

Territory/Habitat: Established pairs defend territory from other owls. Predominantly a bird of mixed and deciduous woodland, although is highly adaptable and can be found in parks and larger gardens, even in the middle of large cities. Radio-tracked birds show preference for deciduous and mature conifer forest. Often roosts in holes in trees or among ivy; may be found sitting against the trunk of large trees or on main branches. Can survive in small (eight hectares) areas rich in food, although this is generally considered too small to permit breeding. Breeding territories vary according to resources, from an average of 12 ha (one-tenth sq-kilometre or one-twentieth sq-mile) in deciduous woodland, to 37 ha in mixed farmland and 46 ha (half sq-kilometre or one-fifth sq-mile) in mature conifer forests. In areas of very low food supply, such as in marshy areas, territories may cover more than 100 ha (one sq-km or almost half sq-mile).

Diet: Small mammals (especially rodents in rural areas), small birds (esp. in urban areas) and even other raptors, amphibians, reptiles (e.g. slowworms and grass snakes), fish (e.g. goldfish from garden ponds) and invertebrates (e.g. insects and worms). Known to catch birds, bats and insects in flight. They will also take carrion if available. Surplus food may be cached in trees. Food swallowed whole and indigestible parts regurgitated as pellet.

Reproduction: Generally monogamous (polyandry is known), with a life-long pair-bond that is maintained throughout the year. Pair-bond strengthened during the autumn and winter with prolific calling and courtship feeding (male presents food to female). Have first clutch at around two years old. Average clutch is two-or-three eggs (up to nine have been recorded in Britain), laid at roughly two-day intervals from late March onwards (January clutches are known). Woodland/farmland birds tend to lay March/April, while city birds often nest earlier owing to increased food availability; eggs in February. Eggs take about four weeks to hatch and owlets are brooded for around 20 days. Leave the nest at around 25 days old, but hang around and aren’t fully fledged until they’re five or six weeks old. Chicks may be fed by parents until ca. 3 months old. Young disperse in autumn.

Behaviour and Sociality: Form pairs, but otherwise antisocial. If mobbed, these birds make no attempt to fight, instead remaining still until their antagonists get bored and move on. Territory crucial for survival and those failing to secure territory often starve. Immature owls may wander long (up to 745km / 503 mi.) distances. Calls with classic ‘ke-wick-hoo-hoo’; calls probably sexually specific as only males seem to make deep, powerful ‘hoo-hoooo’ calls, while females make strong ‘ke-wick’ and more plaintive ‘hoo-hooo’. Territories and pair-bonds reaffirmed during autumn and early winter, resulting in much calling.

Threats: No major threats and not classified as a threatened species by the ICUN. Vulnerable to predation from Eagle owls (Bubo bubo), Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) and Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Other owls (e.g. Barn owls) known susceptible to rodent poisons (rodenticides) used to kill agricultural pests; Tawny probably also vulnerable. Recent data from Scandinavia suggest that brown morphs suffer higher mortality than grey morphs during harsh winters, possibly because they're more obvious to predators against snow. Some biochemical data to indicate that brown morphs have higher metabolisms and weaker immune systems than grey morphs and may thus be less adaptable.

Click to Return to Menu

Barn owlBarn Owl (Tyto alba)
At least 31 subspecies proposed, based largely on colouration, but DNA data imply only 10 valid; type subspecies, Tyto alba alba, found in UK.

Size: Smaller than many people imagine, standing 34cm (1 ft) tall and weighing 250-480g (0.5-1 lb.). No apparent sexual difference in size, although females generally heavier than males. Wingspan of 90-98cm (3 ft).

Colour/Appearance: Unmistakable white, heart-shaped face with tan/buff back and wing tops; pure white or speckled underneath.

Distribution: Fairly wide distribution in UK, although has suffered significant declines during the past 50 years. Absent from much of central and southern Scotland as well as northern-most Scotland and Scottish Islands. Absent from north-west Ireland. RSPB estimate UK wintering population to be 12,500 to 25,000 birds, with 3,000 to 5,000 breeding pairs.

Longevity: Typically 1 to 3 yrs, although 21 yrs recorded from captivity.

Sexing: No significant difference in size, but the vast majority (~98%) of males have pure white breast, while females chest is flecked with black dots; juvenile females heavily flecked, fading with age.

Activity: Hunt nocturnally (best time to see them is dawn/dusk), but may be active during the daytime especially when feeding young. Often found sitting in trees during the day. Predominantly sedentary bird in Britain but may migrate considerable distances according to prey distributions.

