Sunday, 26 June 2016

Baby rabbit photo diary...

For just over a week now we have had a young rabbit visiting the garden every day. I can only assume that this is the same individual having never seen one in the garden previously. Whilst not everyone might welcome rabbits in their garden due to their unfortunate habit of eating flowers, fruits and vegetables in addition to their more regular diet of grasses and meadow plants, it's been impossible not to fall for this lone youngster. Rabbit kits are undeniably cute, this one would fit into your hand. The rabbit has been in our garden for considerable periods of time every day (I mostly work from home so can keep half an eye on comings and goings) so whereas I initially thought the visits would be brief and short-lived, we are now left wondering where the rest of her family is, where she has come from and where she is sheltering. I can't help but wonder if she is lost, or if something happened to her mother and/or burrow.  (A hedgehog shelter we already had from last summer (sadly we haven't seen or heard any sign of hedgehogs this year) has been moved and stuffed with hay as a makeshift bolthole.) The following from the Mammal Society website made me speculate whether this youngster may have been from a nearby 'stop' as opposed to a well established warren (the nearest one I'm aware of being several streets away);

"Social groups vary from a single pair to up to 30 rabbits using the same warren. Within large groups there is a distinct social hierarchy. The most dominant males, known as bucks, have priority of access to females, known as does. The most dominant does have access to the best nest sites. Bucks and does seldom fight with each other. Competition between does for nest sites can lead to serious injuries and death. Lower ranking rabbits may be forced to breed in single entrance breeding "stops" away from the main burrows where they and their young are more vulnerable to predators."

Rabbits originate in the Western Mediterranean countries of Spain and Portugal and were introduced to the UK by the Normans in the 12th century to provide a source of meat and fur. Numbers gradually rose to the extent that they were considered a serous pest of agriculture though the introduction of the devastating disease myxomatosis (I wrote a little on this in a previous post) led to a dramatic decline in their numbers (estimated to be between 90-95%). Rabbits are of course a prey species, and are an important food source to wild predators such as foxes, weasels, stoats, buzzards and owls. They are also killed by dogs and cats and it is these latter two that would pose the most danger in a semi-urban area like ours with several neighbours owning dogs and the customary couple of cats roaming the neighbourhood.  Sadly the odds are stacked against her, wild rabbits rarely live more than 3 years and according to the Mammal society website - "Over 90% die in the first year of life, and most of these in the first three months", so we'll enjoy her little visits for as long as they last. 

As a prey species rabbits are of course generally very wary but if we are already outside (and keep fairly still and quiet) this youngster has wandered around happily making the most of a lawn that is nearly as much clover as it is grass...

Checking if it's safe to come out

Keeping clean

Clover is lovely...
Flowers are quite nice too...

So is super-big-giant-grass (pampas)

All this eating is quite tiring...

Very tiring...

But still need to keep alert...

The 'leaping bunny' shots need some work...

Garden babies

After a break from the blog for a few weeks I now find myself with lots of catching up to do... So I'll make start with some of the new lives that have been visiting the garden. The first of the avian youngsters to appear were the Starlings, having grown up somewhere in the soffits of our neighbours' house, these bold and cheeky youngsters have been happily eating the mealworms we put out every day. That and a little bit of playing with some pulled-up weeds that hadn't been cleared away...

Juvenile Starling

Young Starling playing
Fledgling starlings have been closely followed by young Robins and Dunnocks. Juvenile Robins are obvious enough from their speckled appearance and lack of orange chest, but young Dunnocks could be easily missed - they are quite similar to adults but more 'streaky' in plumage. A brood of noisy and boisterous Magpies have made appearances as have young House Sparrows.

Young Robin
Young Dunnock bathing


The occupants of a Blackbird nest around the back of one of our hedges are now making an appearance with 3 youngsters visiting the garden. Their Dad has been remarkably attentive and it was very sweet watching the youngsters stood amongst mealworms, whilst still begging for their Dad to feed them to them, which he dutifully did. Things have progressed quickly from a few days ago and they now feed themselves! 

With this abundance of naive youngsters about, and no doubt with chicks of his own to feed, a male Sparrowhawk has been making a regular appearance. The adult male Blackbird has been the one to sound the alarm and send all the birds undercover whilst he has - perhaps foolhardily - vented his fury at times from only a couple of metres away, as well as hot-tailed him out of the garden. Woodpigeons have been busy nest-building so perhaps we will soon see the young squabs in the garden...

Young Blackbird
Causing panic in the garden - a Sparrowhawk

More for the nest... a Woodpigeon

Last but certainly not least for the garden babies, we think we've solved the mystery of where some of our strawberries have been going....

Postscript; the morning after posting and a young Woodpigeon has appeared in the garden. This youngster is a little smaller than his/her parents but the most obvious difference is the lack of white 'collar'.

Young Woodpigeon

Post-postscript; Perhaps a few extra facts would be useful too... As a very general rule for small passerines (songbirds) eggs take around 2 weeks to hatch, and the youngsters a further 2 weeks (give or take) to fledge. Many of these small birds can have 2 or even 3 broods in any given breeding season, though the Tit family are an exception tending to only have 1 very large brood of chicks and only rarely a second. For many waders, birds of prey and owls, the timeframe is very roughly 4 weeks to hatch and 4 weeks to fledge, given the time limitations resulting from longer incubation and chick rearing periods, they tend to only have one brood per breeding season. 

Below is a little bit more detail on some typical numbers of broods and chicks as well as timings for hatching and fledging for some familiar birds, taken from the BTO's nest monitoring guide;

Species Number of
Blackbird 2-3 3-4 13-14 14
Blue Tit 1 8-10  14 16-22
Chaffinch 1 4-5 11-13 14
Collared Dove 2-3 2 14-16 18
Dunnock 2 4-5 11-12 12
Goldfinch 2 4-5 12-13 14-15
Great Tit 1 6-9 14 19
Greenfinch 2 4-5 13 13-16
House Sparrow 2-3 4-5 12 14-15
Jackdaw 1 4-5 21-22 22-28
Magpie 1 4-6 21-22 22-28
Robin 2 4-5 13-14 13-14
Sparrowhawk 1 4-5 35 24-28
Starling 1  4-5 12 21
Tawny Owl 1 2-3 28-30 32-37
Woodpigeon 2-3 2 17 29-35
Wren 2 5-6 16 17