The nights are drawing in, mornings are decidedly chilly and the leaves are falling - it can only be autumn. What does this time of year mean for the UK's birds and other wildlife? Read on to find out.
In the bird world, autumn can seem like a time of reduced activity. With the exception of the Robin, which sings to defend its territory all year round, the birds that sang so loudly in the spring and summer have fallen silent and visitors to the feeders in your garden can be less frequent compared to other times of the year.
The reasons birds might not have been eating the food you've left out quite so often is because autumn is still a time of plenty for natural foods such as seeds and berries, meaning birds have less need to visit feeders. However, it's important that you still leave some food out on display. It will provide birds with a source of extra food should they need it, and they will know your garden is a source of food for when the hard times of winter arrive, meaning they will start to visit the feeders more regularly once natural food becomes scarce. If you don't put any food out during autumn and wait until winter, it could be too late. The birds won't know to associate your garden with food and, in the lean months of winter, many species cannot afford to waste precious energy exploring.
While autumn sees the last of the summer's migrants head back south to warmer climes, new arrivals come in to spend the winter away from the frozen north. Fieldfares, redwings and bramblings all head to the UK in autumn, as do numerous waterfowl and wading species such as the Whooper Swan and Purple Sandpiper to name just two.
For many of the UK's mammals, autumn is all about building up the food and fat reserves to survive the lean months of winter. One of the most common sights you'll see is Grey Squirrels scurrying around frantically as they collect nuts and seeds and cache them to be eaten in winter. Contrary to popular belief, squirrels do not actually hibernate. The only UK mammals that do so are Hedgehogs, Dormice and Bats. Like the squirrels, they build up fat reserves during the early autumn, before settling into a deep sleep until spring.
There are few more impressive autumn sights than the rut. At this time of the year, males of the UK's three largest deer species - Red, Fallow and Sika - come to blows in order to gain access to females for breeding. While the sight of two stags locking antlers in a duel is spectacular, fights are actually quite rare and only tend to occur between two very evenly-matched males. In most cases, mating rights are decided by loud bellowing and physical posturing, with Red stags even adorning their antlers with vegetation in order to appear larger. If you're tempted to observe the rut, remember that stags are pumped full of testosterone at this time of year and may act aggressively if you get too close.
For the UK's reptiles and amphibians, autumn is also a time to feed as much as possible before settling down for hibernation. All species in these families are cold blooded, meaning they simply cannot survive the cold winter months unless they hide away in warm, sheltered places, such as compost heaps, old logs and leaf piles.
In the insect world, many species die during autumn, but not before they have laid their eggs or pupae ready to hatch when the weather warms up again. However, some butterfly species do hibernate successfully, while others even migrate south to avoid the winter chill.