Territory/Habitat: Most often bird of open country, hunting along field edges and ‘quartering’ larger fields (flying low and covering area in sections). Preference for grassy headlands and fields with un-tended edges and hedges (with fence posts for perching). Also found along riverbanks and may hunt along roadside verges, where they’re susceptible to traffic. Not uncommon near urban areas. Generally resident, but will migrate substantial distances (500km / 340 mi.) if food becomes scarce. Generally chooses secluded areas (e.g. barns, abandoned buildings, ruins etc.), especially for nest sites. May be found in cliff holes, mines and holes in trees. Take readily to nest boxes. Arguably impossible to estimate territory accurately, but some suggest 4-5 sq-km (2 sq-mi.) required to support a pair.

Diet: Short-tailed voles significant prey, along with wood mice and brown rats (overall 90% diet is rodents). May take shrews. Report from Sussex during 1985 of owl killed by dog as it tried to attack one of its puppies (presumably aberrant behaviour). Food swallowed whole and indigestible parts regurgitated as pellet.

Reproduction: Typically monogamous (life-pair), although not always. Productivity linked to small mammal (prey) populations. Breeding condition reached at 350-425g (12-15 oz.) and breeding season runs March-August, with older birds breeding earlier. Copulation occurs after food presentation; may also engage in mutual preening to strengthen pair-bond. Egg laying date affected by habitat quality (food availability); starts late March/early April in good vole habitat (e.g. young conifer stands), while more likely during May/June in arable farmland. Most eggs laid April/May. Four to seven white eggs (up to 15 in good vole years) laid over several days (about two days between laying). Female incubates alone, fed by male who brings in an average of 9 items per day during incubation, increasing once young have hatched. Eggs incubated for around 30 days and hatch at two-day intervals (different aged birds in nest at same time). Eyes open at 8-11 days and skeletal growth complete (can walk) by 5 or 6 weeks old. Wing growth complete and birds fledged at 8-10 weeks old. High mortality (up to 75%) during first year.

Behaviour and Sociality: Lives singly or in pairs. Various different call types; long, harsh ‘chrrrrreeh’ call made while perched and long-drawn ‘rushing’ sounds during aggressive encounters.

Threats: Significant population declines across much of Europe and North America associated with numerous factors, including changes to farming practices. Susceptible to traffic while hunting road verges and agricultural rodenticides. Hit hard by prolonged bad weather (esp. heavy rain and snow) and may fall prey to peregrines and goshawks.

Click to Return to Menu

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Short-eared owlSeven recognised subspecies; type species Asio flammeus flammeus found in UK.

Size: Medium-sized owl, standing 34-42cm (13-16in) tall; weighs 200-500g (7-18 oz.) with males lighter than females. Wingspan 21-34cm (8-13in) and tail 13-16cm (5in). Males weigh up to 400g (14 oz.), with females up to 500g (1 lb).

Colour/Appearance: Mottled black/brown/buff bodies, with paler underside and under-wing. Striking yellow eyes.

Distribution: Resident in eastern Scotland, most of northern, northern-central England and parts of eastern England and northern and western Wales. Winter visitor to southern and western Wales, most of central England, southern and eastern Ireland. Summer visitor to much of Scotland. RSPB estimate 1,000 to 3,500 UK breeding pairs and 5,000 to 50,000 individuals wintering in the UK, largely continental immigrants.

Longevity: Reasonably long-lived bird, attaining up to 13 years in the wild.

Sexing: Females larger than males and calls sexually distinctive.

Activity: Mostly diurnal (often seen hunting during the daytime), with activity peaks at dawn and dusk. Often perches on exposed sites (fence posts, bushes etc.). Highly migratory species, sedentary only in tropics./p>

Territory/Habitat: A bird of farmland and, especially in winter, coastal marshes and wetlands. Prefers open areas, with sparsely distributed trees and bushes; can do well in heavily cultivated areas. Establishes territory during breeding season and may construct nest; display in flight with wing-clapping and diving. Territory varies greatly with food availability between 18-137ha (up to 13. sq-km or half a sq-mile).

Diet: Small mammals, predominantly voles, although will take rabbits and rats as well as some predatory mammals (e.g. weasels). Also takes frogs, lizards and medium-sized birds (up to size of pigeon); may cache surplus food in vicinity of nest.

Reproduction: Breeds in late-winter/early-spring; lay 7-10 eggs between late-March and June. Female incubates while male hunts, incubation lasts 26-29 days and chicks leave nest to hide in vegetation at around 16 days old (flightless). Parents continue to feed chicks, which sexually mature in their first year.

