Winter Weather approaches, bringing with it the harsh bite of the wind and blankets of frost. Just as we tuck into coats and gloves and huddle around the warmth of a fire, animals have responses of their own to the seasonal shifts.
Some animals go into a deep sleep. Whether it be true hibernators such as some species of bats, whose heartbeat drops from about 400 beats per minute to 25, or those that wake occasionally to eat or relieve themselves such as chipmunks, this helps them conserve energy and hold out until food and water sources are more plentiful. Other animals—like monarchs and many species of birds—migrate and travel south to winter in warmer regions. And then there are animals who have adaptations that allow them to remain out and about. Some even change their appearance! You may notice this with our Artic Foxes here at the Zoo. During the summer months, their fur is gray and brown, but in winter they are almost completely white—an effective camouflage for the freshly fallen snow.
Animals clearly have many ways of protecting themselves from freezing temperatures and resource scarcity. Even still, there are ways that humans can help and be good neighbors to local wildlife.
- Make a birdfeeder: While a lot of birds migrate, there are many who stay and stick out the season and food options can be few and far between. As part of our Build a Better Home for Wildlife efforts, the Zoo has some great tips on how to make different birdfeeders. Find out which one suits your space here.
- Plant in preparation: While bird feeders can be very helpful, leaving out food for other animals is not advisable. What you can do, though, if you have space for it, is consciously plant vegetation that produces berries, nuts, or seeds. Sumac, winterberry, and viburnums are just some options which can provide a food source for birds and mammals even in colder weather.
- Provide shelter: Rather than clearing out your yard, let the fallen leaves and plant remnants of the warmer season remain. This can be helpful to insects and other animals seeking a place to hide. You can also take an extra step and build a shelter for various animal friends. Craft a bat box, bird house, or toad abode to offer animals a safe space.
- Set Out Fresh water: Sources of water can be another difficult thing to come by during freezing temperatures. Setting out warm water and checking and replenishing it day by day could be a huge help.
- Turn the Lights Out: Not only does turning out the lights help conserve energy, it can also be incredibly helpful to migrating birds. Especially at night, artificial light can interfere with the patterns of light from the moon, stars, and setting sun that help them navigate. The Zoo partners with Lights Out Cincinnati which offers some awesome resources on ways to help and why it’s important.
Both plants and animals are incredibly resilient and have adaptations that help them survive the seasons. However, natural spaces are decreasing, so it’s important that we help protect wildlife and restore habitats when possible. To learn more about the Zoo’s Build a Better Home for Wildlife efforts and discover what you can do to help, visit our website.