Winter Wildlife Adaptions


People take efforts to adapt and live thru the winter,  so do animals.

The winter season presents a series of challenges for wildlife, such as food shortages, colder temperatures and large snowfalls. Fortunately, native wildlife has developed unique physiological and behavioral traits to help them survive and thrive in New York’s cold winter climate. A prime example is the unique shape of mammalian hair follicles, which are hollow and trap air, creating an insulating barrier to keep animals warm when temperatures drop. Beyond having a thermal coat, white-tailed deer will seek dense conifer stands or sheltered suburban environments during times of severe low temperatures and deep snow. This behavior is known  as yarding. During elongated cold spells, large groups of deer may congregate together in these deer yards, so don’t be surprised when you see large herds of deer in your neighborhood as weather intensifies.

Black bears also have a very unique winter trait. It’s well-known that bears hibernate in the winter, which involves putting on additional weight during autumn and then finding a den where the bear will sleep through winter, surviving on the additional fat stores from the fall. Black bears do not truly hibernate but instead experience what is called torpor. During the torpor, the bear will experience periods of slowed heart rates and inactivity but if there is an unusual warm spell or a mild winter, the bear may become more active and leave the den to forage for more food. In the case of female bears, known as sows, they will also give birth to cubs during their winter torpor. The sows provide food and shelter for the cubs during winter, so that they are strong and healthy by the time spring arrives.

Large mammals aren’t the only critters that have unique traits. Many species of rodents (ex. squirrels, chipmunks) will store food in what is known as a cache during the fall, and then utilize those caches throughout the winter. In the case of hare and ermine (a type of small weasel), their fur changes colors in the winter from a light brown to a stark white which helps them blend in with the surrounding snow and hide from predators. Lastly, beavers will remain active throughout winter and will not only cache food like fellow rodents; they will maintain open patches of water in the surrounding areas of their den to allow periodic passage in and out. While Northeastern winters can get frigid and the snow can pile up, rest assured that our native wildlife have developed ways to not only survive winter, but to thrive in it.

Photo and article by Fred Couse found in NYS Conservationist

Trees play a vital role in the environment.  They are the major producers of oxegon  for the world as well play a major role to prevent erosion especially around streams and flood lands.  Their leafy canopy slows down the fall of rain and the raindrops filter the air as they drop.

The importance of trees supplying food and housing to a wide variety of animals is huge.  To start  certain native trees provide native bees with the important food source of blossoms which the bees visit

to pollenate the blossoms as well collect necture. Trees that supply these blossoms are : oak, maples, and willows in the spring , and later service berry, black cherry, eastern redbud, dogwood, Amercan linden, sourwood, and black locus.  Another way trees provide food to other forest life is being a source of leaves and bark that house caterpillars and bark insects that many bird populations feed.  A baby chickadee needs between 6000 to 9000 caterpillars to grow big enough to leave the nest. And eats even more upon leaving the nest.  Willow, cherry, plum, birch, popular, crab apple, elm, pine, hickory nd sime maples all are major suppliers as food sources for caterpillars.  But the major supplier of insects for birds is the oak which feeds over 500 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars. 

What is amazing is how important fallen and dead trees are for the environment. Fallen logs can provide homes to native bees, beetles, tree frogs, and salamanders.  Small mammals will hibernate in the decaying wood.  Owls and squirrels will house them selves in the dead hollowed standing as well.

Eventually that log will decay into compost and nutrients the original tree captured in the air as a live tree as well as nutrients originally in the soil will be available for the next growth of trees. 

And the circle of life continues….

Reference; Jan Beglinger, Batavia Daily News


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