This is a time for the young ones. Badger cubs will be visiting the outside world for the first time. I well remember regularly watching a badger sett and seeing the cubs emerge for the first time. They were very nervous at first but once they had got used to emerging on a nightly basis they soon threw off that caution and used to indulge in the most boisterous and noisy of games … ‘king of the castle’ seemed the most popular and very soon there was a clear pecking order between the three cubs, one of which seemed to win every time.
Fox cubs are also beginning to make their way in the world, accompanying their mother, the vixen, on her nightly patrols. Fox cubs are precocious in the extreme and always getting into scrapes of one kind or another. Recently In the press have been tales of fox cubs getting themselves into difficulty. On one occasion, a building worker found a cub on site and thinking it was an abandoned puppy, took it home. Only later did he realise his mistake and that his puppy was a fox cub and he quickly took the creature to an RSPCA rescue centre. The other incident involved a fox cub getting its head stuck in a pipe. The fire brigade had to be called to extricate the poor little mite which luckily survived the incident unscathed.
Such waifs and strays used to come my way regularly. I was reminded of the first such casualty when a reader rang up the other day to tell me that she had ‘found’ a tawny owl chick. I don’t know how many tawny owl chicks I have reared but it is plenty. The first was dubbed ‘Mohammed Owly’ - the boxer of similar name was in his prime at the time. Mo had been found, although in fact he was not really lost. He’d simply fallen out of his nest in his eagerness to be first in the queue for food brought in by the dutiful parent birds. Tawny owls are always doing this and usually they will return to the nest by climbing the tree where their nest is and returning to base. In the meantime, it will call to the parent birds which will continue to feed it.
There are exceptions of course. I remember one tawny owl chick, which I returned to the tree where its nest was only for it to be found once more on someone’s lawn. Again, I returned it to the tree and again it was found on the lawn. This time, I put it back in the tree and watched. Before long a grey squirrel came along and literally pushed the owlet back out of the tree. That one, I’m afraid, had to be hand reared. I might say I climbed the tree very carefully and also wore a hat for tawny owls defend their territories and especially their nests ferociously. Tawny owls have very sharp talons and are very prepared to use them. The wildlife photographer, Eric Hosking, lost an eye to a tawny owl when he got too close to its nest!
The most remarkable waif and stray to come my way was a fox cub. From the start it was a curious story in which a gamekeeper had attacked an earth in which was a vixen with newly born cubs. The terriers were thought to have done their job and dispatched the cubs, but the keeper passed the earth again the next day and found one remaining cub, which had survived the slaughter, wandering about at the mouth of the earth. He hadn’t the heart to kill it and took it home, however, Mrs. gamekeeper didn’t approve and that was when my telephone rang.
Sithean’s eyes were still closed when she came to me and I estimated that she was perhaps three days old meaning she had to be bottle-fed several times a day … and night! Such was our concern for the creature that my wife took it to work with her in order to ensure that it was fed regularly. Not surprisingly, the wee animal imprinted upon us and presumably saw us as its parents! Having the run of the house - incredibly she learned to use a litter tray – she was fun loving and into every nook and cranny.
Much later, she went outside into a compound especially constructed for her benefit and, as far as we could tell, she lived out her life there as happily as if she had lived in the wild, perhaps even more so for there she was safe. Foxes get short shrift in most places and generally don’t last long but she was well fed on road- killed pheasants and rabbits and she loved eggs which she used to bury very carefully and eat later. It was hilarious to watch her trot proudly round her compound carrying it so carefully in her mouth and looking for somewhere to bury it. Over her lifetime, she was introduced to legions of people who had never been as close to a fox as that and liked nothing better than having her tummy tickled!
On one occasion during a storm, a branch was blown down which made a hole in the netting around her compound and she got out. My first intimation as to what had happened came when I fed my hens outside the back door and found myself looking at a line of pecking hens with a fox - Sithean - standing next to a hen and eating the hen food! I had an urgent appointment to go to and had no time to repair the fence so I put her in the utility room and departed, not returning until that evening. The following morning, I was wakened by the telephone ringing. It was a neighbour telling me that their dog was in their garden playing with a fox. I discovered that she had gone through the utility room window so I rushed out only to see the fox running down the track towards the woods so I put my dog, who the fox adored, into my vehicle and followed her. Along the way, she stopped to sample some pheasant food and I let the dog out upon which she immediately came trotting to the vehicle to be picked up and put safely in it. Fence duly repaired, she was returned to her own little world.
One of the strangest owl guests I had was one which was unfortunately found hanging over a river by some abandoned fishing line in which she had got her wing well and truly tangled. So much had she struggled that the line was wound round and round one wing. It took some time to release her and then we had to remove all the fishing line. She had obviously been thus suspended for some considerable time for soon after disentangling her wing literally dropped off. So, we had a one-winged owl. Nevertheless, she coped well enough but simply refused to be confined and was consequently named ‘Houdini’. In the end, we gave up and instead let her live out the rest of her life in our orchard. I put food out for every day and she clambered down from the trees, picked it up and climbed back up to eqt it at her leisure. She was just one of many tawny owls we played host to and she lived out the rest of her life in the orchard.
For anyone trying to play host to a tawny owl, food is a problem for although scraps of meat are all very well, the key element essential for their digestive systems is roughage in the shape of fur and feather. It may initially be entertaining and indeed challenging to look after the likes of tawny owl chicks but sooner or later they need to go back to the wild, so it’s better to contact an organisation like the SSPCA. However, please remember that most tawny owl chicks are found without really being lost!