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Winter survival

Out in the cold

By Melanie Cochrane,

Whistler Naturalists

Recently we experienced one of the corridor's few real winter cold spells with temperatures far below freezing. Many of us were caught bundling ourselves up with a few extra layers of clothing, turning up the heat, and staying indoors a little more than usual.

We are the lucky ones. Those bitterly cold nights and harsh northern winds probably took a good number of birds and other wildlife who, without central heating and extra clothes, had to endure the elements at their coldest.

When winter comes to Canada, animals have three options. They can hibernate, they can migrate, or they can simply resist the cold. Resisting seems to me the most difficult. I find it incredibly hard to believe that deer – slender, lean, and vegetarian – choose to resist. They have minimal fat on their bodies and winter meals are scarce. No, I think if I were a deer, I would opt for one of the two other options: hibernating or migrating.

Although bears are classified as hibernators, they don't truly hibernate. Rather, they go into a state of torpor. Sleeping the winter away, they need not eat or drink, which is why it's so critical to get ample food before the cold winds begin to blow. Although asleep most of the winter, they can become roused and awoken rather easily. (This makes them rather cranky as they have to then wake up completely to get back to sleep!)

O.K. Hibernation sounds better than just resisting the cold, even if you are a snow bunny, but still, I think I'd have to opt for migration. Head south. Go somewhere warm. Come back when the weather gets a little better…

There is one big drawback to that, however. What if, like this year, we get a lot of nice, warm spring days that remind us of spring? A month ago, it felt like spring was in the air, and that's what a lot of those migrating birds were thinking too. So they come back up, thinking it's springtime...

Over the past few weeks, down in Squamish, I've seen dozens of robins checking the scene. They're back, but perhaps just a little too early. I can't help but empathize with them on those bitterly cold days and nights, knowing they’re out there in the howling winds.

More pertinent, however, is the fact that with such cold weather, food supply is exceptionally low. Robins eat mostly worms, and the ground is frozen. Perhaps they’ll all survive, maybe take an express flight out of here to somewhere a little more mild. Or maybe they’ve got a reservoir of strength from all their sun bathing done over previous months.

Winter can take its toll. If you come across a hurt, weakened, or injured wild animal, wrap it loosely in a towel (making sure it doesn’t bite or scratch), place it in a box, and keep it warm. For more information on birds of prey, call O.W.L.(Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society) at 604-946-3171). For all other wildlife call the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. at 604-526-7275.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, April 6th — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. (please note earlier time!). Contact Michael Thompson (604-932-5010) for details.

Sunday, April 7 — Pacific Northwest Native Plant Sale , UBC Botanical Garden, (6804 Southwest Marine Drive, Vancouver) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For details call 604-261-3054 or go to www.npsbc.org.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).

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