Animals in Winter | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Animals in Winter

Dec 19, 2017


We have a fox living in our neighborhood.  I haven’t seen it now for several weeks. But I assume it is still in the area, because I have occasionally seen its tracks in the snow.  

But many mammals seem to disappear during winter.  However, most are active at least during parts of the winter, but their activity is not very conspicuous to the casual observer.  Few hibernate.

Animals deal with winter in one of three ways, migrate, hibernate, or stay and endure it. Many of our summer birds, for example, head for warmer climates during winter.  Our ground squirrels hibernate.  Hibernation seems like a good way to avoid the winter cold and scarcity of food.  But to do so, they have to go on a feeding binge to store up enough fat to get them through the winter.  Plus there is the issue of finding a warm and safe place to hibernate.    

We don’t see many mice, voles, shrews, or pocket gophers, during the winter.  But they are actually quite active under the snow.  Some are even mating and rearing young during winter.  But of course we don’t see them often because their activity is largely confined to the under snow or subnivean world.  We may, however, occasionally see their tracks going across a snowy surface.  But they are more vulnerable to predators when they are on the snow.  Whatever they were doing, they better have done it quickly.    

Many of our small mammals will reduce their activity during winter months, resting during the colder period and being more active during warmer conditions.  Our squirrels (red, fox, and gray), prairie dogs, rabbits, badger, skunk, and raccoons generally take this approach.  Odds are we will not see them during the colder periods, but during the warmer times we might.  Plus we may occasionally see roadkills of these animals during the winter months, particularly skunk and raccoon.  

    And of course the beaver and muskrats are active throughout the winter, but mostly under the ice and in the safely of their lodges.  But because mink and weasels are active throughout the winter, the muskrats need to be on guard for these predators.  

The mammals we probably see most during winter are the deer, along with coyotes and fox.  But regardless of whether a mammal seems to be conspicuous or conspicuously absent, most of them are probably much like us, active throughout the winter, but not nearly as active as during the summer months, and much more prone during cold spells to hold up at home.