Remember those days in December and early January when it felt more like spring and the look at the snow and ice that has covered trees and ground cover. Snow is about 6 inches deep in my front yard while I am writing this. I write this column two weeks in advance so we could all be sunbathing by the time this is read.
Our problem is praying that the electricity stays on and road crews make driving safe. We live comfortably and have plenty to eat. Wildlife fight to stay alive when the world outside is white.
Every morning on my way to the gym I watch a big coyote searching for breakfast. Recently the animal was acting unusual, running toward my pickup and zigzagging back and forth. I slowed down to watch as the predator almost ran into the side of my pickup while chasing a rabbit.
I understand that the lowly coyote has to eat. Food equals energy that in turn equals warmth through these cold winter days and nights. Pups are likely not born yet, so this was not a mother trying to feed her family, but a hungry animal chasing food. I will have to admit hoping the rabbit would escape and the coyote would find some nice, dead roadkill.
I believe that snow is much easier on wildlife than ice. Most creatures can dig through snow and some even burrow in it for warmth. Really deep snow is a different story where only the strong survive. I guess Mother Nature meant that.
Let’s take a look at how several species survive the rough part of winter:
FISH: Fish survival depended on amounts of oxygen that filter through the ice. Snow lying for long periods on a shallow frozen pond is disastrous. Sun penetrating through the ice helps create oxygen that is badly needed for fish survival. Fish in deeper pools have a greater chance of survival.
BOBWHITE QUAIL: Bobwhite quail spent more time near shrub-type cover with bare ground underneath or cornfields when available. They will stay in coveys around their chosen habitat until April.
OTHER BIRDS: “A certain group are permanent residents here like chickadees and nuthatches,” said Brad Jacobs, ornithologist. “We will see different species migrating into this area from now on. The ducks, geese and swans may have already moved into this area and stayed while some pushed on through.”
March is considered the time for short-distance migrants who are generally seedeaters. Robins, field sparrows and other species that winter in the southern United States move north, eventually passing through our area. Long-distance migrants are mainly in the tropics. This might include warblers, fly catchers and orioles. Hummingbirds follow the same pattern.
Great horned owls, bluebirds, red tailed hawks and species that build nests inside tree cavities or boxes will likely start nesting in February. Some may be in open nests. Babies stay under their parents for warmth. But an extra layer of fat also insulates younger birds, especially birds that are eating well.
WILD TURKEYS: Wild turkeys fare well in the worst conditions by finding food while digging through snow, ices and mud with their sharp claws. Adult birds provide quite a fight against most predators with their strong wings and sharp spurs. Yet folks who walk through woodlots will occasionally find a pile of feathers that belonged to the turkey that lost a violent fight to a coyote, fox, bobcat and, in some areas, a mountain lion.
You can still see big flocks of hens and young birds feeding in open row crop fields. Toms occasionally join them. However, toms always roost in different locations than hens or young birds.
DEER AND PREDATORS: Larger animals like deer dug through ice and deep snow with their hooves to find meager tidbits. Coyotes, foxes and birds of prey were rewarded with small game that had few places to hide.
SMALL GAME: Rabbits, rodents and quail with the best cover and food sources probably made it. Many did not. They have a low survival percentage and generally a good reproduction rate.
INSECTS: Grasshoppers are hatched from eggs, bet you didn’t know that. The eggs survive winter while grasshoppers perish from the cold or various diseases. During the fall wild turkeys devour every possible grasshopper as a source of protein and food. The poor old “hoppers” are almost paralyzed on a cold morning and the turkeys chow down.
Flies may survive in warm places during cold weather, but they only have a lifespan of about two months or less. They make their triumphant return by hatching out of eggs the last generation left before dying. This is especially good news for those that like to be aggravated at picnics.
Believe it or not, spiders are cold-blooded and have a built-in antifreeze so they will not freeze to death. Many survive under big leaf piles or other cover – like barns, your attic or basement. Mothers die after laying their eggs, generally in the fall. Babies survive in their egg sacs that help keep them warm throughout the cold months so they can hatch to freak you out.
Moths, too, survive the winter in a variety of ways. Some species eggs laid in late summer or fall do not hatch until the following spring, when there is plenty of food. Many more species spend the winter as caterpillars that remain dormant until spring.
Some insects migrate. Certain butterflies and moths fly long distances. For example, Monarch butterflies spend the summer in Canada and the northern U.S. They migrate as far south as Mexico for the winter while other migrating insects, including a variety of moths, don’t fly nearly as far.
Termites and Japanese beetles move downward into the soil. Earthworms, too, move down, some as far as six feet below the ground surface.
Finally, let’s discuss everyone’s favorite bug, mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are cold-blooded and hibernate in temperatures less than 50 degrees. The adult females lay their eggs in freezing water and die. The eggs hatch in warm weather so another batch of mosquitoes can bite you throughout warm weather.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.