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Animals In Spring

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Pine Martens In Spring

The Vincent Wildlife Trust can tell us loads about pine martens.

Like badgers and roe deer, the pine marten is a really smart mammal which delays implantation of the fertilised egg.

If he is lucky Jock usually sees one pine marten on its own in the forest. Sometimes he recognises who it is as each pine marten has a slightly different neck bib. He knows there is a pine marten around as he sees scat (their poo) in the middle of a forest road or path. The adults over 2 years old will mate in the early summer. In fact, the only time he hears martens making any noise is during the mating season, when he notices their shrill cat like calls.

The female doesn’t implant the fertilised egg in her womb till the following January/February. The males are not involved in bringing up their young.

Commonly 2-3 kits will be born in the spring, in March or April, when conditions are good, and the food supply should be more plentiful.

Pine martens use different types of den sites for breeding-it could be rock crevices, burrows, tree cavities, log piles and even old squirrel dreys or birds nests. These dens are usually just for breeding. At other times they use ‘refuge sites’. These are usually off the ground, several meters up in trees , or blown over trees.

The new born kits will weigh less than 30 g. They are born blind, deaf and without teeth. Their coats start out with thin yellowish hair, which changes to grey and then brown as they mature. Their eyes will open around the end of May. They stay in the den for 6 weeks, completely dependent on their mum. Weaning happens around 6 weeks.

They then start venturing out close to the den, and will stay with their mum for at least 6 months, sometimes even for 12-16 months.

The juveniles then leave to try to set up their own territories. Territories can vary from 60-430 hectares (96 to 688 football pitches). Only a small number will make it to become adults, but if they do, they can live for around 10-15 years.

Now browse our pine marten gallery containing these lovely photographs by Sue Johnson.


Also see our other Galleries.

Finding Out More

To find out more about pine martens have a look at:

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock's jokes:

Why did the bird go to hospital? Because it needed tweet-ment!
What did the soil say to the rain? If this keeps up, my name will be mud!

Watch these adorable pine marten kits-hard to believe they’re going to grow up into one of nature’s most effective hunters!
The Wildwood Trust have very rare footage of the birth and early lives of kits in their captive breeding programme.

Foxes In Spring

Foxes live in their territories in small family groups, with a dog fox (male) a vixen (female), their cubs, and depending on the amount of food available, 1-4 other foxes, both males and females - possibly from the previous litter. The size of the territories varies depending on the how much food is available and plant cover but generally the size is 2-3 square miles which is about the size of 968 to 1,452 football pitches!

Foxes spend much of their time on their own, foraging for food, but do come together briefly to groom and play.

Foxes only breed once per year, in January/February. The dog fox and vixen will stay together for about 3 weeks before mating.

The vixen looks for a suitable place for her den or earth. Jock knows vixens like to dig them under tree roots or in holes in dykes, or rock crevices, or they can expand holes which other animals have dug, like rabbit burrows. Urban foxes often dig their earths under garden sheds!

It takes 53 days for the foxes to be born, in March or April. The litter will usually have 4/5 cubs, which are born blind and deaf. They have round faces, short ears and dark chocolate brown fur and weigh about 120 g.

The vixen stays in the earth suckling her cubs for the first 2 weeks, and it’s the dog fox’s job to bring them food. She will suckle them for a month. At around 10-14 days old they open their eyes, their pupils are slate blue, and they grow guard hairs, making them look quite fuzzy. By now they weigh 350 g.

After about 4-5 weeks, in April or early May, the cubs begin to come out into the open. Their pupils are now grey and flecked with brown, and their round faces are changing as the muzzle starts to grow, white appears round the mouth, with patches of red on the face. Their woolly fur begins to change colour to red/brown and the ears are now upright. They will hunt minibeasts-insects and earthworms.

By 8 weeks the pupils have become amber coloured and the face has grown to adult proportions, and the woolly coat has become adult coloured.

Most of their food is provided by the adult foxes. Foxes have a really diverse diet. They are expert hunters, catching rabbits, rodents, birds, frogs and earthworms as well as eating the decaying flesh of dead animals ( carrion) . But they aren’t carnivorous - they are actually omnivores as they dine on berries and fruit too.

Finding food for 4 or 5 hungry, growing cubs is full on, and adults caring for a litter can look thin. Sometimes the other females in the group will help to feed the cubs. The cubs beg for food and nuzzle the adult’s mouth, whining ,wagging their tails, keeping their bodies low to the ground. They will fight over food, arching their backs, hackles up, heads low, and making high pitched key-kek-kekking noises. Tugging at the larger mammals the adults bring in breaks them up, so the cubs can eat them.

