What to Expect When You’re Expecting Animals

By Megan Mader, Northland College

It is winter-time in the Northwoods. The lakes are still, the woods are quiet, and the fields appear untouched.  But what is happening around us that we don’t see? Now is the time of year that many animals are making homes and finding mates, and their signs are all around us.

According to Naturalist Emily Stone from the Cable Natural History Museum, some of our local predators are beginning to show signs of mating. Wolves, coyotes, and fishers are becoming more territorial as they stake out mates.  Foxes are mating as well, and you might even come across their scent in the woods.  They mark with a distinctive musky scent that resembles the smell of skunk to let other foxes in the area know where they are, and that they are ready to mate.

Amongst our feathered friends, Stone says chickadees are beginning to display affection with their ‘Hey sweetie’ love songs, and are most active on sunny days. You may also hear the drumming of woodpeckers as they try to attract mates. Great-horned owls too are mating, and we can expect to see hatchlings in a few weeks. 

You may have noticed at your feeders that this winter has been absent of several species that we have come to recognize as common winter visitors. According to Stone, the red polls and pine siskins have stayed south and passed their window for coming to our “neck of the woods.”

Stone expressed some concern about our “January thaw” that lasted nearly a week. “When the snow is so wet and develops a crust, the subnivean zone is compromised,” Stone explained. “This zone is the space under the layers of snow that has been melted by the temperature of the Earth and kept at about 32 degrees due to the insulation from the snow above.”  Many animals utilize this space including mice, voles, and even spiders. Now that this zone has been damaged, it will be harder for these animals to move around and get food. Other animals that could also be affected are turkeys and deer, so be prepared if they visit your bird feeders.

So, while we admire the snow and the quiet of the woods, many animals are making homes, finding mates, and living their lives under and above the snow. Keep an eye out for their signs by tracks, sounds, and even smells in the case of foxes!