Winter Blast Forces Wildlife to Adapt

The rough stretch of winter weather humans in the northeast have endured over the past 10 days is affecting Vermont wildlife, too, with some species having to adapt to the changes significant snowfall has brought to their habitat. 

“There are going to be winners and losers,” observed Tom Rogers, a biologist who works for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. 

Deer are among the animals having a tougher time these days, he said. The deeper the snow gets, the harder is for them to move around and find food, especially as accumulations or drifts reach the height of their bellies. 

“For the most part, they just kind of wait it out and lose some weight,” Rogers explained, adding that deer are likely to hang around evergreen trees where snow depths won’t be as significant, and eat some woody boughs. 

However, the conditions have not gotten in the way of some species. 

Bald eagles, for example, have been able to hunt in open water on lakes and rivers, Rogers noted. 

This week, as necn’s Vermont news crew shot video along the Winooski River, a mink emerged from the water in front of the camera having caught a fish. 

And snow is actually a benefit to other animals. 

The snowshoe hare has a pure white coat that acts in the snow as camouflage, protecting it against predators.

The snow also can function as insulation for black bears, who are now fast asleep in their dens.

“Any time there’s enough of a snow pack to close in their den or mostly close it in, to keep the cold winds and cold temperatures from coming in, bears do great,” Rogers said.

Bridget Butler, a wildlife educator known in Vermont as the “Bird Diva,” told necn that owls can have it rough too. With fields covered, they can’t as easily spot mice or voles, she noted.

However, Butler explained the hunters have excellent hearing, so can often hear those critters tunneling under the snow even if they can’t see them.

“They are powerful birds of prey, so they can bust through the snow to get at the animals that are underneath,” Butler said. “However, if we get a lot of melting, thawing, and freezing, that forms a crust and then it is even harder to break through.”

Those hunting challenges are forcing owls and other birds of prey closer to roads, where it’s easier to see small animals crossing, according to Butler. Several wildlife rehabilitators have reported an uptick in collisions between owls and cars, she said.  

Drivers should stay extra vigilant, especially at dusk and dawn, she added.

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