10 Neat Things about wildlife in win­ter

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents -

1. Bulk­ing up.

While many an­i­mals hi­ber­nate or hide away in dens in win­ter, oth­ers just bulk up by eat­ing them­selves silly all through fall. Deer and wild tur­keys would be two ex­am­ples. Deer will add about 30 per cent to their weight dur­ing the fall months, eat­ing acorns and other nuts and fruits. Wild tur­keys also eat acorns, but if they get too fat they can’t fly, so they don’t bulk up as much.

2. Liv­ing off their fat.

Deer can live off their fat for sev­eral months but they rely on mosses, bark and twigs in the dark­est days of win­ter, in late De­cem­ber, Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. Wild tur­keys for­age on the ground for nuts seed and grubs, but when the snow gets too deep they rely on tree buds.

3. Closed eyes and bushy tails.

Foxes are good at win­ter. They can just lie down on top of the snow, close their eyes and wrap their warm bushy tail around them­selves to keep warm. If snow falls, so be it. They are snug and warm.

4. Snow bound.

Squir­rels, rac­coons, chip­munks and some rab­bits and foxes try to find a cozy den to stay safe from the cold­est days and big snow storms. They can go for up to 10 days at a time with­out eat­ing to wait out the weather.

5. Keep­ing warm.

An­i­mals use dif­fer­ent strate­gies to keep warm. Some find shiv­er­ing use­ful to gen­er­ate heat, but it helps if you have a warm coat to be­gin with. Deer, who shed twice a year, put on a warm coat in fall. The outer hairs are hol­low to pro­vide in­su­la­tion, and the in­ner coat is a thick fur, five times denser than their outer coat (and four times denser than sheep’s wool). In sum­mer, they lose the fur, and the outer coat is made up of solid hair shafts. Birds can fluff up their feath­ers, to stay warm by trap­ping air in­side. Some frogs pro­duce a kind of an­tifreeze, which al­lows them to be­come frog-cy­cles and then re­vive in spring­time.

6. Bird strate­gies.

Be­sides fluff­ing their feath­ers, some birds will hud­dle to­gether to keep warm. Oth­ers tuck their bills un­der their wings and will stand on one leg to min­i­mize heat loss. Some grow ex­tra feath­ers in fall. Many are good at tak­ing ad­van­tage of sunny days by soak­ing up as much sun as they can, turn­ing their backs to its warmth. While the av­er­age bird body tem­per­a­ture is 105 F (40 C), some can en­ter a state of tor­por where their body tem­per­a­ture drops by as much as 50 F (10 C).

7. Din­ing in the snow.

Find­ing food can be an is­sue if you don’t har­vest and store food, as squir­rels do all sum­mer. An­i­mals such as rab­bits and mice have to for­age through the cold months. For a mouse, this is a dan­ger­ous pas­time. Foxes can hear the slight­est mouse sound a foot­ball field away. Mice travel through tun­nels in the pukak layer of snow just above ground level, but these tun­nels have vents and of­ten preda­tors will wait by an air vent and pounce when they smell or hear a meal go by.

8. Gourmet squir­rels.

Squir­rels are known for eat­ing acorns and pine nuts, but they also eat bugs and birds’ eggs (and the grey ones will eat birds). They will eat an­i­mal bones, and even soil and tree bark, when food is scarce. They will also eat and store mush­rooms for win­ter, string­ing the fun­gus out on branches to dry for stor­age. Smart squir­rels.

9. Hous­ing is­sues.

Rab­bits look for the bur­row of other an­i­mals be­cause they can­not dig for them­selves. Or they may find shel­ter un­der some shrubs or in a pile of brush. Squir­rels have lit­tle dens. Chip­munks live in bur­rows (from which they may emerge on warm days in win­ter). Wild tur­keys live in trees – to­gether – and can do a lot of dam­age to a tree. Bears, snakes, bad­gers and bats find win­ter dens. Deer look for shel­ter un­der ever­green trees or in heavy un­der­brush. Some birds will find shel­ter in a bird­house.

10. Goldfinches be­come brown­finches.

In ad­di­tion to deal­ing with the cold and find­ing food, many an­i­mals have strate­gies to pre­vent them­selves from be­com­ing food. Snow­shoe hares, ptarmi­gan, Arc­tic foxes, col­lared lem­mings, er­mine, shaggy cari­bou all turn white so that they can dis­ap­pear against the snow in the Arc­tic. Goldfinches be­come a dull green­ish-brown.

Deer get ready for win­ter by bulk­ing up for the cold days ahead.

Foxes have no prob­lem con­fronting the win­ter chill with their thick fur coat. Squir­rels can be very re­source­ful at find­ing food in win­ter. Many an­i­mals turn white in win­ter to avoid de­tec­tion.

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