As the countdown to Christmas begins we are not the only ones struggling to fit everything into the shorter days. Animals have to be a lot less particular about what they eat as they forage in the cold. In sharp contrast to most animals during this month, the fox is reaching top condition, entering into the breeding season so any you see should have thick fur and bushy tails, their blood-curdling calls echoing through the night. Owls are also breeding, so as the sun goes down you can hear the famous ‘twit-twoo’ of the tawny owl sounding through the trees.
Although it seems like all the insects have disappeared in the cold, they are everywhere if you know where to look. There are lots of micro-climates in which invertebrates thrive through the winter months which in turn keep the birds going. Leaf piles beneath hedgerows are warm, thanks to decomposition, providing a safe haven, so you will often see blackbirds rooting through the leaves in search of a meal. Even if ponds freeze over, the water is warmer underneath so a lot of our native invertebrates sink to the bottom, waiting out the cold.
However tempting it may seem, do not tidy up your garden. Getting rid of those seed heads, or cutting back the large grassy tussocks may destroy crucial homes for creatures deep in hibernation. Ladybirds, in particular, tuck themselves away deep inside seed heads, and you will want them in your garden come spring when the aphids are abundant.
Robin’s are abundant both in our gardens and on our Christmas cards but, do you know the reason why we use them as a symbol of Christmas? In Victorian England, a popular name used for postmen was ‘robins’ because of their red uniforms so the early Christmas cards often depicted the birds delivering mail and the image has stuck ever since.
Another animal associated with Christmas is the reindeer, Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, being the most famous of course. But did you know that Rudolph was only added in 1939, the other eight names originating from the poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ written in 1807 by Major Henry Livingston Jr. The poem was originally printed in German and, in translation, the original Dunder and Blixem were changed to Donner and Blitzen. However ‘Dunder und Blixem’ is a German phrase literally meaning ‘thunder and lightning’, but it is also used as a phrase meaning go faster. So there was probably only ever meant to be six reindeer and Saint Nicholas was telling them to hurry up.
Another interesting fact about Santa’s reindeer is that although in poems and songs they are commonly portrayed as male characters they all must be female, as only female reindeer retain their antlers through the winter.
Holly and Ivy are brought into homes over the Christmas period as symbols of the spring that is to come and to ward away evil spirits. Mistletoe is actually a good luck charm and kissing beneath it used to indicate that you were marrying in the next year.
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Remember that it is still possible to undertake a range of ecology surveys during the winter months, click here to find out more!
Check out our survey calendar to see when you can start planning your surveys this year.
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