Watch out for ‘Bright Eyes’ . . .

Rossendale Free Press - - Wildlife -

THERE is a bit of a mis­con­cep­tion that most mam­mals hi­ber­nate in win­ter but ac­tu­ally most of them don’t.

Hedge­hogs and bats, who rely heav­ily on in­sects for food, do go to sleep to slow their sys­tems down un­til their prey comes out in the warmer months.

But rab­bits just carry on as nor­mal seek­ing food at dawn and dusk in pretty much all weath­ers. You will have seen their tracks in the snow.

A bunny’s sum­mer food of flow­ers, grass and clovers may be in short sup­ply in win­ter but they change their di­ets ac­cord­ingly and feed on bark, buds, twigs and any green­ery that is avail­able. If you are out early enough you will see them busily seek­ing food close to their bur­rows.

Win­ter is a danger­ous time for our furry favourites as they may have to stray a lit­tle fur­ther than usual for a fes­tive feast. And be­cause other mam­mals may be rest­ing up wait­ing for bet­ter weather, preda­tors, like birds of prey, will be on the look­out for rab­bits.

Catch­ing a rab­bit in win­ter will be a good meal for a preda­tor when food is so thin on the ground in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. Also a rab­bit might not be quite as fast as usual in the colder months.

Rab­bits are prey for a va­ri­ety of an­i­mals, in­clud­ing stoats, buz­zards, pole­cats and red foxes.

This is all very nat­u­ral – so the peo­ple who were keen on the new Water­ship Down be­ing “less cruel” re­ally need a les­son in life.

Chil­dren should not be trau­ma­tised by an­i­mals hunt­ing for food, it should be an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in how na­ture works, par­tic­u­larly if they see it hap­pen­ing in their own area.

Af­ter all, rab­bits were in­tro­duced into the UK by the Nor­mans for food and fur. De­spite prob­lems with dis­ease in the past, they have con­tin­ued to grow in num­bers and can be found pretty much ev­ery­where. I have seen them on the sand dunes at St Annes.

Does pro­duce one litter of be­tween three and seven young ev­ery month from Jan­uary to Au­gust, hence the term “breed­ing like rab­bits”.

Rab­bits are grey­ish­brown in colour with long ears and long hind legs. They have a fluffy white tail. Some peo­ple may mis­take them for muchrarer hares, but hares tend to be big­ger and longer, with black tips on their ears. Rab­bits live in war­rens, which are ex­ten­sive un­der­ground shel­ters and they may bur­row in the snow in ex­treme con­di­tions.

When you are out for your New Year strolls, make sure you keep an eye out for rab­bit tracks and you may even see a cou­ple of our lovely mam­mals. It’s a great ex­cuse to burst into song – Art Gar­funkel’s “Bright Eyes” or Chas and Dave’s “Rab­bit Rab­bit.” On sec­ond thoughts...!

The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the wildlife in Lan­cashire, seven bor­oughs of Greater Manch­ester and four of Mersey­side, all ly­ing north of the River Mersey. The Trust has 29,000 mem­bers, and over 1,200 vol­un­teers. To be­come a mem­ber go to www.lanc­swt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.

A rab­bit, pic­tured by Michael Sayles

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