Small mammal winter preparations
You may have noticed that many animals seem to be moving around more this time of year. Well, it’s not your imagination. Animals such as squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and skunks are busy right now preparing for the approaching winter weather. They’re eating more so they can fatten up, storing away food, and searching for warm spots to huddle up when the weather turns cold.
Yes, many wild animals know what’s coming. They don’t have a radio, a TV, or a phone with a weather app, but they can tell that the days are getting shorter and that can only mean one thing—winter’s coming. So, squirrels busily take fallen leaves and add to their large nests high up in the trees, reinforcing the nests for the winter months. Some squirrels will carry leaves to a hole in a tree, where they use them to insulate the cavity and that’s where they’ll spend the winter. Of course, squirrels are also eating as many nuts as they can to fatten up and are storing away nuts for upcoming days when food becomes scarce.
Raccoons prepare in much the same way. They, too, go on an eating binge during the fall to gain insulating fat. Of course, raccoons are omnivorous, meaning that they will eat just about anything. They, too, gather up leaves and use them to fill up tree cavities. There, in the hollow trees, they’ll spend the winter, basking in the warmth of a blanket of leaves. Raccoons will also spend the winter in hollow logs, in sheds, or just about any other sheltered area, although trees are their preferred winter home.
Opossums also prepare for winter in much the same way as raccoons, eating plants, insects, and small animals to gain fat in the fall. Then, they search out a protected spot in a tree, log, or outbuilding, where they can stay warm and protected from the winter elements.
Skunks are a little different. They, too, will eat almost anything to gain some winter fat, but they tend to prefer insects and grubs that they find along or under the ground. Also, since they’re not good climbers, they make their winter homes closer to the ground than some of the other animals. They will find a spot in a log, under a deck, or under a rock or a brush pile. If it’s a warm, protected spot on or under the ground, they’re happy.
Many people think that once these critters find a cozy spot for the winter, they curl up and hibernate. But, that’s not true. All of these animals stay active all winter. They do sleep much more during the winter months, than they do the rest of the year, though. And, during severe weather like a blizzard, they may go several days without venturing out, living off of the fat they put on during the fall, as well as any food they may have stored away. But, they will eventually come out, forage for food where they can find it, then return to the safety and warmth of their winter home.
So, this time of year is a busy one for many animals. Like us, they’re preparing for what lies ahead. They’re doing that by eating more to fatten up, storing away food, and moving into nests and dens that are better suited to protecting them from the harsh winter weather that’s coming. Life can be hard for these critters, but they know how to survive. And, during the fall, we have a wonderful opportunity to watch them do just that.