Tag Archives: hibernation

Where do Wildlife Go in the Winter?

It is officially November! All around us, trees are shedding their summer skins to make way for a winter slumber. While the weather still allows us to enjoy some measure of comfort in the outdoors without the numbing chill, it is slowly beginning to make its presence more apparent through cold tinges in the air. Around this time last year, it seemed as if we skipped autumn entirely—one day it was summery and full of the sun’s blissful brightness, and the next saw the dimness of winter and a freeze seeped into our bones, knocking our teeth together as we rubbed our arms in a desperate attempt to retain heat.

Luckily, many of us have heated homes and thick jackets to bundle in once winter fully strikes. But where does various wildlife go in the winter? What happens to them as the earth snows itself to sleep for a couple of months? The answer is that it depends on the species!

Each species has developed a unique approach to winter survival that allows them to maintain their existence in the ecosystem. For instance, large species, such as the white-tailed deer, change fur colors in the winter, transforming from a beautiful copper hair into a gray-brown winter coat during wintertime.

Deer in winter

Deer in winter. [Image: http://7-themes.com/]

This adaptive ability is useful as the gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense underfur that keeps deer insulated during harsh winter conditions. During the fall months, deer also start to store body fat around their skin and internal organs, which is helpful for diet changes when they switch from high to low protein intake. Disregarding the movement patterns of these regally impressive species, deer survive in groups with fawns traveling closely alongside adults to preserve their numbers during the spring and summer months, due to the possibility of a high mortality rate if winters become too severe.

On the other hand, other species such as birds and monarch butterflies deal with winter through migration.

Wildlife Image of Migrating Birds

Birds migrating under setting sun. [Image: http://www.songbirdgarden.com/]

While some birds do migrate during winter months, many bird species generally don’t. This migration pattern is largely due to the availability of food sources during winter; if there’s a food source that’s readily available, there is no viable reason to migrate. For this reason, you may still see chickadees and blue jays during winter, but not birds such as swallows and hummingbirds, who migrate either North or South depending on the viable food source available.

Aside from the common method of migration, though, another way for animals to deal with winter is through hibernation.

Typically the term “hibernation” is assigned to deep hibernating animals like rodents, but has since expanded to include bears, other mammals, and even snakes. The act of hibernation is the state of inactivity that involves a decrease in body temperature and a slowing of breathing, heart rate, and metabolic rate to conserve as much energy as possible during the winter months when food is scarce. It is worth noting that true hibernation is only with warm-blooded animals, though. Animals such as snakes undergo what is called “brumation,” a state where the animals are awake yet exhibit typical hibernation behaviors.

Hibernating dormice

Dormice hibernating. [Image: http://joannekraft.com/]

Then there are insects, such as grasshoppers and praying mantis’s, whose lives are much shorter. These insects do not survive in winter, dying once the cold settles in. As such, they survive by leaving their eggs in the ground, which hatch as the weather becomes warmer when spring rolls around.

Praying mantis egg case

Praying mantis egg case in winter. [Image: https://rosemoon.files.wordpress.com/]

It seems like harsh lives for insects such as the praying mantis, which only survive during three seasons, but they are actually doing perfectly well. And so are the other animals. Being in the wild during winter and surviving it through the spring has shown them to be extremely resilient to weather conditions, even developing abilities to the extent of altering their own physiological components to survive.

Despite the harsh weather conditions, animals manage to work their way around it and continually impress us with their resiliency. Wildlife is indeed amazing!

But while we still have a few days or weeks of autumnal sunshine, don’t forget that you can still take some time to watch wildlife through the Pocket Ranger® mobile apps available in your state! Find us in Apple Store and Google Play. Happy wildlife watching!

Wildlife Rescue 9-1-1

Family of opossums [Image: Missouri Department of Conservation]

Image: Missouri Department of Conservation

With so many wild animals migrating, nesting, and raising new broods, you are bound to come into contact with wildlife this spring. Of course, nothing in Nature ever runs smoothly. Thanks to the efforts of Fish and Wildlife, wildlife rescues, and people like yourself, injured and orphaned wildlife can receive extra care that will see them through those rough spots.

