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Walk on the Wild Side

by Dr. Julie Thomas

You might be surprised, but you likely have wild visitors in your neighborhood. These visitors won’t knock on your door, but they will leave clues to let you know they passed by.  While some animals hibernate (sleep through the winter) or migrate (move to a warmer place), wild animals who choose to stay in Lincoln through the winter months expect they will be able to find the food, water, and shelter they need to survive. Seeing and identifying these wild visitors is all about knowing a bit about what to look for and where to find it.

Begin by thinking about the kinds of sheltered places in your area that would help an animal stay warm. These might include tree-trunk cavities, brushy-ground spaces, and evergreen shrubs or trees. Animals will seek these places for protection from wind and cold, especially through the night. Some sheltered places are like a “bed and breakfast” in that the plant also provides an abundance of berries or seeds.  

You will likely spot a variety of birds such as Blue Jays, Sparrows, Chickadees, and Cardinals. These wild ones seek ways to keep from freezing – bulking up on food when a storm is coming or roosting together to pool their body heat. Cottontail Rabbits find warmth in hollow logs, rock piles, and brush piles. Red Foxes develop a thick winter coat, so their cold-weather behavior isn’t much different from any other season. Raccoons seek sheltered places, like hollow trees or abandoned burrows.  

Smaller mammals like Voles, Mice, and Shrews dig tunnels under the snow to allow safe travel between underground burrows and food sources without being seen by predators. While these smaller mammals may sleep through cold winter weeks, they will leave their dens and burrows on warm days in search of food. 

No matter how cold it gets, your wild friends will continue to seek food energy to help them stay warm. Fresh fallen snow provides the perfect opportunity for you to find wild visitor tracks. Wild animal tracks are easiest to spot in fresh-fallen snow. The illustration here provides tips and tricks for “reading” winter animal tracks in your neighborhood.

About the Author

Dr. Julie Thomas is a recently-retired Science Education Professor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In her current writing efforts, Thomas intends to encourage kids to engage in some creative nature experiences and guide understanding about their important role in helping young adults connect with the natural world.

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