Wisconsin’s wild animals, and the plants, too, have systems to deal with winter’s cold temperatures, deep snow, and blistering wind chills.
For some, it’s simple: Be a snowbird and head south to Mexico, Florida or beyond.
Hibernation is another type of avoidance, but don’t be too quick to categorize an animal as a hibernator. The animal may simply exhibit a type of torpor, or deep sleep, only to be roused at a moment’s notice when a tranquilizer stick is poked into a black bear den.
A bear’s torpor follows a drop of 5-8 degrees in body temperature, which works by reducing the animal’s metabolic demands by up to 75 percent. There is no need to look for food until spring with that type of reduction.
Unlike a Wisconsin black bear, who does not hibernate, groundhogs, chipmunks and ground squirrels come within a step of the “big sleep,” but are still alive. Body temperatures are within a few degrees above freezing, while respiration is measured in minutes between breaths.
Hibernators cannot be aroused, even by a day honoring their prognostication prowess.
Skunks, raccoon, badgers and opossum come close to mimicking the black bear, but tend to be out and about more unless the temperature is really cold.
While white-tailed deer are impacted by extreme cold and deep snow, those conditions rarely affect southern Wisconsin deer. Northern biologists still track winter severity.
Last spring’s fawns are often the first to show winter’s wrath with what is termed fluffy face or deer mumps. Because these fawns are still “short-faced” and have some growing to do this spring, facial hair standing on end tends to emphasize a puffy face.
Ruffed grouse, tolerate winter much better, feeding on buds way above the deepest snow and even roost in fluffy snow to stay cozy. However, flying into a frozen snowdrift will, and does, break their necks.
The lake sturgeon spearing season is underway on Lake Winnebago and Upriver Lakes. However, the season closed on the Upriver Lakes on Tuesday. Pre-season maxima caps determine if the Lake Winnebago season will run the full 16 days.
On opening day, spearers registered 83 fish in spite of poor water clarity.
Don’t despair if memory failed regarding Valentine’s Day. Some of Wisconsin’s finest bouquets can be presented after collecting dried stems sticking through the snow. Add a bit of red with basswood buds and red-osier dogwood twigs. Fresh evergreen pines and ferns are also available.
Most birds coming to feeders after the heavy snow falls have varied diets, but some specialty foods help bring in and keep interesting favorites. Merlins, in the falcon family, come for the birds who are already at the feeders. Mourning doves are attracted by cracked corn. Red-bellied woodpeckers prefer suet. Blue jays will even take dog food. Chickadee and dozens of others favor black-oil sunflowers, while cardinals show a preference for stripped sunflowers.
Remember, too, most birds have a feeding preference. Some sit on the ground, others on platforms and many hang from any feeder or piece of yard art.
Follow the birds and other animal prompts regarding winter warmth. Take advantage of direct sun, evergreen windbreaks and the snow’s insulating qualities while working or recreating outside. Air between layers is good insulation, as is covering boots with snow while waiting for fish to bite.