Living Things - Vertebrates

Bats - Pipistrelle Bats

Shelter and safety: Bats are fascinating animals. They are small mammals that can fly, with a mouse-like body covered in brown fur and large wings. The wings resemble a hand with a skin-like membrane stretched between the long fingers. They have a hook-like thumb on the edge of the wing, which helps them grip on to surfaces when they are roosting. Pipistrelle bats are Britain's smallest and most common bat. They are only 3 cm long with a wingspan of 22 cm. Bats live in colonies of between 25 and several hundred bats. They like to roost during the day in buildings or trees where they can squeeze into very small spaces of less than 2 cm. They hibernate in winter as there is very little food available, although they will wake up briefly to feed during warmer spells of weather.

Food and water: Bats are most often seen flying at dusk or at night, darting about catching insects, which they eat in flight. They leave their roost about half an hour before sunset. They have jerky, erratic flight, often flickering their wings. In old times people used to call them a flittermouse. They feed on flying insects and can eat 3000 in one night! They like mosquitoes, midges, moths and caddis flies and often find them over water such as streams and ponds. In the dark they find the insects by using ‘echo-location'. They make a frequent, very high pitched sound. When the sound hits an insect it bounces off and the bat hears the echo and can pinpoint exactly where the insect is. Bats are so good at this that even if there is an insect above your head, the bat can catch the insect without getting caught in your hair (occasionally they do make mistakes but it is VERY rare!) They also like to feed on insects in open woodland, along hedgerows and in gardens.

Growth and reproduction: Bats tend to have only one baby at a time in June or July. Female bats join together and form maternity colonies where their single young is born. They like to roost in small spaces on the outside of buildings such as behind tiles or boards. Sometimes they have more than one roost and move around within a small area.

The babies are fed only on their mother's milk. Mothers need to feed themselves during the night so they leave their babies in a bat crèche. By the time the young are six weeks old they can catch insects for themselves. Bats can live up to 16 years.

Bats are declining in number, probably because there are less roost sites and food available. Bats and their roosts are protected by law.

More information: Fishbourne meadows and pond is a very important site for bats as six different species of bat can be found there. Pipistrelle bats can be seen flying over the pond and along the hedgerows at dusk. In recent years it was discovered that there were in fact two kinds of pipistrelles They each make different echo location sounds. Noctule bats are one of the largest British species and are usually the first bat to appear in the evening and often fly very high near the top of trees. Natterer's bats tend to fly slowly among the trees. Daubenton's bats are medium sized and fly very close to the surface of the water to catch insects. Whiskered bats are small bats with shaggy fur and short stubbly hairs around their eyes and nose which look like whiskers. Brown long-eared bats are medium sized and have ears that are nearly as long as their bodies although they may not be obvious as they can tuck them away.

In the last few years the Conservancy has led bat-listening walks and on these has regularly recorded seeing Noctule, Pipistrelle and Daubenton bats. To locate the bats, special listening boxes called bat detectors are used. These transfer the high pitch sounds from the bats echo-location systems down to a level which can be heard by the human ear. The different kinds of bats give different patterns of sound and pitch and this is used to identify the species.

Black Headed Gull

These birds can be seen all year and up to 14,000 are in the harbour in the winter. It has a black head only in the summer, in the winter; it has a white head with a black eye spot. Sometimes these nest in the Harbour.

Common Seal

Shelter and safety: There are about 14 common or harbour seals living in the harbour. They are mottled grey and brown in colour and the males are about 1.7m long, the females are smaller. They swim by moving their back flippers from side to side. They have whiskers that they use to feel their way around the seabed if the water is cloudy. They like to bask on sand or mud banks near the high water line when the tide is out, where they can easily be mistaken for rocks! They keep a look out for danger and if they feel threatened they will take to the water.

Food and water: At high tide they hunt for fish in the water. They dive to the seabed to find flat fish such as flounders and other bottom dwelling fish. In between dives they can sometimes be seen bobbing in the water with just their heads showing. They are becoming less shy of people and they have even been seen in the marina where they have been known to bask on the deck of a boat!

Growth and reproduction: Seals mate at sea in the autumn. One pup is born in June or July on an exposed rock or sandbank. The pup can swim almost immediately and can suckle milk from its mother on land or in the water.


Large black bird often seen swimming and diving for fish. Sometimes you will see it perched on posts with its wings ‘spread to dry’.


The largest wader with very long legs, a down-curved beak and brown slightly mottled plumage. Most are in the Harbour between July and March.

Grey Heron

Nests in trees at Fishbourne and South Hayling, though can be seen anywhere in the Harbour. Large, grey bird with plumed head. Often seen at the edge of the water catching fish and eels.


Dark, iridescent plumage, pale underneath, with a crest on the head. These birds are mainly seen in the winter. Their call sounds like ‘peewit’.

Little Egret

Large, plain white bird with yellow feet. Can be seen all year, though few in May and June.

Little Egret

Little Egret 


These birds nest on the beach by scraping out a hollow in the shingle. A black and white bird with red legs and beak. It feeds on shellfish and worms.


A medium-sized brown bird with long red legs and beak. It is very noisy and nervous and can often be seen on the mud


A large multi-coloured duck. Up to 80 pairs nest in rabbit holes or deep undergrowth near the Harbour. The young hatch in June and July and are taken to the harbour when a day old to feed and swim.

Water voles

Shelter and safety: Water voles are very rare mammals about the size of a small guinea pig. They have dark brown fur, a blunt nose, small ears and a furry tail. They have a dense undercoat of short fur and long outer hair, which keep them warm and dry when they are swimming in the water. They nest in a system of burrows in the banks of a stream where they hide away from herons, owls and pike which would like to eat them.

Food: They eat waterside plants such as grasses, sedges and willow shoots on the banks of clean, relatively undisturbed streams and ditches. They are active by day but are difficult to spot, but you may see their quite large, rectangular burrows in the banks of the streams.

Growth and reproduction: Although they are very rare, there are many colonies around the harbour and the Conservancy and other people are working hard to protect them so they do not become extinct. They can rear 4 or 5 litters of young a year between March and October in an underground nest made of woven plant material.


Water Vole (photo Graham Canny)

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Pipistrelle Bat (photo Dave Fincham)

Black-headed Gulls (photo Jerki Salmi)

Common Seal

Cormorant (photo by Sean Ahern)

Curlew (photo by George Spraggs)

Grey Heron

Lapwing (photo by Rupert Pye)

Oystercatchers (photo by George Spraggs)

Redshank (photo John Arnott)

Shelduck (photo RSPB)