Nature’s slow down month

Christmas is fast approaching and when most of us are busy rushing around getting ready for the festivities much of our wildlife is slowing down for the cold months ahead

Hedgehogs will now be found tucked away under the cover of a hedgerow or buried deep within the cover of a compost heap. It is here where they will remain in a state of hibernation for the coldest part of the year when food is at its most scarce.

Be careful if your cleaning up around the garden in the winter months that you don’t disturb these prickly residents. Following the drop in temperature our bats now go to ground. For the most part bats leave their attic and tree roost sites occupied in the summer and autumn months to find a site with a near constant temperature. These suitable sites are often underground structures such as caves, ice houses, cellars or mines.

They provide perfect cool, quite and safe locations to hibernate in the cold months ahead. On warmer evenings when there are insects on the wing some bats may emerge from their slumber to feed briefly before returning underground.

Holly is noticeable in the hedges and woodlands sporting a good berry crop this year. It’s important that if your harvesting the holly berries (only found on the female plant) that you do not hack down large limbs or the entire bush in the process.

The Holly tree is a slow growing plant and an important species in our woodlands, providing food for a myriad of bird and insect species. The spikes found mostly on the lower branches are an adaptation to protect the species from grazing deer and other ancestral species that no longer exist. look to the top of a large wild holly tree and see if you can identify leaves without spikes. The tree will not waste energy producing spikes on the higher branches as they cannot be reached by grazing animals.

December is a good time to start feeding garden birds. The temperature has now fallen and much of the naturally available food in the wider countryside is reduced significantly. To maximise your chances of getting a large variety of species put out different food types. High quality food includes, peanuts, sunflower hearts, suet balls and wild bird mix. Remember to top up the feeders as they run low but don’t overfill as you risk attracting rodents. Always provide water when you provide food.

This month listen out for singing Robins (pictured - photo by Heather Rice). Robins are one of the most familiar songsters and well known for singing throughout the winter months which is unusual in most species. Robins are also unique in that both males and females sing in the winter months a function normally reserved for male birds when attracting mates and declaring territories in the spring and summer months.

Robins unlike other garden birds hold a winter territory to protect their food resources and the be ahead of the pack by the time spring returns.

Have a happy and safe Christmas, wrap up warm and get out and enjoy the countryside over the Christmas break.

Local Wildlife Events:

Laois Environmental Action Forum (LEAF) - Green Community Awards and Annual Get Together took place at The Portlaoise Heritage Hotel, Saturday December 20 .

Irish Wildlife Trust Laois/Offaly Branch - Talk, “Wildlife Rescue - Trials and Tribulations” by Kildare Animal Foundation Wildlife Unit - Portlaoise Library, Wednesday, January 28 6:45-7:45pm

Ricky Whelan is from Mountmellick, he graduated in 2008 with a Zoology Degree from NUI Galway. He has since spent a number of years working for the RSPB in wildlife conservation and reserves in the UK. Ricky nworks for BirdWatch Ireland and is the Chairman of the Laois/Offaly Branch of Irish Wildlife Trust.