Animals’ winter wonders

IT’S always fascinating to observe how animals react to changing weather, especially in winter.

All have their ways of coping, whether by hiding and going to sleep, retreating to the cover of sheltered areas, or migrating.

It was noticeable how the recent frosty weather changed the behaviour of deer, which had been grazing in open areas of Killarney National Park.

During a recent walk in an area frequented by red deer, not many were to be seen at first glance. On closer inspection they were spotted in trees and dense vegetation. But they were so well camouflaged and still that you’d hardly see them if they weren’t moving around.

Many other creatures and plants also vanish at this time of the year, the hardest season for animals.

Bats and hedgehogs hibernate as food sources diminish and they need to conserve energy. Badgers and squirrels also batten down the hatches. Frogs are also hibernating.

Everything the animals do seems eminently rational from a human point of view, but nature always seems to do the obvious and correct things — it seems to exercise a lot more commonsense than humans.

There’s a logical reason for everything that happens.

The old saying that you hear on cold weather, ‘no midges around today’, is also absolutely true, for insects largely disappear in winter, or are in discreet, invisible stages of their lifecycle. Butterflies and ladybirds have also gone to ground.

Newly-born seal pups can often be seen around the coast during November/December.

At birth, they have creamy fur, which after a month gets replaced by fawn-coloured adult fur. Parent seals should not be disturbed at this time as they are very sensitive and may abandon their young if they feel threatened.

Ireland is an important location at this time for Arctic and European migratory birds.

The autumn migration involving millions of birds is a wonderful event in nature.

We have geese, ducks, swans, and wading birds from the Arctic that move southwards as the winter sets in. The fact that we (usually) have mild winters means that wetlands and mudflats never freeze over and provide plenty of water and food for birds.

Most of our trees shed their leaves in the winter.

There are always exceptions, including holly and arbutus, which are native broadleaf trees that retain their leaves in the winter. Which goes some way to explaining why holly is so symbolic of Christmas.


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