Thoughts on tawny owls and red squirrels

Bramblings, chaffinches and greenfinches fill their crops with black sunflower seeds this morning before the snow.

Bramblings, chaffinches and greenfinches fill their crops with black sunflower seeds this morning before the snow.

 

Red squirrel paw marks in the snow this morning

Red squirrel paw marks in the snow this morning

There was a male tawny owl in full hooting mode just outside the back door yesterday evening. It continued the typical hooooooooooo, a long gap then hooo hooo hooo hoooooooooooo for nearly half an hour. It’s a delightful sound. Though I’ve seen an owl recently in the garden, and have been aware from time to time through the annoyed chatter of small birds that one is roosting in a tree, this is the first time I’ve heard one for several weeks. I’m not sure if it’s the male tawny that establishes a territory or the female (though I suspect the former). This may have been a male trying to attract a female, though if it did, the female must have been particularly coy and silent. I’m amazed at the different calls of the male and female tawny owl and they are welcome here anytime to entertain us. I’ve now heard tawny owls several times now during daylight, which I’ll write about in due course.

While the number of the various species of tit at the feeders has dropped slightly, greenfinches, chaffinches and brambling numbers are rising. The brambling numbers this year – as I’ve mentioned before – are simply incredible, with sometimes well over 20 under (and sometimes on) the different feeders. They seem early morning birds, and are mostly gone by about midday. The male and the female great-spotted woodpecker were both at the feeders this morning, the first time I’ve seen them visiting together.

There was a dusting of snow this morning, but it didn’t keep the two red squirrels in bed. They were up bright and early and at the front of the house just on daylight to seek out the two small piles of peanuts, pine nuts, black sunflower seeds and apple I put out for them. Their temperaments are changing slightly, with the dominant one becoming even more so. First thing this morning it determinedly chased the less dominant squirrel away from the food sources at the front of the house. I’ve seen half-hearted food protection regularly, but this has now moved up a gear. Having said that, three hours later, and as I type this, both are in the wood at the back of the house 10 metres apart and rooting, scraping, and sometimes scent-marking on the ground without any antagonism.

This change might be because they are coming into breeding condition.  The SNH booklet on red squirrels in Scotland says that they will breed from nine months old and if at least 280 to 300 grams. These two might be 9 months old, though I suspect they could be slightly younger. With the amount of food they pack away I’m sure they will be a suitable weight to breed. Breeding, of course, could be a problem. They may both be males, in which case I’m sure one will eventually chase the other away. The same may well happen if they are both female. If they are male and female I’m certain they are siblings so are they likely to breed, will they look for a mate elsewhere or will one try to encourage a suitable mate to come here? None of these options might be easy as we are really rather isolated from other red squirrel populations. There are two suitable locations which I am sure have red squirrels, one quarter of a mile away and one half a mile away, but there is no natural corridor.  Even without a natural corridor these squirrels managed to get here, as have lone adults from time to time, so it is possible.

These are all questions I hope to find answers to in the next few months or even weeks. Comments from those with more experience than me are welcome. Life is never dull when you take an interest in what is going on around you.

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