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South Williamsport, PA
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Wintertime Wildlife Activity

Every year, throughout the fall months, Mother Nature takes care of all of her creatures as they prepare to weather through the upcoming winter months. It is pretty amazing the way some of these birds, animals and insects prepare for and adjust their daily routines in order to make it through the freezing temperatures that

Every year, throughout the fall months, Mother Nature takes care of all of her creatures as they prepare to weather through the upcoming winter months. It is pretty amazing the way some of these birds, animals and insects prepare for and adjust their daily routines in order to make it through the freezing temperatures that are sometimes accompanied by snow and ice. Some “hole up” for the season by hibernating, some merely hunker down and brave the weather and yet others head to warmer climates until the spring thaws and the return of more temperate days.

The first generalized group is those that remain in the area and maintain a lower level of activity through the winter months. This group includes our whitetail deer, numerous predators, turkeys and many songbirds. In the later part of fall, the deer accumulate whatever layer of fat they might need through the winter by foraging throughout the nights for field corn, soybeans, clovers and grasses as well as one of their preferred foods – the acorns. Bucks will lose some of their fat, if not a good portion of it, during the rut, as they abandon their interest in food and they pursue estrus does. After the rut, they will return to feeding as much as possible to replenish their fat layer.

When you hike through the woods and fields throughout the winter months, particularly after a fresh layer of snow, you can’t help but observe fewer deer tracks than you encounter throughout the rest of the year. So, where do they go?

Most will remain within their normal home range, and merely reduce their activity level as they attempt to conserve their energy and stretch the use of their fat reserves. Some will head deeper into the woods – into yard areas. These yards are more commonly seen in the northernmost states and the Canadian provinces, but this “yarding” activity can occur in our area as well. By moving to these areas, usually with thicker cover, deer can reduce their exposure to wind and by being in a larger group they can be more alert to predators.

Many folks are under the misconception that our native Eastern bluebirds migrate south for the winter, but instead, they merely move deeper into the woods for the season. On warm, sunny days you may see a bluebird, but generally they remain in the forests until warm spring weather brings them back into the open in search for nesting locations and whatever food might be available.

Black bears are typical of our hibernators. Yet, they are not true hibernators like bats and groundhogs. A bear’s body temperature and heart rate remain close to normal during the winter, and they spend these months in a state of deep sleep, rather than true hibernation. Bears don’t normally dig a den in the ground, but will take advantage of the cover of the root base of an overturned tree, or sometimes make their “den” under a porch or seldom-used structure and often merely lay on top of the ground, under overhanging evergreen limbs which protect them somewhat from the snow.

If you are hiking during the winter, you might come across bear tracks. More often than not, they are the result of a male bear, or boar, out in search of food. The males do not sleep as deeply as the females, particularly females that are either pregnant or have cubs with them.

And then there are the migrators. We all can recall the sight and sound of Canada geese and snow geese as they move south for the winter and as they pass through again in the springtime. Most ducks will also head south for the winter, while some will stop in the Chesapeake Bay area for the wintertime.

But the most amazing story of migration is that undertaken by the monarch butterflies. They are the only butterfly that makes a two-way migration like birds. Traveling 50 – 100 miles per day (the longest distance recorded was 265 miles in one day!), their journey of sometimes over 3,000 miles can take up to two months to where they winter in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.

These represent but a few of the varied ways that birds, animals and insects adapt their daily routine to survive and thrive through the winter months. Some of their stories can be told by observing tracks in the snow on your next winter hike.

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