Wildlife Column with Prof In Rotherham

With storms lashing the country, plenty of floods, and some cold nights too, the halcyon days of hot summer seem long gone.

Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 9:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 3:20 pm
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

However, a letter from Shirley Child of Albert Road reminded me that fairly recently we were still talking of butterflies and summer days. It is always good to hear from readers and especially someone from my past. Shirley was a regular on wildlife classes and field trips which I used to run – back ‘in the day’.

She was saying how in her own garden she has only seen cabbage whites but that on a trip to Raby Castle in County Durham, she saw small tortiseshells, red admirals and a peacock.

Well hopefully a few more species arrived in Shirley’s garden as the summer drew on, and I would add small white, comma, and painted lady to her list. Overall, it hasn’t been a bad year for these species and painted ladies migrating from North Africa did arrive in numbers too.

Jackdaws cooling down at Ripon July 2019 by Ian Rotherham

But back to the mid-summer and I was in Ripon when temperatures soared well into the thirties; hot, hot, hot for several days. Wildlife can also find this rather stressful and a behaviour I have observed in the corvids or crow family is to raise the feathers around the head – the crown and the nape, to allow cooling to take place. I saw this with some carrion crows but the best example was with jackdaws at Fountains Abbey just outside Ripon in North Yorkshire. The birds curved their heads and necks to expose as much to the air and raised their feathers apparently in an attempt to lose heat.

The jackdaws also stood motionless for long periods and again I assume this was an effort to keep cool in the unbearably hot conditions.

Like us humans the birds have to respond and adapt to weather conditions. So as winter now draws inexorably closer, some simply head south to warmer climes and northern birds arrive to take their place.

Many birds also start flocking and night-roosting at sites which are safe, sheltered and warm. Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.