Although present all year round, the Robin, Erithacus rubecula, is one of the most noticeable birds at this time of year. Males and females look identical and young birds have no red breast. Despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They eat worms, seeds, fruit and insects.
All three of these birds below belong to the Corvidae family (8 in this country) and are medium to large in size and very intelligent. They are adaptable and can become quite tame. They all have strong scaly feet and stout (downcurved) bills.
Magpies (Pica pica) are scavengers and predators. They have a noisy chattering call, black and white plumage and a long tail. Look for the purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing feathers and green gloss to the tail.
Carrion crows, Corvus corone, are fairly solitary birds feeding on carrion, insects, worms, seeds, fruit and given the chance – dining at dustbins!
The Jay, Garrulus glandarius, is the more colourful of the three birds, but like to hide and are quite shy. Look for them moving between the trees on the edges of the quarry. They have a screaming call and love gathering acorns which, like squirrels, they bury to retrieve later in the winter. They also feed on other nuts, seeds and insects, but can take small mammals and bird nestlings.
One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss.
Now is a good time to see animal tracks, in mud or snow (when it falls!).
Small mammal and rabbit tracks are most easily found close to their burrows or feeding areas. The rabbits’ hind legs leave long exaggerated imprints. Have a look and study the differences between the prints left by the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).
The fox, Vulpes vulpes, does not keep to regular trails. A fox print is very dog-like, but far more compact. The print has four digits with the outer two curved towards the inner ones.
Don’t forget to look out for Father Christmas and his reindeer dropping in for a rest around the 24th December!
Woodmouse burrows are more often found in the open compared to those of voles, which tend to be in, or on the edge of cover. The tunnel systems of their burrows are also deeper underground than those of voles, often going down to a metre or more.