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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter weather harsh on wildlife

When the snow piles up outside and the temperatures plummet during a nasty winter, humans can adapt and dress properly. If all else fails we stay inside and throw another log on the fire. One of the questions or concerns that many people have is how will all the snow and cold affect the wildlife.
Many birds migrate south for the winter. Birds like chickadees, goldfinches, tufted titmice and others that feed on seeds will congregate in areas that offer shelter and food nearby, including our backyard feeders.
Probably most visible, and perhaps most affected by deep snow, are deer. Many have commented that they have not seen many deer in the past few weeks as the snow piled up. When the snow reaches a depth of about 15 inches deer have difficulty travelling and they move to find their deer yards. These are areas of conifer trees, such as white cedar, that provide food and shelter.
Typically a deer’s winter food supply is white cedar, hemlock or maple buds and stems. Deer will have paths through the snow where they feed on the browse in relatively sheltered conditions. When the snow gets deep it restricts their movement and consequently the food intake. Deer need about five to seven pounds of food per day. Cold weather puts further demands on their metabolism to use their body fat to survive.
The deep snow will limit the deer’s mobility and ability to get to food when they need it the most. The key is whether the snow settles and packs and forms a crust that allows them to move around. If not, they are likely to be in trouble.
Another key will be whether or not there is much additional snow, especially as we get into March. Deep snow in late spring will usually mean widespread starvation since their body’s fat reserves have been depleted.
Some animals hibernate or go into a deep sleep for much of the winter. Raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and others will also sleep away much of the winter although a prolonged thaw or warm period may awaken them. Squirrels also sleep during the most extreme periods of cold weather although they will be actively seeking seeds or nuts during much of the winter.
In areas of deep snow, the turkeys will have trouble moving about to feed on the buds of shrubs or low branches that is their main winter food supply. If the snow settles and packs, the turkeys will usually be alright. But when there are prolonged periods of deep fluffy snow, the big birds could be in trouble.
Other birds and mammals have developed adaptations that help them to survive in harsh winter conditions. Grouse have feathered feet that act as snowshoes that help them walk on snow. In most cases they feed on the buds of aspen trees and seek protection from the elements and predators in the cover of nearby evergreens. In extremely cold weather grouse will dive into soft snow and remain buried there overnight in their own little snow cave.
Some animals such as the short-tailed weasel or snowshoe hare change their winter coat to white. This change in fur is caused by decreasing amounts of sunlight reaching their eye and has nothing to do with snow cover. But it does help them blend in with their surroundings and it is warmer than their normal fur.
As the snow settles, the predators like foxes can travel about on top of the snow since they don’t weigh very much. If you are checking tracks that resemble the pattern of a fox, you will not see any distinctive pad marks. That is because the bottom of their feet is mostly covered with fur for warmth and any tracks, no matter how fresh, will appear fuzzy.
Coyotes are larger predators that have longer legs to travel deep snow and their relatively large paws keep them from sinking into the snow too deeply once it has settled or become packed by the wind. Since much of their smaller prey like mice is hidden deep beneath the snow and rabbits aren’t traveling far from cover, coyotes may concentrate even more on deer for food. Deer trapped in the deep snow will have trouble escaping from a pair or pack of coyotes.
Deep beneath the snow the various mice, voles and other tiny critters will be living in their network of tunnels relatively free from predators like foxes, hawks or owls. If you follow the tracks of a fox or coyote you may see where they pounced into the snow prompted by the sound of rodents scurrying underneath. Deep snow hinders their ability to catch mice and other rodents.
Throughout the winter the life and death struggle of wildlife continues. It is always a tough time and many will not make it. But in nature not everything has a happy ending and when there is higher than normal snowfall and severe wind chills, more creatures than usual will suffer. But most of the wildlife have evolved adaptations that allow them to survive even a harsh winter.
Safe Hunting in 2014: Last year was the second safest year for hunting since records were kept following the introduction of Hunter Safety Education in the 1960s. Incidents per 100,000 hunters have fallen by 75 percent since the 1960s. The average for the past five years is down to 4.3 incidents per 100,000 compared to 19 incidents in the 1960s.
There were 22 total incidents in 2014, including one fatality while hunting small game. Of that total, eight were self inflicted, 11 were involved with the same hunting party and only three where the victim and the shooter did not know each other. There were none in the spring turkey season. This is a testament to the hard work and skill of the 2,500 volunteer Sportsman Education instructors who put in many hours conducting classes in safe and ethical hunting.
Deer Season Law Enforcement: Region 6 which encompasses St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Herkimer Counties reported 353 related law enforcement actions involving 228 individuals during the 2014 deer season. While this may seem like a lot, consider that of the thousands of hunters afield in this region it is really a very small percentage. There were 172 misdemeanors and 181 violations for lesser charges.
There were 60 incidents of illegally taking big game, 71 of having a loaded gun in the car or shooting from a vehicle and five hunting with bait. Tagging, reporting and licensing violations totaled 103. There were 38 cases of trespass and four of taking a deer with an artificial light. Other incidents involved carrying a light with a bow or gun in the vehicle, feeding deer or bear within 300 feet of the road or carrying a bow or rifle during muzzleloader season.
Oneida County Mentor Program Women’s & Youth Hunts: The Oneida County Sportsmen’s Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation and other groups are joining together to give women a great experience during the regular turkey season. Women who sign up will have the opportunity for turkey hunting with a mentor on May 9.
Some women may want to learn or participate in turkey hunting but do not have family members or others who are experienced turkey hunters to learn from. During the weekend of April 11 prior to the hunt, women will learn from experienced mentors the basics of turkey hunting and practice their marksmanship at a shooting range under the supervision of certified instructors.
Women who are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity will need to have completed their hunter safety course by that date. They must complete an application and submit it to address below by April 1 or by e-mail to
Contact: Women’s Turkey Hunt, C/O Mr. Scott Faulkner, 3720 Wells Gifford Rd, Vernon Center, NY 13477. Phone 315-829-3588.
The Annual Youth Hunt will take place on April 25 and 26. Ages 12 – 15 with parental permission are eligible. The learning day and contact person are the same. More details available next week.


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