Friday, March 9, 2012

Winter survival habits vary among Wisconsin's wildlife

We all know some animals hibernate while others sleep at least part of the winter away. But how do the active winter animals survive the cold temperatures? There are many ingenious habits and adaptations that animals use to cope with the cold.

Many animals grow a winter coat, which is not only thicker than their summer coat, but may also be a different color. The weasels that make their homes at Woodland Dunes turn white in winter.
Birds also grow thicker "coats" of feathers for the winter season. Studies of house sparrows show the number of feathers increases 11.5 percent from summer to winter. Even with these thick, insulating coats, active wildlife must find extra protection from the elements.

Deer are well known for their winter "yards" or gatherings. If the winter is harsh, the herd will spend the majority of the winter in one area that provides food and shelter. They are reluctant to venture very far through the deep snow.

Other animals also gather for warmth and protection. As many as 15 flying squirrels — those nocturnal gliders — have been found in hollow trees during the frigid winter months. Raccoons and skunks may also den up with several partners.

Some creatures get right into the spirit of things and use the snow to ward off low temperatures and nasty winds. Ruffed grouse are definite snow fanciers. They often spend the night snug and secure beneath the snow. Come morning, the birds explode from this bedroom, leaving a hole and wing prints in the snow to delight a curious hiker or skier.

The ruffed grouse has another interesting adaptation to cold, snowy weather. It grows "snowshoes" on its toes. The small, comblike projections help the bird walk in deep snow and are shed at the end of the season when no longer needed.

Read the rest of the htrnews article

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