Winter Creature Feature

Humans aren’t alone in adopting new routines during the winter months; the natural world falls into its own seasonal rhythm during this time of year. In this Creature Feature, we’ll explore the unique ways that three native species adapt to the cold.

Shirley Heinze Land Trust nature preserves exist in a variety of habitats that support a broad spectrum of wildlife. From the wetlands at Lydick Bog, to to the moraine forest of Meadowbrook, these habitats provide the crucial food and shelter that animals need to thrive.

As the cooler months set in, we often bundle up in extra layers for warmth and comfort, a strategy mirrored in the natural world by creatures such as the Eastern Gray Squirrel. To combat the cold, these squirrels not only grow thicker fur but also rely on accumulated fat reserves, stored food supplies, and well-constructed nests. To maximize energy efficiency, their activity peaks in the morning and evening hours of the day. This allows them to conserve energy and stay warm throughout the winter.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar, instantly recognizable by its distinct appearance, is a familiar sight in late fall, often found hastily traversing roads and sidewalks. Unlike many other species that migrate or undergo transformation before winter, the woolly bear remains in its larval state, preparing for the colder months in a unique manner. This organism seeks shelter under leaves, in bark, or nestled in rock cavities to hibernate. Remarkably, it enters a state akin to being frozen, a survival mechanism made possible by producing glycerol, which protects its inner cells from freezing. This adaptation allows the woolly bear to endure the winter months unscathed. With the arrival of spring, it emerges from its hibernation, ready to spin a cocoon and transform into the beautiful Isabella Tiger Moth.

The Northern Cardinal, easily identified by the male’s vivid red feathers that stand out against the white winter snow, serves as an iconic symbol of the season. These birds not only sustain themselves through the winter by consuming a varied diet of berries, nuts, and seeds, allowing them to remain in their habitats year-round, but also employ unique strategies to combat the cold. Cardinals will often fluff out their feathers to create an insulating layer that traps heat, similar to a person wearing a puffer jacket. Additionally, during the chillier months, cardinals may set aside territorial tendencies and form groups for increased warmth and protection. This communal behavior, coupled with seeking refuge in thick vegetation, provides them with natural shelter and a means to stay warm and protected throughout the winter.

Interested in learning more about native birds?

Join South Bend-Elkhart Audubon and Shirley Heinze Land Trust for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count at Lydick Bog on February 17!

Click here for more information and to RSVP.