Wildlife we Associate with Christmas

There are a number of different animals that we associate with Christmas, whether it’s to do with the wildlife we see at this time of year, or because we know they live in a cold place, or an example like Reindeer that live in a cold place, but are also very much associate with the Christmas Story. 

The most common animals associated with Christmas include Robins, Reindeers, Polar Bears, Penguins (Emperor), and Donkeys. Some of these animals, especially the Artic and Antarctic living wildlife might be associated with Christmas purely because they live in cold, snowy places, something that a lot of people in the Northern Hemisphere associate with the Christmas holiday. I do however wonder how different people’s ideas of Christmas might be in the Southern Hemisphere, someone who has never experienced the winter in the north and has only ever had Christmas in 40°C. 

Christmas cards, wrapping paper, gift boxes etc. celebrate these animals that we associate with Christmas because it is a sales point for them, but how much do most of these companies actually care about these animals? How much do these companies, profiting off of their cute little designs, based on our wildlife of the world, some of which are particularly endangered, donate to charity to save these animals? And how many of these companies are working towards reducing plastic waste, carbon waste etc? I already have some wrapping paper from previous years that I’m still needing to use up before needing to get more, but as a lot of these papers due to the printing are unrecyclable, I’ve now bought a huge roll of brown craft paper. Boring, plain, no fun designs craft-paper; however this is much more easily recycled, it’s cheaper to get more, and I’ve seen a number of art stores supplying it without plastic wrapping on the tubes. 

A lot of wildlife charities have their own shops and may sell their own gift wrap with designs of the animals they work with. It would be better to purchase your gift wrap from these places as the profits go directly to the charities so that they can continue their efforts in conservation and keeping these animals from going extinct. 

What do you think, do you think as a moral issue that companies who are using designs of endangered, or vulnerable species and profiting from this, have an obligation to give back to the charities who are working to save these species?

Some Christmas Wildlife Facts: 

European Robin Erithacus rubecula

The European Robin is an incredibly common sight on Christmas cards and wrapping paper (at least in the UK it is). They can be seen all over the UK all year round, so you are highly likely to find robins when wondering around on a nature walk. 

The European Robin has an IUCN status of Least Concern with an increasing population trend. There are estimated to be between 130,000,000-200,999,999 mature individuals, one of the most abundant numbers of animals I’ve ever seen. Robins are everywhere in the UK, from being common in gardens to nature reserves, and I even see them in zoo enclosures on my visits there. 

The robins diet consists of worms, seeds, fruits, insects and other invertebrates. Robins are incredibly curious creatures and are one of the easiest wild birds to get up close to. I have tempted wild robins to perch on my hands before when I’ve had bird seed on me. Make sure if you are feeding these birds that you use proper bird feed so that you don’t make them sick. 

A robin is around 14cm in length from head to tail and they have a wingspan of 20-22cm. They are very small birds, only weighing between 14-21 grams. 

Reindeer Rangifer tarandus 

It would be very silly if I missed out reindeer, considering the overtly popular character that is Rudolph and his friends that help Santa bring your presents to you. 

Reindeer are however in a spot of bother, with an IUCN Red List Status of Vulnerable and a decreasing population trend. As well as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, and of course Rudolph, there are another 2,890,391 mature individuals. 

Reindeer can be found in Canada, Finland, Greenland, Mongolia, Norway, Russia and the United States. They were introduced and have now become resident in the Falkland Islands, Iceland, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. 

The reindeers preferred habitat is Forest and Grassland. 

Reindeer are also known as Caribou and they are a member of the deer family. They only tend to be called Caribou in North America, and is a term they use for wild animals, whereas they refer to them as reindeer if they are domesticated. 

Both males and females grow antlers, whereas in other deer species it is just the males that have them. Reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers compared to body size of all extant deer species, with males’ antlers reaching around 51 inches long and a female’s reaching up to 20 inches long. 

Similar to the wildebeest that migrate through the Serengeti and Masaai Mara in search of food sources, reindeer have a similar style of migration to find better sources of food when it becomes hard to find during the winter. 

Polar Bear Ursus maritimus 

Polar bears are a common feature of wrapping paper and cards at this time of year, however they are one of the most hard hit animals by the action of climate change. They currently have an IUCN Red List status of Vulnerable, however the population trend is unknown and there isn’t much information on their population numbers.

