Week of February 19, 2023 – February 25, 2023
by Anna Stunkel, Environmental Educator
This past weekend, I visited the Morgan Road marshlands at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge around sunset. As I watched flocks of Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans, and ducks flying to their roosts on whooshing wings, the mild daytime temperatures began to drop. Beavers and Muskrats were swimming busily around me, and I thought about how chilly the water must be in their marshy home.
Although this past week has been unusually warm, we may be in for some more wintry weather soon. I have spent many winter adventures marveling at animals’ survival skills. What would it be like to be a duck swimming on the icy waters of Onondaga Lake, or a Bald Eagle plunging into the water to grab a fish? What about a Snowy or Short-eared Owl gliding over winter fields, listening for the almost imperceptible sounds of voles in their tunnels? Can you imagine how hard a fox has to work to find rodents scurrying in the snow? Here at Baltimore Woods, you might even notice tiny spiders and stoneflies crawling over the snow.
While we humans have things like electricity and winter clothes to help us brave the cold and dark, wild animals can’t curl up with a cup of coffee or hot cocoa and a good book inside after a long day of winter adventuring. Instead, they have incredible adaptations that help them to stay alive all day and all night in the elements. Birds have a countercurrent heat exchange system in their legs, allowing just enough heat to reach their extremities so that their legs and feet don’t freeze. Small birds huddle together or even go into torpor to stay warm at night. Birds of prey have incredible eyesight and hearing that allows them to catch their prey. Some raptors can spot prey from a mile away, Great Horned Owls can hear sounds that are 10 miles away, and Red Foxes can hear rodents tunneling miles underground!
Next time you go for a winter walk, notice the animals around you. What strategies do you think they use to stay warm and safe throughout winter’s chill?