Common Wildlife “Emergencies”

When it comes to wildlife, we like the Center for Wildlife‘s motto: Don’t rescue unless rescuing is needed. While some wildlife injuries require expert medical attention, there are other injuries or situations that either do not need human intervention or can be treated or resolved at home. Here are three common wildlife emergencies and what you can do to help.

Situation 1: You heard or saw a bird strike a window.

From raptors to tiny songbirds, when the sun strikes a window just right, a bird in flight may not see it in time or believe it’s a valid flight corridor. Some birds succumb to the injuries sustained from such a collision. Others may survive the collision, but — due to shock — become easy pickings for a predator. It’s these disoriented survivors that could use a little help! Below are six steps for rescuing just such a stunned bird:

  1. If you have seen or heard a bird careen into a window, the first thing you can do is find a box with a lid. Poke holes in the lid for ventilation and add some paper towels as bedding.
  2. Bring the box with lid outside and begin looking for your bird. Most likely, the bird will be directly under the window in a dazed state. If the bird is in this condition (dazed, on the ground, easily caught), it could use your help.
  3. Gently scoop up the bird and place in the box. Take a moment to assess the bird’s condition. Is there any blood, and if so, how much? Do the bird’s wings look broken? If there is a lot of blood or the bird appears to have broken bones, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. If the bird only appears dazed, secure the lid over the box and bring inside.
    A goldfinch in flight [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos]

    A goldfinch in flight. [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos]

  4. Find a quiet, warm, dark space inside your home, such as a closet or a kitchen cabinet. With the lid still in place, leave the box with the bird in this quiet place. The quiet darkness mimics nighttime, which puts the bird in a restorative sleeping state.
  5. After thirty minutes to an hour, check on your bird. Quietly and carefully pull up the lid on the box. If the bird seems more energetic, take the box outside, remove the lid and let the bird fly away.
  6. If the bird does not leave the box or if you can easily catch him again, place the bird back in the box, secure with lid, and return to that quiet place within your house for an hour more. When another hour is up, take the box outside again, open lid, and give the bird another chance to fly away. If the bird still shows signs of injury, contact your local wildlife rescue. The bird may be suffering from internal injuries that need to be professionally treated.

Situation 2: You’ve found a baby bird on the ground.

Finding a baby bird outside it’s nest may be disconcerting, but don’t sound the alarm just yet! A chick outside the nest doesn’t always mean that it’s in danger. First, assess the situation. Does the chick look injured? If the chick looks healthy, decide if it is a fledgling or a nestling. For most birds, the key difference between the two is that a fledgling is feathered, closely resembles an adult bird and can easily perch on a thumb or finger. A nestling is too young to perch and is often more fuzz than feathers. If you’ve come across a nestling, locate the nest and carefully place the chick inside. Unlike the old wives’ tale, the parents will return to the nest to care for the chick. If you can’t find the nest or the nest appears damaged, call your local wildlife rescue. They will have the staff and facilities for successfully raising a chick.

Grackles are a common backyard bird. On the left, is a nestling grackle; to the right, the fledgling grackle. [Image:  www.eastvalleywildlife.org & wildobs.com]

Grackles are a common backyard bird, often amassing in large, raucous flocks. On the left, is a nestling grackle; to the right, the fledgling grackle. [Images: www.eastvalleywildlife.org & wildobs.com]

While it may appear incapable of survival, a fledgling outside the nest is oftentimes perfectly okay. Even when on the ground, the parents will continue to feed a fledgling, and within a few days, the fledgling will be flying. Give the fledgling space; keep children and pets away so the parent birds will not be deterred from caring for the chick. Also keep in mind that not all bird species raise their young in trees. Some birds (such as shorebirds, pheasants and certain owls species) raise their young in scrapes on the ground.

