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As we prepare for the weather changes and the arrival of cold, wet, and dreary days of winter, we may notice the outside wildlife has changed as well. Birds and animals here in Ohio go into "survival" mode. Birds and animals deal with the arrival of winter in different ways. Some opt to migrate to warmer or more favorable climates. Other animals go into hibernation, and still others adapt and tough it out.

Many northern species undergo metabolic changes that allow them to "sleep" through the winter. Sleep, of course, is not what they do, but inactivity also known as torpor can superficially appear that way. The most advanced form of torpor is hibernation. Hibernation is quite complex and fascinating. Although definitions are evasive, hibernation is a controlled significant drop in metabolism to a selected level, although the term hibernation is sometimes used for cold-blooded animals and any form of winter dormancy. Chipmunks, certain mice, ground squirrels, and groundhogs are examples of true hibernators. Their body temperatures are maintained a few degrees above their ambient environment, which is usually a place protected from winter weather extremes.

Are You A Hibernator, Too?
True hibernators cannot be easily "woken up". They are largely unresponsive to external stimuli. Most hibernating mammals, such as ground hogs must arouse from hibernation periodically to feed, urinate, and defecate. Herein lays the main difference in bear and rodent hibernation. Generally these animals maintain only a sufficient amount of specialized fat reserves to carry them through the winter season and arouse them during the late winter or early spring. Many species of rodents and bats drop their body temperatures very dramatically, some to near freezing. Bears on the other hand only drop their body temperatures by 10-15 degrees in most cases. As a result, bears are some what wakeful sleepers and are capable of abandoning a den if seriously disturbed whereas many rodents are deep in hibernation. Lastly, bears can easily be aroused in the winter and then drop back into a state of torpidity. Don't be fooled by a "hibernating" bear in its den!

Dormancy in cold-blooded animals is a reduced state of metabolic activity largely controlled by environmental conditions. Cold-blooded animals must become dormant during the winter because they lack the internal control over their metabolism. Many seek sheltered places and undergo chemical changes to prevent their tissues from freezing. Others can tolerate certain levels of ice between cells, commonly in tandem with chemical changes. Spring peepers, chorus frogs, gray tree frogs, and wood frogs tolerate and regulate a frozen state. Good snow cover is essential to survival, as they over winter under leaf litter on the forest floor. These frogs "thaw out" in the spring, which is why we hear them sing so early in the season on warmer evenings.

Tips For Helping Wildlife Tough It Out
There are three main strategies to surviving inclement conditions, migration, dormancy, and toughing it out. Each species is suited to a particular variant of one strategy or the other, or a combination of strategic elements.

Winter is the most stressful time of year in the north for most forms of life. The key hardships are a lack of food and cold temperatures. However, don't let a reduction in activity appear as if there is nothing going on in the woods!

You can help attract wildlife by supplying the basic needs of good habitat: food, water, shelter and space. If you enjoy birds, by all means get some bird feeders. Almost every store sells various types of feeders, and seeds to attract a variety of backyard birds. Filling your bird feeders with the best winter food will provide these animals with adequate energy to survive the harsh winter weather. Some of the most popular winter birdseed choices that are high in oil and fat are: suet, peanuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and Nyjer.

If you want an alternative to attract birds and wildlife…think water. When temperatures dip below freezing; fresh water may be hard to come by. You may want to consider this wonderful, rather inexpensive bird-helpful idea: construct a birdbath, or birdwaterer. In the winter, drinking water may be at a premium for birds, so the bath becomes more of a waterier. In the spring & summer, birds will enjoy the bath as gathering place. Birds will be more attracted to the water with the sound of dripping or running water. In the cold winter months, you can put warm water out for the birds or install a heater or deicer. There are several types of heaters for different needs and budgets. These heaters keep your birdbath thawed during extensive below-freezing periods and provide much needed water to birds during the winter. A source of water in the winter can attract as many birds as birdseed! In no time, you should have some fine feathered friends outside, appreciating the water you have provided them—with little cost to you!

Consider making your yard wildlife friendly with naturally grown food and shelter. Along with birds, many mammals are active and tough it out for the winter. Thicker coats and special adaptations allow them to survive, but most animals would appreciate shelter. Plant trees that yield nuts and berries. Evergreen trees and shrubs such as pines and taxus yews give animals protection from wind and rain. If you own a larger parcel of land in the country, brush piles and thick patches of briers provide excellent winter cover for bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits and other small animals. Planting food patches of grasses, corn, sorghum and millet give numerous wild animals a good source of energy to maintain their body heat in cold weather conditions. Any brush, leaf or log pile will create shelter for a variety of appreciative wildlife.

No matter where you live, you can help ease the harshness of Ohio's winters for birds and animals with a little effort. So be a Conservation Crusader today by providing supplemental food, water and shelter to help birds and animals toughing it out and staying here in Ohio for winter. You'll be rewarded by being able to enjoy watching them and knowing you had a hand in making the winter more tolerable for them! For more information on helping to sustain wildlife in the winter, contact your local county soil and water conservation district.

This article was created with information from the following sources you may want to explore as well:

Winter Adaptations of Animals

Black Bear Hibernation

Ohio's Winter Wildlife

How to Attract Winter Wildlife to Your Backyard

For the Birds: How to Attract Wildlife in Winter

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