Behaviour and Sociality: May gather in groups during autumn; roost and hunt together. During breeding season will fiercely evict intruders from territory. Male emits rapid series of deep ‘boo-boo-boo’ hoots (rising and falling in pitch and volume and likened to puffing of a steam train); both sexes give ‘kweeau’ calls when disturbed. Aggressively defends nests.

Threats: Amber conservation list species. Crows known to raid nests for chicks and eggs, which can impact breeding success locally, and adult birds occasionally fall prey to peregrines. Often ground-nesting, which leaves nest vulnerable to accidental damage (e.g. crushing by farm machinery).

Click to Return to Menu

Long-eared owlLong-eared Owl (Asio otus)
Four subspecies recognised, with Asio otus otus the one found in UK.

Size: Medium-sized owl standing 35-40cm (14in) tall and with a tail 12-16cm (5.5in). Wing span up to around 80cm (2.5ft). Weigh up to 430g (15 oz.).

Colour/Appearance: Light/buff brown with dark brown/black streaks and spots, pale ochre face disc rimmed with black. Head feathers primarily dark brown, with paler fringes. Dark brown feathers give the appearance of ears.

Distribution: Reasonably widespread in Britain and Ireland, although absent from most of south-west England and southern Wales. Most Scottish birds are summer visitors and species is resident in much of Ireland, excluding and area in the central-west of the country. RSPB estimate between 1,500 and 4,780 breeding pairs in the UK.

Longevity: Captive birds may live for 28 yrs, although 15 yrs is probably upper limit in wild.

Sexing: Calls sexually distinctive. Male song is deep ‘whooh’, while female call is weaker and more nasal in character.

Activity: Nocturnal with activity beginning at dusk; spends day roosting against tree trunks. Generally sedentary species.

Territory/Habitat: Open countryside with tree stands, hedges, pasture etc. May roost in deciduous or coniferous forests, orchards, parks, cemeteries and even larger gardens. Territories vary with food supply (typically 50-100ha / one-fifth to one-third of sq-mile), although neighbouring pairs may be as close as 50-150m (160-320ft).

Diet: Predominantly small mammals, with short-tailed voles of particular importance. Will take other vertebrates, including birds up to about pigeon-size, and insects. Birds appear particularly important during the summer.

Reproduction: Often uses abandoned nests of other birds (esp. other raptors) into which 4-5 eggs are laid during March/April. Incubation lasts around 4 weeks and chicks leave the nest flightless at about 25 days old. Chicks can fly by around 35 days old and follow their parents who continue to feed them for another couple of months. Usually one clutch per year; two in good vole years.

Behaviour and Sociality: Monogamous during breeding season and, despite being territorial, several pairs may live close-by – how close determined by food supply. Male and female make tinny ‘watt-watt-watt’ sound when disturbed.

Threats: Locally persecuted (shot) and vulnerable to pesticides and road traffic – in Germany ~25% study population died on roads each year.

Click to Return to Menu

Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Little owlMany subspecies described, but probably only eight have any validity. Athene noctua noctua found in Britain.

Size: Small owl standing only 23cm (9in) tall and with a tail up to 10cm (4in) long. Wings measure up to 20cm each. Weigh up to 260g (9 oz.).

Colour/Appearance: Flat pale grey-brown facial disc with prominent whitish eyebrows. Dark brown body heavily speckled with white, white streaks and spots on head and crown.

Distribution: Introduced to Britain in 19th Century and now resident throughout most of England, barring the most northern parts; widespread throughout Wales but absent from Scotland and Ireland. RSPB estimate UK breeding population at 5,800 to 11,600 pairs.

Longevity: May reach 16 years old, although up to 70% may die in first year.

Sexing: Female calls higher-pitched and more nasal than that of males.

Activity: Active during the day and night (especially during the breeding season), although generally hunt at dawn and dusk. Nocturnal activity correlated to prey distribution. Usually spends daytime perching close to nest hole, on branches, fence posts, telegraph poles, barn roofs and rocks.

Territory/Habitat: Does well in most habitats. Preference for lowland mixed farmland with hedges and copses livestock (dung provides insect source). Also found in large gardens, parks, cemeteries and orchards. Often roosts/nests in barns and out-buildings. Territorial all year around; defend about 50ha (0.5 sq-km/one-fifth sq-mile) but range, which may overlap with neighbours, can be much larger and variable 2-127ha (up to 1.3 sq-km / half a sq-mile), average range is around 15ha (one-tenth sq-km / one-sixteenth sq-mile).