Situation 3: You’ve found baby squirrels out of their nest and/or on the ground.

With the nice weather comes construction projects, and oftentimes this means cutting down old or nuisance trees. Trees provide valuable habitat for a variety of species, such as birds, porcupines, and squirrels. When a tree is cut down, these animal inhabitants have to re-home themselves.

Don't create orphans! Here is a mother squirrel relocates her baby to a safer spot. [Image:  wildlifecoalition.com]

Don’t create orphans! Above: a mother squirrel relocates her baby to a safer spot. [Image: wildlifecoalition.com]

Nests of baby squirrels are frequently found within these logged trees. If the nest is in a relatively safe spot on the fallen tree, resist the urge to scoop up the baby squirrels and rush them to a wildlife rescue! Instead observe the nest from a distance for about an hour. Oftentimes, the mother squirrel is busy locating and reassembling a nest in a nearby tree. Within an hour, this mother squirrel will have moved all of her babies to the new location. Only if the mother squirrel does not appear or if you can confirm that the mother has died, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. Raising baby squirrels is immensely time-consuming and should only be done by professionals to ensure that the squirrels can be released back into the wild when they are old enough.

Ways You Can Keep Wildlife Safe

  • Be prepared for wildlife rescues by storing a box with a lid, heavy work gloves and blankets in the trunk of your car and/or a closet at home. Save contact information for the nearest wildlife rescue and Fish and Wildlife office in your phone. Remember all wild animals are potentially dangerous and when injured, their first means of defense may be to attack. Keep yourself safe by adequately judging the situation first, approaching and handling injured wildlife only when absolutely necessary.
  • Keep birds from striking your windows by breaking up their external reflection. You can do this by drawing the shades or adhering stickers of hawks, crows or owls to the glass. If you have bird feeders in front of your windows, consider relocating them to a safer area.
  • Don’t throw food scraps from your car window! All this time you may have been chucking banana peels and apple cores from your car window thinking you were helping the planet when in reality you’re setting a deadly trap for wildlife. Trash brings all kinds of wildlife looking for a snack onto the roadways. Keep wildlife safe by throwing away your trash in the proper receptacles.
A wildlife rescue treats an injured screech owl. [Image:  www.yorkcenterforwildlife.org]

Volunteer your time at a local wildlife rescue! [Image: www.yorkcenterforwildlife.org]

  • Keep your cat indoors! Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year in the United States! Give birds and the small mammals in your neighborhood a fighting chance by keeping your cat indoors.
  • If not endangering your property, consider leaving construction projects until after the spring. From birds to squirrels to skunks, each spring wildlife locates quiet shelters to raise their young, and this may be the very shelter you are gearing up to renovate or demolish. Delaying your construction project a few weeks keeps you from disrupting or harming wildlife. Also, wildlife viewing opportunities abound when you temporarily provide habitat for these wildlife families.
  • Volunteer at a local wildlife rehabilitation center! Wildlife rescues often need assistance with cleaning enclosures, caring for orphaned baby mammals, and repairing on-site structures.

Looking for wildlife? Discover wildlife viewing opportunities near you with our Pocket Ranger® apps. Share your bird and wildlife sightings with fellow outdoor enthusiasts on our Bird Feed® and Pocket Ranger Trophy Case® apps!

Five Species that Hibernate

Wintertime sends a lot of us hunkering down in our homes, cuddling under blankets and soaking in the warmth until spring comes back around. Many breathe sighs of relief as the weather starts to warm up and you feel more adventurous about getting outside and being active. Although the aversion to leave your bed feels like hibernation, we’re all amateurs compared to the animal pros. The list below is just five hibernating animals out of a very long list of species that slip into an intensive sleep-like state during the cold winter months.

Bees and Wasps

Two clusters of bees keeping warm in winter.

