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Accumulating snow

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

A fresh accumulating snow is exciting. Duzi, our dog, had great fun chasing snowflakes as they fell. When was the last time you caught snowflakes with your outstretched tongue? 

If only the snow would avoid falling on the roads and sidewalks. Shoveling is enjoyable when the snow is light and fluffy. The heavy wet snows make it a chore. 

How animals enjoy the snow is a mystery, but the snow is used in many ways. Rodents like deer mice and meadow voles burrow under the snow in a long series of tunnels. Weasels with long sleek bodies follow the tunnels making it easier to find a juicy warm meal. Short-tailed shrews are omnivores that eat a great variety of plant and animal matter. Moles continue to burrow underground throughout the winter. When spring arrives, we discover where they pushed soft dirt from tunnels. Most people do not appreciate dirt piles in the lawn.

The good news is that moles churn and aerate the topsoil making it healthier for plant root growth and water absorption. 

Hunting becomes more challenging for Red-tailed hawks because many prey species stay beneath snow cover. 

Reproduction continues throughout the winter for species like mice, shrews, and rabbits. This improves predator feeding opportunities. 

Some animals like chipmunks stay in burrows during the coldest weather where they have stored seeds to eat during lean times. Gray and Fox squirrels remain active in trees and are seen on top of snow or in trees even in the hardest of times. 

If the year has been a good acorn production year, squirrels have buried many acorns that will be dug up and eaten. It is not completely clear whether they remember where they buried seeds, but I think much of the retrieval depends on their sense of smell. Where the excessive exotic gypsy moth caterpillar population defoliated vegetation, trees use stored energy to produce a new set of leaves instead of producing acorns. Most of the trees will survive the foliage devastation but animals depending on acorns will experience greater starvation. This includes many insects and birds that feed on oak feeding insects.

During the recent snows that were not deep, we followed rabbit, squirrel, mice, vole, fox, and cat tracks. I do not appreciate cats exploring Ody Brook and killing wildlife. I like cats provided they are kept as indoor pets. Outdoor cats stalk bird feeders and wild areas killing birds and mammals. We find scattered feathers at kill sites. 

Many animals serve as winter food for a variety of predators. It is a joy to see hawks like the Cooper’s and Red-tailed hunting the neighborhood. They have an important nature niche to fill. Lately we have been hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting at 5 a.m. Owls help prevent rabbits from girdling shrubs and young trees.

At 3 a.m., I let Duzi out for a potty break and heard a wonderful chorus of coyotes yapping to each other under a nearly full moon in accumulating snow. There is living space and food for prey and predators in healthy habitats. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Ray Winnie
Intandem Credit Union


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