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Tracking animals in the winter

March 22, 2012
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Animals adapt to winter conditions to increase their chance of survival. Some examples are color shift, social changes and structural additions.

In late October, ermine change from summer brown to winter white.

Ruffed grouse develop snowshoe-like barbules on their toes in order to better walk on snow.

Chickadees and nuthatches gather in small flocks for safety and for more efficient hunting of insect larvae and eggs.

Snow fleas - tiny primitive soil insects known as springtails - come to the snow surface on warm days and jump, using their abdominal "spring."

Many creatures remain hidden, sleeping away winter or occasionally appearing when weather warms.

Blackfly larvae cling to sticks and rocks on stream bottoms all winter, then change to adults when water reaches about 56 degrees.

Coyotes hunt deer in small family groups, just like wolves, making efficient use of deeper snow that slows deer movement.

Barred owls hunt squirrels, mice and other rodents and begin courtship calls in mid-winter.

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Animal tracks

Foxes and coyotes are perfect steppers ... their front and back feet step in the same places, and both animals usually walk in a straight line with great efficiency.

Deer are also perfect steppers whose prints vary greatly depending on snow depth, age and sex of the animal.

Dogs are inefficient walkers ... They tend to wander and drag their feet, even in shallow snow.

Blue jays, ravens, crows and ruffed grouse are walkers, but they sometimes hop. Jays act as sentinels, giving alarm calls to the rest of their fellow creatures when danger is near.

Fishers and other members of the weasel family are bounders, landing with both front and back feet at about the same time.

Snowshoe hares, squirrels and most other rodents are hoppers, whose hind feet land in front of their feet when running.

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Source: "Tracks, Traces and Trails: Winter Life at the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers," publication of the the Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Centers at Paul Smiths and Newcomb and the Adirondack Park Institute. Illustrations by former VIC Environmental Educator 3 Mike Storey

 
 
 

 

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