I’m thinking a lot about what this time of year in cold temperate climates is like for the animals. Most herbivores, like deer for example, are basically starving all winter, surviving off of their fat reserves from the fall and unable to actually find a calorie-replacing level of food from the landscape until the return of warmer weather and spring growth. And it just gets worse and worse as the winter goes on – deeper snow, layers of ice, the transition into freezing rain and sleet in late winter which makes for a wetter landscape instead of a cold but insulative one, and all with less and less and less food in the landscape. The hawthornes and rose hips provide some sugar in the few places where they’re still on the vine. If the snow is shallow enough acorns (cached or uncached) are accessible. But in general there’s lots of cambium and twig feeding which doesn’t really satisfy the hunger of a 150-pound warm-blooder.
And so the predators are in a tight spot too, because although their prey are weakening (and sometimes easier to catch in deep and/or crusty snow) they’re also very thin and lean. So the coyotes are very hungry as well. Some northern animals are adapted to a very long, snowy winter and are really made for this time of year, like snowshoe hares, lynx, caribou, wolverines, etc. But for most species it’s about racing starvation towards spring.
The bird language landscape is interesting right now too. Longer daylength and some warmer days mean increase in song and the very early hints of territory-forming (although I haven’t seen that in my local passerines yet, but I’m sure it’s coming). And the real larder around human settlements for the mixed-species winter flocks is, of course, bird feeders. So the songbirds are working the feeders and the aerial predators are too, for the songbirds.
For anyone who is or wants to be a bird language geek, I suggest spending an hour or so on a sunny morning this time of year watching a feeder and all the complex interactions between species that happen there. When do the birds scatter from the feeder? How far and where do they go? How long does it take different species to come back? What else is happening in the landscape when they do (especially track vocal signals from gregarious scolding birds in the wider landscape like jays, crows, chickadees, etc.)? How do the larger single-species flock birds like doves and starlings interact with the feeder differently than the mixed-species songbird flocks? How about compared to jays and crows? Can you find where the different species of aerial predators are hunting? How does all of this shift with different weather patterns?
We could go on like this for days. “The book of nature has no beginning as it has no end” said master Himalayan tiger tracker Jim Corbett. Go follow the stories. Then find someone to tell them to.