Bees in a winter cluster. [Image: scientificbeekeeping.com/winter-colony-losses]

Honeybees and wasps are fascinating little creatures that float around and send us running from their stingers. Whether you’re afraid of them or are fascinated by them, they’re a part of the warm weather that we’ve all come to expect. With most bee species, the queen ends up being the only survivor from winter and emerges in the spring to recreate a colony. However, honeybees are active throughout the winter despite a lack of flowers. Once the temperature hits around 57°F, honeybees live exclusively within their hives in a winter cluster. Drones are forced from the hive and worker bees form this cluster around the queen where they feed off stored honey for energy and shiver by vibrating their flight muscles to keep warm. As the temperature rises and falls, the tightness of the group changes. When bees on the outer layer of the cluster get cold, they push their way into the middle and switch spots. Bees have been to known to consume up to 30 pounds of honey in just one season and the middle of the cluster can reach into the low 90s! Once it gets warmer, bees will move around the hive to nearby honey reserves and will even leave the hive to get rid of body waste.

Bears

A black bear hibernate in a den.

A black bear hibernating in its den. [Image: www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/hibernation.html]

When most people think of hibernation, they automatically think of bears even though there has been a significant amount of disagreement on whether they technically hibernate or not. The type of hibernation that bears go into (called a torpor) is rather light comparatively and they can be easy awoken, so make sure you tiptoe past those bear dens! During their torpor, bears are able to go over 100 days without eating, drinking, or passing waste with no negative effects. Their bodies can restore muscle and organ tissue due to the urea from their urine that builds new proteins during tissue breakdown. Female bears are also able to give birth to and nurse their cubs during torpor.

Ground Squirrels

Two squirrels curled up together and sleeping.

Squirrels hibernating. [Image: neuroblog.stanford.edu]

Ground squirrels spend most of the year underground hibernating in cozy little dens where there are different rooms for food storage, sleep, and eliminating waste. Even while they aren’t hibernating, they enter a torpor sleep a few days at a time anyway. While they hibernate, the ground squirrel’s body basically goes into a freeze where their blood goes lower than below freezing and their heartbeats slow down. Their blood remains liquidized throughout this process due to supercooling. Hibernating ground squirrels bring their body temperatures to the lowest points ever recorded in a mammal!

Bats

A bunch of bats hibernating in a dark cave.

Bats hibernating in a cave. [Image: www.livescience.com/11705-theory-mammals-fungus-explains-bat-plague.html]

Bats have an interesting hibernation technique where they almost appear to be dead. Their heart rates drop from 400 beats per minute to 25 or even 10 beats per minute (depending on the species), and their metabolism and breathing slows down as well. Some bats only take one breath per hour during hibernation periods! Bats can rewarm their bodies even as its temperature approaches freezing. Hibernation is just one of the feats that bats do that has many people impressed by them.

Common Poorwills

A common poorwill (bird) sleeping on some sticks.

A common poorwill hibernating. [Image: www.nhm.org/nature/taxonomy/term/198]

Common poorwills are especially interesting because they’re the only bird species that goes into an extended torpor-like hibernation. These birds slow their metabolic and heart rates when the weather is very cold, very hot, or there is a food shortage. They can even hibernate while incubating eggs if needed.

As the weather gets warmer and we feel more inclined to stretch our legs, we’ll inevitably start seeing more of these sleepy critters doing the same. Use our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a park near you and enjoy the onset of spring with some of the local wildlife.

First Signs of Spring

The first signs of spring are all around us. Bees flocking to flowers, butterflies shedding their old skin, and birds singing in the morning. Spring blossoms gradually, but before we know it we’re in the middle of a flower field, so slow down, and take notice. Invite the family and the kids on a nature hunt to see who can spot the first signs of spring.

http://cdn.adirondackexplorer.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Summer-wildflowers.jpg

Image: cdn.adirondackexplorer.org

What Springs means

Spring is the season when plant species grow, animal activity increases, and most important, the soil reaches the right temperature for micro flora to flourish.

