Wildlife and Winter

by Jen Howard

Read Time: Approx. 3 minutes

We hope everyone had a lovely Christmas holiday and good start to the New Year.

Winter certainly has been different this year. Here one day, gone the next. This is great for us, for driving around and our holiday visits, but is it? Unseasonably warm weather is not good for our wildlife friends, or our environment. Viruses linger in this mild weather where cold is needed to kill them off. Climate change is affecting us all over the world, and it’s not good. Late December, our local skunk could still be seen on my trail camera, out scrounging around in the yard, under the leaves that I purposely left. 

Procyon admitted a very young raccoon in mid-December as well. It’s just been so different. Our wildlife is so confused.  Mother Nature is confused. Certain species of wildlife change to white during winter, to protect them from predators. Hares, ermines* and arctic foxes are examples. Without snow these animals stick out like a sore thumb, so to speak. Hard to hide or blend in when you are white and everything else is green, so natural shelter is very important. 

Remember feeding is not a good thing as you may put them in harm’s way. Wildlife who gets used to being fed become trusting of all humans, putting them at risk or even putting their lives in jeopardy.  Keeping the area under bird feeders clean is very important to keep mice away. Mice attract bigger animals and predators, putting small animals at risk of being eaten. They are wild, they know how to survive. This also is a haven for spreading disease. Even in winter our wildlife has lots of food to eat. Deer’s winter diet consists of the woody portions of leaves, stems, acorns, and grasses which is certainly available so far, and of course apples. Leftovers in farmers’ fields attract all wildlife. Foxes can live on stored fat they accumulated during the fall. But they also eat rodents all year.

Some animals go into hibernation which is sleeping until spring. Some, like bears, enter what they call torpor, where their body slows right down, but technically they are aware. You may see your chipmunks, and even raccoons replenishing their winter store of food on a mild winter day.

One may think a winter like we are having so far is good. But in fact it’s not. Our trees, and flowers also, can be confused into going into bloom. Our wildlife have been having late babies. Our lakes won’t freeze over safely, if at all. And Mother Earth won’t get the moisture she needs. Distemper in raccoons is already thriving.

So, bring on the snow and cold temperatures, bring on winter. We need you. Get out and build a snowman with carrots, nuts and berries. See the magic a cold winter’s day can bring. Get out for a walk, but keep those dogs on leash for the safety of all. And enjoy what you may see. Life is good!

Jen Howard

* Note from the Editor: To learn more about ermines, read Procyon Wildlife Volunteer Annette Bays’ article called Visit with an Ermine

Wildlife and Winter
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