By around 8 weeks after lots of fights, the pecking order in the litter will have been settled. As they get older, they stand on their back legs and try to push each other over with their front legs. The loser will be pushed over and can be bitten on their tails or rumps. Dominant cubs will get more of the food and grow faster. They also are groomed more by the adults and are more likely to be allowed to stay with the group.

Around July, the cubs will begin foraging for food, slowly developing their hunting skills, and competing with the adults, who will sometimes take their kills.

Over the summer the cubs look like lanky adults with thin coats, but by late September/early October when they grow their winter coats and look like the grown ups. This is when the group starts to break up.

Discover Wildlife has fantastic information about foxes: Discover Wildlife - Fox Behaviour

You can also find out more here (and don't forget to watch the last item's video):

Red Fox Cubs Play Fighting In A Allotment, London, UK
Fox Cubs Suckling and Playing by their Den, UK
Fox Cub
Fox Cub (Select To Enlarge)
Fox Cub
Fox Cub (Credits Lyn Stout) (Select To Enlarge)

Badgers In Spring

While Jock spends much of winter tucked up in his cosy cave, he often thinks of the badgers which will have given birth in February!

Although badgers mate in early spring and in July-September, they delay implanting the fertilised eggs till around of the time of the winter solstice (21st December). This means that it is spring by the time the cubs are coming out of the sett and there should be food available for them.

Check out Badgerland web site to find out more! Badgerland - Cubs

The female (sow) usually has around 3 cubs in her breeding chamber in the underground sett. The chamber is lined with dry bedding material like straw, leaves and grass, which the sow will have dragged in so she can keep her cubs warm. New born cubs are only about 12 cm long, weighing 75-100g, with dirty white/silvery grey fur. Within a few days they will all have their stripey faces.

At around 4 weeks they start developing their teeth. Their eyes open at around 5 weeks , but it takes them another few weeks to be able to see properly. When they are about 6-7 weeks old, the cubs set off exploring the tunnels in their sett which can be up to 30m long underground! The cubs will be 9-10 weeks old before they come outside. This will be late April/early May. By this time they look like wee badgers and they will weigh in at 3 kg (weigh the same as a 3 litre plastic bottle of milk) . They will still be fluffy and have shorter muzzles.

For the first 12 weeks the sow will suckle her cubs, then she will begin weaning them . The cubs learn by following their mum foraging for food like worms and insects around the sett. The sow will be very protective and will attack predators like foxes on sight. By 15 weeks they will be able to forage on their own. The cubs will have all their teeth by 16 weeks and are usually independent by around 5 months, around end of June/early July. By the end of the year the cubs will probably weigh 8-10 kg and measure 80 cm.

For more badger information:

Don't forgot to watch our video from one of the Bailies of Bennachie video cameras.

Badgers Playing Video (Credit Steve Sleigh)
Badger Cubs and Their Mother - Lovely Playful Scenes
Badger Cubs
Badger With Cubs
Badgers
Badgers
Badgers (Credit Ally Barron)

Red Squirrels In Spring

Scottish Squirrels have absolutely brilliant information about red squirrels and their breeding. Read the "Saving Scotland Red Squirrels" web site Busy Breeding section to learn more.

Red squirrels are active all year round, and don't hibernate. If there are warm December or January days, Jock enjoys a stroll through the woods, taking great delight in watching the antics of the squirrels. He plays jumping games with them as red squirrels can jump up to 5m and from a standing position! Jock usually hears the red squirrels before he sees them, with scrabbling claws, chirruping and calling as they race around the tree trunks, leap through the branches and chase over the ground. Mating season has begun! The females are only fertile for one day in each cycle, and the males compete for the right to mate. They’re not involved in rearing the kittens.

The amount of food available, weather and body conditions all make a difference to successful breeding. Red squirrels feed on shoots and flowers in spring, and nuts, fruits and seeds from cones in autumn and winter. Females must be at least 280-300 g in weight to breed. If there is plenty food available, 2 litters of kittens (kits) may be born, in early spring, February/March, and in the summer, May/June. If the mum is in good condition, she may produce heavier kits, which will have a better chance of making it though their first year.

A squirrel’s nest is called a drey-they may use an average of 3 dreys. From the ground you may see an untidy football sized mass of twigs, close to the main trunk of the tree, supported by branches. This is the outer shell, but on the inside there is a lovely cosy lining made from mosses, lichens, leaves, conifer needles and grass, which the squirrel has collected.

