Peep back at lives of our residents

At New Year we often ponder past times, and this week I thought I’d pick out some of the animals resident at the trust and plunder Wikipedia to discover more about their origins.

Friday, 25th January 2019, 2:53 pm

Harry, the mute swan, has seven grown cygnets and a possible girlfriend under his wing in the pool enclosure.

Fossil records show that the mute swan is one of the oldest bird species still in existence, having evolved at least five million years ago. They’re among the largest flying birds with a wingspan that can reach more than three metres. Swans live between 10 and 20 years, and the cob (male) and pen (female) usually mate for life.

Speaking of pens, regular readers will recall that Errol the tawny owl ‘penned’ this column a couple of weeks ago. Of course, Errol’s probably unique in acquiring literacy skills, but as a species owls are quite special.

They were already present as a distinct lineage 57 million years ago, and possibly even saw out the final dinosaurs. They evolved into two separate families, barn owls and ‘typical’ owls.

It’s a myth that their eyesight is better than ours in low light conditions, but their hearing is around 10 times more sensitive than a human’s, acute enough to be able to detect small mammals rustling about in vegetation at a distance.

To humans, the pitter-patter of raindrops might signal a spell indoors, but for owls it can be life or death; rainfall masks the sounds of movement in the undergrowth, and owls can starve in prolonged bad weather.

An owl’s typical lifespan is five years, although they have been known to live 18 years in the wild and 27 years in captivity. So hopefully Errol will be in charge at the Rollo Centre for many years to come.

The kestrel in the recovery room with a broken leg prompted another internet search.

Kestrels are thought to have evolved in tropical East Africa more than two million years ago. They have successfully spread across Europe, Asia and Africa, happily adapting to life alongside humans, as long as there’s enough vegetation to provide a hunting ground. Its habit of beating the wind to hover in the air has earned it a number of nicknames, including ‘windhover’ – and one which isn’t printable in a local newspaper.

Kestrels can live up to 16 years or more, and one has been recorded to have survived to the age of 24.

One final animal at the trust is a relative newcomer, but in a couple of hundred years has turned aeons of evolution on its head; Homo sapiens – of which the trust volunteers are fine upstanding examples – is thought to have originated in Africa just over 300,000 years ago, and has been dispersing across the globe for a mere 50,000 years.

In comparison to the tawny owl, the kestrel and the swans in our care, we’re the evolutionary new kids on the block. Who’s putting money on us enduring 57 million years?