When the sky is full of formations of birds flying south for the winter you know that summer is over. Some butterflies also migrate a phenomenal distance on their tiny wings. What about those bird and animals that do not migrate. Winter can be hard in the United Kingdom and some animals hibernate through the winter.
Hibernation is defined as passing time in a resting state in which heartbeat, temperature and respiration are slowed down significantly, the body all but shuts down, keeping only essential systems running at a very low level. Chemical changes occur within the animal’s brain that slow its metabolism right down, in the very simplest terms, a long very deep sleep.
It is an evolutionary adaptation to enable the animal to cope with winter conditions, either the weather itself or the fact that the animal’s food source may be scarce or non-existent in wintertime.
Hedgehogs are prickly little creatures, often called the gardener’s friend, they eat slugs and insects. There is not much food for them in the winter and so they hibernate. They find a cozy place in amongst leaves and twigs and make a nest, climb into it, slow down their metabolism and go to sleep. They also nest under piles of leaves and twigs made by man so before lighting your winter bonfire please check for hibernating hedgehogs. If you find a hedgehog wandering about when it should be asleep contact your local wildlife centre or St. Tiggywinkle’s wildlife hospital for advice.
Squirrels and dormice hibernate in the United Kingdom. Although some naturalists argue that squirrels do not truly hibernate because they wake up every few days to search for food. In an effort to encourage dormice populations, special nesting boxes have been put up in some areas of England and it was discovered that dormice were hibernating in these boxes in the winter. Badgers hibernate in their setts deep underground.
Bats find a roost in a building, perhaps in the attic or loft of a house and hang upside down and hibernate waking about once a month. Please note it is against the law in the U.K. to disturb or upset hibernating bats in any way. You may not even block their holes, even if there are no bats currently in the roost. If you need advice about bats in your roof space contact the Bat Conservancy Council.
Most amphibians and reptiles hibernate; frogs for example hide in the bottom of ponds in the silt. Their body temperature drops rapidly and their heartbeat slows down to approximately 5 beats per minute.
Other animals and birds seem to cope with winter conditions in the UK remarkably well. Birds take advantage of the many bird tables and feeders in people’s gardens. Some other animals do not truly hibernate but may spend periods of the winter in a kind of torpor.
Always check under bonfires and if you are tidying the shed, garage or greenhouse in winter for hibernating animals, after all you would not want to disturb them would you?