The pregnancy will last 36-42 days, with 3/4 kittens the average sized litter. When born, these tiny kittens only weigh 10-18 g. They are deaf, blind and have no fur. The first hairs appear around 14 days, and they will have all their dark fur by 3 weeks. Around this time their first teeth come through, and their eyes and ears open when they are about 4 weeks old. The mum will suckle them for their first 50-70 days. She is very protective and will defend her young from predators like pine martens, foxes, wild and domestic cats, stoats, and birds of prey like goshawks and some types of owl.

The kits start coming out of the drey at around 6-7 weeks old, when they start taking their first solid food. By 10-12 weeks the kits have their first set of teeth and are weaned. The mum will defend them for another 2 weeks. She will be spending more and more time away from the kits.

Kits are darker than adults but they moult into their adult coats at around 4 months. Their permanent teeth come in when they are 4-8 months old. All Squirrels (rodents) have a pair of upper and a pair of lower teeth called incisors. Unlike our teeth, these incisors don't have roots, and they never stop growing! The squirrel's incisors grow at a rate of 15cm per year, but they stay short because of their continuous use and wear, particularly in opening pine cones and other seeds.

The litter tends to stay together and they will often stay in their breeding drey once their mother has moved out. Adults are most active during the beginning and end of the day. You might be lucky enough to see the kits playfully exploring when the adults are resting. They tend to stay close to their drey for much of the summer, but most will have gone off by autumn.

Sadly it’s thought that only 15-25% will get through their first winter, but those that do survive they may live for 3-4 years on average. The good news is that by 9-10 months old, providing they have had enough food and are in good body condition, they can breed in their first year.

Watch this wonderful video about orphaned red squirrel kits:

The Story of the Baby Red Squirrels

Scottish Squirrels have absolutely brilliant information about red squirrels and their breeding: Busy Breeding.

Interested in finding out more about red squirrels?

Scottish Red Squirrels
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)
Red Squirrel (Credit Sue Johnson)

Roe Deer In Spring

If you're quiet, you might be lucky enough to see roe deer on Bennachie and in the countryside. The best times to see them are dawn and dusk, look out for their white rumps flashing as they bound through the trees.

The roe deer rut, or mating season, takes place in the summer, at the end of July/beginning of August. The males (bucks) fight each other for access to the females (does), locking antlers and pushing, twisting and turning, sometimes injuring each other. Believe it or not, the doe’s pregnancy will last 10 months, and she won’t have her babies (kids or fawns) till around mid-May or early June the following year.

Like badgers, roe deer have delayed implantation. That means the tiny embryo will stay in her womb only growing very very slowly till around the end of December/early January, when it starts to grow normally for the next 5 months.

This works really well for the doe, because it means she will be in her best condition in the summer, with lots of food around during the rut. She can gain weight to see her through the winter months. By the time her kids are born in late May, spring is well under way with better weather and lots of vegetation around, both to eat and for the kids to hide away in.

The kids are born with a spotted or dappled coat to help them hide from predators. Usually twins are born, though sometimes the doe might have triplets. The mum leaves them hidden in long grass, where they lie quietly, visiting them briefly so they can suckle for the first several weeks. If she has had twins, she will leave them separately.

Young roe deer can make a high pitched whistling sound to attract their mothers if they become lost.

The doe will wean the kids when they are 4 months old, and although they may continue to suckle, they are not now dependent on her milk.

The kids usually start with their mum, but just a few weeks before giving birth, she will chase the previous year’s kids out. The females tend to stay closer to their mum’s range than the males.

Threats to roe deer kids include foxes, but sadly many die on roads or are injured by farm equipment. If they survive their first winter, roe deer usually live for around 10 years in the wild.

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock Says: If you come across a deer fawn, don’t disturb it, stay well back and don’t let it know you are near. Keep your dog under control and away from it. Don’t touch it, as your scent will be left on it, and may stop the mum returning. Remember the mum will have left it safely hidden and will come back to feed it. It won’t be abandoned!

The only time to touch a deer fawn is if the mum is lying dead nearby or the fawn is injured. For more information read BDS - Abandoned Young information.

To find out more about roe deer have a look at:

Roe Deer (Credit Byran Morrison)
Roe Deer (Credit Byran Morrison)
Roe Deer (Credit Katy Rewston)
Roe Deer (Credit Katy Rewston)

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Join in the Spring fun for all the family with our range of indoor and outdoor activities.
Competition

Competition

Enter our competition and see how you get on.

Also see our Spring Programme 2021, Winter Programme 2020, Autumn Programme 2020 and Summer Programme 2020 information, and don't forget to enter our Competition.

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