Diet: Varied diet including insects (especially beetles and grasshoppers), worms, small reptiles and amphibians, small birds (up to about blackbird-size) and small mammals; game and poultry chicks sometimes taken. Despite small size, may ‘have a go’ at prey larger than itself. Hedgehog, rabbit and bat remains found in pellets.

Reproduction: Nest usually hollow tree or in wall. Egg laying begins around April and 3-6 eggs laid at two-day intervals. Female incubates eggs for around 30 days, fed by male. Female broods chicks for couple of weeks and they leave nest at about 4 weeks old; can make limited flights by about 6 weeks old and independent by 3 months old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Monogamous with long-term (4yr + ) pair bond; Defends territory through aggressive behaviour and singing with nasal ‘piping’.

Threats: Introduced to Britain by Victorians and now abundant although it’s considered to have ‘declining’ status across much of its range. Threats include habitat loss (land-use changes), pesticides (food reduction) and road traffic.

Click to Return to Menu

European Eagle owlEuropean Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
Multiple subspecies proposed, some have been regarded as distinct species; 13 subspecies recognised, with Bubo bubo bubo from the UK.

Size: Large owl standing 58-71cm (23-28in) tall, with a tail 23-30cm (12in) and wing length of 41-52cm (16-20in). Weigh 1.5-2.8kg (3.3-6 lbs) and 2.3-4.2kg (up to 9 lbs) for males and females, respectively.

Colour/Appearance: Large heavy owl with prominent ear tufts (feathers), bright orange eyes set in grey facial disk. Primarily a ‘rusty’ brown colour with black markings, including irregular spotting and black streaks on breast. Darker back, paler underside.

Distribution: Widespread throughout northern, southern and western Europe but has limited and patchy distribution in Britain; populations here may be immigrants or escapees from captivity. Many single or unconfirmed reports of owls from England, including on the Peak District moors in Derbyshire. Reports of birds living wild in Scotland (Galloway, Invernesshire, and Sutherland) and parts of England (e.g. Bolton in Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire moors, Bowland in Lancashire, and Northumberland).

Longevity: Can exceed 60 yrs old in captivity, but oldest wild (ringed) bird died at 19 yrs old.

Sexing: Females heavier than males and calls sexually indicative.

Activity: Occasionally hunt during the daytime when feeding chicks but otherwise active primarily between dawn and dusk.

Territory/Habitat: Territorial by nature, but not strictly (territories may overlap). Roost by day in trees or rock crevices. Range size linked to prey availability and averages around 14,000 ha (140 sq-km / half a sq-mile) in moorland habitat.

Diet: Small and medium-sized mammals such as rabbits, hares and hedgehogs; reputedly attack foxes and small deer. May take gamebirds including pheasants and, during 2010, Bowland Fells bird filmed raiding Hen harrier nest and attacking the female. Known to feed on buzzards, barn owls and herons in Europe. Fears raised that owls could take dogs and cat in Britain, but no evidence for this and it seems that rabbits account for 90%+ of prey where supply is good.

Reproduction: Nest in sheltered areas along rock faces/walls; in Europe successfully nest in quarries (apparently undisturbed by blasting) and known to excavate disused ant-hills. Female lays up to 4 eggs at 3 day intervals during late-winter. Female incubates eggs for about 34 days (fed by male) and hatching remarkably synchronised given period between eggs being laid; chicks brooded for about 2 weeks and chicks start feeding themselves at about 3 weeks old. Chicks can make short flights at around 7 weeks old and are cared for by parents until about 6 months old.

Behaviour and Sociality: Often pair for life and male and female may roost together during the day. Deep resonating ‘buoh’ call of male and higher-pitched ‘huhooh’ song of female often heard as duet.

Threats: Human persecution has led to local extinctions across much of its European range, where it is now considered endangered. Persecution seems the greatest threat to the bird in Britain (several established pairs were deliberately killed), but too early to be sure.

Click to Return to Menu

European Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)
Water VolePreviously classified as Arvicola terrestris following confusion caused when Linnaeus described two species on the same page of his 1758 opus Systema Naturae; terrestris and amphibius now considered the same species and amphibius has priority. Genetic analysis suggest two ‘races’ present in UK; one in Scotland and the other in England and Wales.

Size: Adults range 12-24cm (5-9.5 in.), excluding tail; females average 18cm, males average 19cm (7-7.5 in.). Tail typically 50% body length. Adult 100-350g (3.5-12.4 oz.), ave. ca. 180g (6.3 oz.).

