The Wildlife Diaries with Kev Gustard

Spring, the season of growth and renewal is well underway and this month I’ve been looking after baby harvest mice and baby robins. All together now: “Awwww” If you read my last post, you’ll know that spring is my favourite season of all. It’s a season of growth and new life and, on months like […]

Spring, the season of growth and renewal is well underway and this month I’ve been looking after baby harvest mice and baby robins. All together now: “Awwww”

Harvest mouseIf you read my last post, you’ll know that spring is my favourite season of all. It’s a season of growth and new life and, on months like this, I feel truly lucky to be a Ranger at Sherwood Forest.

I’ve been introducing some new friends to the Village – harvest mice. The harvest mouse is the smallest rodent in the UK and are very cute little creatures. But their numbers in decline; they’ve been having a really tough time of it due to habitat loss and changes in agricultural methods. In a bid to turn this around, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has launched an initiative to re-introduce the species locally. I’m pleased to say that we have been helping the plight of the harvest mouse by acting as a release site for the project.

A new home
Andy, below, has made homes for the mice to be placed in my man-made meadow, on the edge of the forest, near The Nature Centre. The nests are about the size of a tennis ball but can easily fit a family of four or more. Don’t worry; these aren’t the sort of mice that you’d find scurrying around near your home. They are true outdoor types, just like me.

AndyMoues-houseMouse-in-house-1

The mice have two to three litters a year, each containing up to six young. Baby harvest mice are born blind and hairless, but by day 11 they have developed enough to start exploring outside the nest. By day 16, they are abandoned by their parents. Nature can be very cruel.

So, fast-forward to release day at the meadow. While Andy and I were placing the first set of mice into their new home, a family walked by inquisitively. There was mum, dad and two little girls. “Do you want to come and help release these mice into their new habitat?” I asked. One of the girls’ faces lit up; Kate, 9, and her dad hopped over the fence to give us a hand.

Kate“I’ve held all sorts of animals before,” added Kate, “Chameleons, snakes and even a komodo dragon, so this mouse isn’t scary to me at all!”

Robin reliance
The next job of the morning was to track down a robin’s nest nearby and ring the young – that’s not as sinister as it sounds, it just means putting a lightweight ring around their leg so that we can track each feathered friend in the Village. It’s like a bird passport. Kate and her dad came along for this too, while her mum and sister went off to play Badminton.

The robins have been nesting in a wall-climbing plant outside The Forrester’s Inn. I put my hand into the foliage and brought out a handful of two baby birds. Kate held the little ones in her hand while Andy secured the tag on their leg; it’s completely harmless and doesn’t hurt them at all.

Kate was surprised at just how fragile the baby robins looked, as they’re not born with much hair. In fact, robin chicks hatch naked and are completely dependent on their parents for warmth. Quills will appear at around three days of age and by around day five, their eyes will start to open.

robin-2robin-1

Rows of feathers will start to appear and they’re pretty much covered by 10 days. Juvenile robins are more a brown colour and don’t get the distinctive red breast we all associate them with until they’ve reached adulthood.

It has been a successful month all-round, full of new beginnings and it’s great to see the Village in bloom once more. Check back next month for more updates from my Wildlife Diaries.

Show comments
  • Kate’s Mum

    Kate has been telling everyone about this wonderful experience she was lucky to have. Thank you Kev, it made her holiday special!

    • Amy Dickson

      Thanks for your lovely feedback. We’re so happy to hear that Kate had a fantastic time with Kev – hopefully we’ll see you again soon!

Kev Gustard

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Kev Gustard

I am the Senior Conservation Ranger at Sherwood Forest and have worked at Center Parcs for 20 years. My Wildlife Diaries is a monthly update of what life is like in the great outdoors, with a few tips along the way for you to use at home.