5 ways to celebrate wildlife at Christmas in Cheshire
- Credit: Stewart McDonald
Wildlife feature heavily on Christmas cards and seasonal jumpers but how do ‘festive’ creatures spend Christmas? Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Jen Shutt finds out
One of our most iconic birds and officially the nation’s favourite is the little robin red breast. Put on your hat and gloves and stand outside for a moment. Give it long enough and you’ll probably hear our feathered favourite singing their song. They really are everywhere at this time of year. Even in our homes: on our Christmas cards, baubles and jumpers. How did they become a symbol of Christmas? One reason is that they add a beautiful explosion of colour. They also feature in many Christmas stories. One fable tells that robins got their red breasts by helping Mother Mary fan a fire to keep the infant Jesus warm. Another reason takes us back to the 1880s. Back then, much like the Royal Mail workers today, postmen wore a bright red jacket. Because of this, the Victorians nicknamed them “robins”, appearing at this time of year to deliver seasonal wishes of goodwill. It’s easy to see why artists drew robins with letters in their beak – and so the craze for robins on Christmas cards started.
Unfortunately, robins are not the friendly birds we all like to think they are. Their tuneful song is actually a warning call to other robins that this area belongs to them. Both males and females spend most of their energy protecting their territories and they can often be seen in brutal fights with any fellow robin entering their patch, and sometimes other bird species too. Another bird sometimes on our Christmas greetings due to its cute size is the humble wren. Like the robin, this loud little song-bird sings its tune for all to hear over winter. But unlike the unsociable Scrooge robin, who likes to spend Christmas alone, wrens gather together for warmth, sometimes with as many as 50 birds. Now that’s a party.
Delicate long-tailed tits are starting to make an appearance on Christmas cards, too. They also choose to spend time together, socialising with others during the day and night and sharing fat ball feeders for their merry meals.
Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
He may not be native to the UK, but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Rudolph. While they are not the largest of deer species, they are sturdy and hardworking – in fact their metabolism is more efficient than all other large land animals. No wonder they are Santa’s choice of transport system! They’re also able to adapt to extremely cold temperatures found in the Artic due to their warm insulating fur and large hooves.
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Our own deer make Christmas card appearances too. From the majestic red deer through to the distinctively marked fallow deer. We really are spoilt for choice with our deer parks, such as Lyme Park near Stockport, Dunham Massey in Altrinham and Tatton Park in Knutsford.
Fallow deer are a medium sized deer, first introduced to the UK by the Normans. Although they aren’t native, they’re now considered to be naturalised. They enjoy grazing on grasses, but will often move over to tree shrubs and shoots in winter when grass is less lush. The impressive red deer is our largest land mammal, in summer they have a reddish brown coat but this turns to a brown-grey colour in winter. Following the autumn rutting season, the females (hinds) of both these species will be carrying fawns over winter, ready to give birth in spring/early summer.
White as snow
Although not a Cheshire resident, another mammal often featured in winter scenes is the mountain hare. These hares are residents of Scotland, although there has been an introduction of this species in the Peak District. Like the brown hares of Cheshire, mountain hares shelter in shallow depressions in the grass.
This hare however has the cunning ability to change its coat colour to reflect the season. During winter, they turn a striking white to match their snowy surroundings, rather like our stoats. Having good camouflage can mean the difference between life and death in the wild.
Unfortunately, this change doesn’t always pay off for the stoats as the odds on a white Christmas are getting longer, their white fur no longer hides them. The good news is that they are already starting to adapt to this change in weather circumstance, turning less white than in previous years.
Holly and ivy also feature heavily on our Christmas greetings. If our visiting fieldfares, redwings and other thrushes haven’t beaten us to it, then our Cheshire hedges are often laden with a bright red holly berries. Ivy weaving its way through hedges and trees, also provides an excellent source of food for any late bees and butterflies, before forming dark berries ready for birds to enjoy – blackbirds particularly love these calorie loaded berries.
And who could forget mistletoe? This white-berried plant is often hanging in our doorways, waiting for Christmas kisses but did you know that mistletoe is actually poisonous and semi-parasitic? It grows in trees, using them as a source of water and nutrients.
Many tree species host mistletoe including apple, lime, rowan and willow, with mistletoe seed spreading itself through birds’ beaks and droppings.
If you are looking for gifts which will not only be appreciated by your loved ones but also help local wildlife too, why not visit the Cheshire Wildlife Trust online shop? There is a wide choice of gifts available. u