Appearance: Rat-sized rodent, with blunt nose and (cf. rats and mice) a short tail. Shaggy black/brown fur (darker in northern Scotland than England/Wales); small ears and tail furred, unlike rats/mice. Forefeet have four toes, hindfeet have five toes.

Distribution: Found throughout England, Wales and Scotland and most of Europe, Russia and Asia. Absent from Ireland, Portugal, much of Spain (excl. far north), parts of France (excl. central belt), north-west Italy, most of Norway, Greece and the Ukraine.

Longevity/Mortality: Average life span ca. 5 months, with few living beyond 1.5 years in wild. Record in captivity 2yrs, 5 months. Dubious reports of 5 yrs in captivity. Young must reach 170g (6 oz.) to have sufficient fat reserves to survive winter.

Sexing: Females slightly smaller than males, but otherwise impossible to sex without handling.

Activity: Can be active throughout 24-hour period depending on location, although seem predominantly diurnal. Where coincidental with rats, nocturnal activity often suppressed or eradicated. Often show bouts of activity every 2-4 hrs. Most active during breeding season and least active during winter, although do not hibernate.

Habitat: A freshwater specialist associated with ditches, rivers, canals and some marshes; typically remains within 2m (6.5ft) of water. Favours steep banks with grass and layered vegetation in UK, while often found in meadows in Continental Europe. In UK prefers weak current, but water all year round; often attracted to reedbeds and moats.

Territory: Extends linearly along riverbank and marked by latrine sites on bank, close to water. Range size of up to 800m (0.5 mi), depending on sex and habitat quality; may use much smaller areas within total range and shift every few days. Males range more widely than females (ave. 130m and 77m, respectively). Males will violently defend territory from intruders.

Diet: Primarily vegetarian, feeds on grasses, common reeds, sedges and, occasionally, rushes and flowering plants, particularly nettles. Rare records of fish, molluscs and insects being taken; possibly as additional protein source for pregnant females. Consume up to 80% body weight per day.

Reproduction: Males resume sperm production in late Feb; conceptions start during March. Prolific breeders, producing up to 5 litters (range 1-5, ave. 3) of ca. 6 pups per season (April-Sept in England; May-August in Scotland). Gestation ca. 25 days, young weighing 3.5-7.5g (0.12-0.26 oz.) born blind and deaf in nest of rushes and grass either underground or hidden in reeds; young venture outside nest and start taking solid food ca. 14 days old and typically weaned by 22 days old when they may be evicted by mother if second brood imminent. Female will move pups from nest if water levels rise – pups carried in mother’s mouth, held high above the water. Young leave burrow about half-grown and establish home range by ca. one-month old. Sexual maturity typically reached during second year, although some reports of breeding in year of birth.

Behaviour and Sociality: Solitary or in pairs most of year but females may co-nest during winter. During breeding season box sexes typically hold exclusive territories, although overlap has been documented for both. Most young will disperse once weaned, although in Scotland some 70% may remain on parental range during first winter. Produce rasping ‘crick-crick’ alarm call and characteristic “plop” as vole enters water is believed to alert nearby voles to danger. Males rub scent glands on flank with feet and stamp ground to scent-mark, particularly during aggressive encounters with other males; females also possess glands. Fighting most likely during spring and summer months and largely between competing males; fights can be vicious (involving teeth and claws) and occur above and below water surface with victor sometimes ‘strutting’ around angrily for minute-or-so afterwards. May box with feet and roll in clinch. Female aggressive encounters begin with teeth chattering and tail beating; male fights typically more serious than female fights. Males appear more tolerant of other males during autumn/winter. Swim in characteristically buoyant manner, with top-half of body above water.

Threats and Conservation: Arguably Britain’s fastest declining mammal species; population estimated at 5-10% that of 1960s. Multifaceted decline associated with pollution, habitat loss, incidental poisoning, increased flooding and predation (particularly by invasive American mink, which are considered significant threat to population recovery). Considered species of Least Concern by IUCN owing to sizeable populations in continental Europe; UK Biodiversity Action Plan species with effort put into habitat restoration and reintroduction programmes, with mixed success. Current UK population probably still in decline, although more locally some populations increasing. As of April 2008 Water voles and their shelters fully protected under UK law, making it illegal to intentionally catch, kill or sell a vole, or intentionally/recklessly interfere with or destroy a nest. Widely predated by weasels, stoats, foxes, rats, Tawny owls, herons, pike, otters, domestic cats and, in recent years, American mink - study in Wales found 30% fox scats and 18% heron pellets contained Water vole fur.

Click to Return to Menu

 

Return to TOP