In the winter, the temperatures plummet, the snow blankets the ground, the trees and bushes are stark and bare. People bundle up in coats, boots, gloves, and scarves if they have to leave the warmth of their homes. Hot chocolate, warm soups, and comfort foods keep them warm and nourished. This is the human winter survival plan.
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What happens to animals in winter? What is their survival plan? Some people feel sorry for the animals who have to endure the elements, but don’t worry. They have a plan.
Many animals survive the harsh winters by taking a long nap of sorts. Hibernation is a special kind of sleep where the heart rate of the animal slows to only a few beats a minute and their body temperature drops significantly. During this time, the animal uses very little energy.Some animals can hibernate for 5 to 7 months.
To prepare for hibernation, animals must increase their body fat by eating much more than usual in the weeks leading up to entering hibernation. Animals must, also, find the right spot to hibernate. This might be in a hollow tree, a den dug in the ground, or other shelter that might keep out most of the elements.
Some mammals such as chipmunks, ground hogs, skunks, bats, and bears hibernate. Snakes, turtles, and some insects such as bees, also, hibernate during the winter.
Some animals do not stick around to feel the winter winds and brave the cold. They head south where the weather is warmer and the food is plenty.
In our area, one of the first signs of fall approaching is the movement of birds. We start to see certain species of birds that are common to see in the summer months, such as Robins, start to flock together in larger groups and then eventually disappear just as the cooler weather sets in. We also see warblers and waterfowl that pass through our area in the fall on their way to warmer weather.
Birds often travel great distances to reach their winter homes, as do some butterflies and moths. Monarch butterflies spend their summers in Northern United States and Canada, but migrate as far south as Mexico in the winter.
Birds aren’t the only animals that migrate. Some mammals, like bats, caribou, and elk migrate in the winter in search of food.
One of our favorite things to do after a snowfall is to take a walk in the fresh snow and look for animal tracks. The snow offers a blank slate to collect evidence of what animals have been where.
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In our area, we might see cottontail rabbit, deer, fox, coyote, or squirrel tracks. These animals do not hibernate or migrate. They are as active as ever in the cold winter months. They simply adapt.
Most mammals, like foxes and deer, grow thicker coats of fur during the winter months and/or increase their fat storage in order to be insulated from the cold. Birds puff out their feathers to trap air within the layers for insulation.
Many animals, like mice and flying squirrels, who are more solitary during the summer colonize in the winter months to huddle together for warmth.
To maintain their body temperatures, animals must eat more than usual in the winter. Squirrels and Jays are known to hide away food in the fall to eat in the winter. Since food is scarce in the winter, this is very important. Animals like deer and rabbits do not store away their favorite foods. Instead, they change their eating habits to twigs, buds, and bark.
More Animals In Winter Resources
Want to learn more about how animals survive the winter?
Coping with the Cold: How Animals Prepare and Survive the Winter Season – Covers the topics of adaptations, migration and hibernation through a huge selection of outdoor and indoor nature study ideas!
Winter Adaptations Lesson Guide – pdf download
Animals In Winter Craft
Get a free download and instructions to make this adorable Christmas animals craft.