Polar bears are one of the biggest examples as to the damages climate change is causing; from their desiccated hunting due to the level of sea ice melting, reducing the areas they can reach to hunt, to the complete disappearance of sea ice in the summer during recent years. There have been images online of polar bears as skeletons with a bit of skin and fur covering them and it is one of the most upsetting sights. 

They are most commonly found in the high arctic circle, which allows them to hunt in their own unique environment. 

Polar bears are the largest bear species in the world and they are the Arctic’s top predator. Their scientific name (Ursus maritimus) translates from Latin to mean “sea bear”; a very appropriate name for an animal that spends the majority of its life in or around the ocean, and as mentioned previously, on sea ice. 

Polar bears are powerful swimmers and are able to maintain a speed of around 6mph in the water by paddling with their front paws and using their hind legs like a rudder. The polar spends about 50% of its time hunting, with successes reaching only 10-20% of their seal hunts. The main species of seals they hunt are ringed and bearded seals, due to these species having a higher fat content which is what the polar bears need to survive. 

Some weird and wonderful facts about polar bears include: 

  • They have 3 eye lids, the 3rd being used to protect their eyes from the elements
  • 4 inches of fat under their skin to keep them warm
  • Polar bears have black skin
  • The fur of polar bears is actually transparent

Penguin (Emperor) Aptenodytes forsteri

Emperor Penguin photographed at Bird World in the Cotswolds in 2015.

Emperor penguins, although just one of many species are one of the most famous species of penguin and so that’s why I’ve chosen this species for the Christmas wildlife facts list. 

Emperor Penguins have an IUCN Red List Status of Near Threatened with a decreasing population trend. There is an estimated 595,000 mature Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, however  there is so much research still needing to be done on this species. 

Emperor Penguins are only found in Antarctica in the wild; they raise their chicks on something known as “fast ice”, which is described as a floating platform of frozen ocean which is connected to land or ice shelves. They spend their entire lives around the Antarctic Ice, although there have been some rare sightings of this species showing up in New Zealand. 

Of the 18 extant penguin species, Emperor Penguins are the largest, and are one of the largest birds in the world. They are around 120cm tall, and weigh around 40kg, however their weight does fluctuate a lot throughout the year. 

The incubation of this species eggs is between 65-75 days where the male will keep the egg balanced on his feet in a warm and specially adapted brood pouch to keep the egg warm. 

Emperor Penguins are one of the most readily adapted animals to cope with freezing cold temperatures. In the Antarctic, it can drop to -50°C and have winds of up to 200km/hr. To cope with the horrendous weather, they have special adaptations including two layers of feathers and a good reserve of fat, they also have smaller beaks and flippers compared to other penguins to prevent heat loss. They also have feathers on their legs, helping to prevent extra heat loss. Their feet are even adapted to the freezing cold conditions by containing special fats that prevent them from freezing and also strong claws that help them to grip the ice. 

The most famous behaviour penguins use is the penguin huddle. This is colonies of adults and chicks, numbering 5,000 or more, tightly packing together, switching places frequently so that no penguin is on the outside of the huddle for too long. 

Emperor penguins are amazing divers, and are some of the best in the bird world. One of the deepest recorded dives of an Emperor penguin was 564m, with the longest dive reaching nearly 28 minutes. 

The penguins main diet consists of fish, mostly Antarctic silverfish, along with some other species of fish, krill and some squid. On average they eat about 2-3kg of fish a day, however there are times where they can eat double this amount to build up fat stores for the winter, or for feeding their chicks.

Donkey (New Forest)

Donkeys are associated to Christmas because of the story involving Mary and Joseph and them making their way to the Inn that was full. 

Donkeys in the New Forest are actually quite rare, although we have a small group right near where my parents live that have an affection to the village shop. There are only around 200 donkeys on the forest, compared with the 3,000 New Forest ponies. All animals on the forest are owned by the Commoners, these are people who live on the New Forest and have rights to graze their animals on the forest. 

The male donkeys (Jacks) are allowed on the forest all year round, unlike the male ponies (stallions), the only time a Jack would be removed is if it was being badly behaved, where it would then have to go back and live on its commoners property. 

Donkeys aren’t native to the UK, they were brought here by the Romans, meaning that there isn’t a particular New Forest breed of donkey like there is pony, although we call them New Forest donkeys as it mostly refers to where you find them. 

You must remember that if you visit the New Forest, it is an offence to feed the animals. So many tourists do this which creates behavioural problems with the animals, such as aggression near people, and them coming to the roads looking for food. The problem with them coming to the road is that they are darkly coloured and you really struggle to see them at night, causing many fatalities every year. 

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