Spring is known as the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The first day of spring is March 20, 2015 and continues through April and May with some areas starting later in the year. In the Southern Hemisphere during March the equinox is fall. On this day all over the world, day and night are approximately equal, meaning the dividing line between day and night becomes vertical, connecting the North and South Poles. The sun rises exactly in the east and sets in the west. When spring arrives you’ll notice earlier sunrises and later sunsets, so that means more time spent outdoors! See below a year in 12 seconds.

Spring is in the air!

Image: http://beauty-places.com

Image: http://beauty-places.com

Apart from the noticeably sunnier days, there’s a freshness of spring: petrichor (earthy smell) emanates from grassy knolls. All around, nature is humming with life.

With spring comes the heavy rains, and this is no coincidence, as water is needed to carry necessary nutrients from the soil through plants. Essential minerals and chemicals are dissolved with water and transported. Rain is important for the survival of humans and animals since they feed on many of those plants.

Notice the trees; they’re beginning to show life. Water maples and red maples are first to show signs of budding. In a few weeks dead branches will start growing buds at the end of their twigs, and soon burst into leaves. Early blooming trees include redbuds, magnolias, Norway maples, and rhododendrons. The tree blossoms are pollinated by insects and the wind. The earlier plants bloom, the quicker they’ll get pollinated.

Brave flowers

Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com

Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com

Some plants flower immediately after snow melting or soil thawing. For example, the Glory-of-the-Snow, an alpine plant, gets ready in the previous season so it can show off its flowers as soon as snow starts melting. Forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight before the bigger trees shade them by pushing shoots above the ground during spring. Some early wildflower bloomers include: Cutleaf Toothwort, Red Puccoon, Virginia Bluebells, Trout Lily, and more!

The growth of plants provides a place for butterflies, bees and other small animals to find shelter and food. Larger plants and trees also provide a place to hide from predators and a place for nesting. It’s almost as it if nature wakes up from its long slumber to take care of its offsprings.

Animals come out to play

Writing while butterfly stays near the paper.

Spring is a time when animals come out from their hidden nooks to mate and migrate. How do animals know its spring? Environmental cues tell them to change their behavior to fit the particular season. Adjusting their habits helps them survive. It’s a matter of life and death, knowing when to have offspring for example. One environmental cue birds use is the length of day to adjust their daily activities.

On the first warm days of March, be on the look out for butterflies leaving their chrysalis after having fully grown to start trying out their young wings. Depending on the region, some of the first to appear are Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, Cabbage Whites, and Spring Azures. Also, worker bees will be making the rounds seeking nectar and pollen from spring flowers. Bees are responsible for pollinating trees, shrubs and flowers. Without them we wouldn’t be able eat fruits produced from plants and trees, since they’re the main pollinators.

After surviving winter, songbirds come out to play, especially in the morning. Spring marks the beginning of mating, feeding, and nesting season when food availability increases, snow melts and the rain brings an abundance of water. This is a great time for them to migrate back to the winter homes they left. Blackbirds, sparrows, mourning doves are often the first to make an appearance. If you’re in an area with abundant trees, you may hear woodpeckers drumming. As for ducks, mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks are usually the first to be seen. Late and early spring are both great times for raptor-watching. Owls make their early spring appearance with a chorus of hooting, as a way to get ready for the breeding cycle.

Image: http://www.collegegreenmag.com

Image: www.collegegreenmag.com

Some animals like bears, hedgehogs, woodchucks, bats and ground squirrels hibernate through winter, and finally come out for spring. By doing this they’re able to save energy, and live off stored fat. During winter they slowed down their activities, going out only a few times. In the chipmunk’s case, its heart rate declines about 350 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute during hibernation. Once spring begins, these animals get moving by searching for food, marking their territory, and finding mates.

Explore the first signs of spring, document them through photos and share them with our social media sites (instagram and twitter). And be sure to check out the wildlife viewing option in all of our Pocket Ranger® Mobile Apps!