Where Will Animals Go During the Snow Storm?

DSC_3944_edited-1With a foot or two of snow hitting the Washington area this weekend, officials are telling folks to stay home, hunker down and sit it out.

But what about wildlife, the animals out there in the storm? Well, most of them will stay home, hunker down, and sit it out. Here’s what we learned from a little research conducted with Fairfax County Park Authority Naturalist Kristen Sinclair:

Deer: They’ll bed down for the storm and sit it out. When it’s time to feed again, they’ll browse on anything they can reach. Still, that can be a little problematic if the snow depth hits a couple feet or more. Does become dominant in winter and will sometimes drive other deer away in their search for food. When the weather clears out Sunday, they’ll start walking around.

DSC_3068Squirrels: A storm like this can be hard on squirrels, especially the young. A Chicago scientist says that 30% to 40% of the population can be lost in a major storm in that area. They’ll shelter in their tree nests, wrap their tails around their bodies, and wait for the next feeding opportunity.

Chipmunks: They’re underground, dormant and inactive. They don’t accumulate fat and hibernate, but rather they store food and rely on that. They’ll go underground in severe weather and plug the entry hole to their burrow.

Groundhogs: These guys are true hibernators. They’ll sleep it off and get ready for their big day on February 2.

DSC_3034_edited-2Birds: Birds can take a hit in a major winter storm. They’ll try to find shelter in the usual places they frequent, fluff and puff up their feathers, and try to get into a position to avoid getting dumped on. The birds in our area at this time of year are seed eaters. The insect feeders have gone south. A bird feeder in your yard can be very helpful at this time. Even throwing some seed out over the snow will help them – and, likely, squirrels. Birds, especially Carolina chickadees, may focus their feeding attention on a particular area in winter, and if that spot is emptied of food they may not have a backup plan and could be in trouble. If you start feeding birds in winter, stick with it or the birds that were coming to your feeder may not know where else to go. Don’t put out any other foods for other animals. That will just cause problems for you in the future.

Insects: They’re not moving around. They just wait it all out underground or in leaf piles, depending on the whims of their species. And no, a storm like this won’t have any long-term effect on the population of everybody’s favorite-to-gripe-about insects, ticks and mosquitoes.

Edit-Racoon 059-aRaccoons: These bandits will find a hollow log, a burrow (maybe one made by another animal), or a brush pile. Raccoons generally are inactive at this time, not because of the cold, but because of the snow cover.

Beavers: They’ll stay in their den. So will muskrats. They’ve stored shoots and twigs, and they’ll happily feed on those. They’re not like people having to feed every four hours or they get crabby. They can comfortably go long stretches without food.

Rabbits: They could be in a little trouble when they come out after the storm. They’ll want a little food, and so will everybody else.

DSC_3932_edited-1Foxes/Coyotes: They’ll bed down in their dens. And when the storm is over? See the section on rabbits.

Mice: They’re hiding underground. So are moles, in burrows.

Bats: Bats go into a torpor, somewhat like hibernation. Their breath, heart, and metabolism all slow down. They build body fat in the fall and may be out of action for several months in winter. They might not even know it snowed.

Fish: The water’s already cold. Fish are dormant in winter. Their metabolic rate decreases as temperatures go down in winter. As long as their lake doesn’t freeze solid, they’ll be fine, except for certain schools of shad that will see a die off from the cold.

This coming Sunday or Monday may be a good day to look for wildlife. There’s sun in the forecast, and the animals will start coming out of their shelters to seek food following the storm. There won’t be a lot of camouflage around, so spotting them may be easier than on a day without a snow cover. Look for tracks in the snow. In addition, nocturnal animals may come out in the daytime at this time of year to avoid the bitter cold of winter nights.

The Park Authority has other animal concerns in a storm like this. Some of the local nature centers have exhibit animals. Kiersten Conley, the Visitor Services and Operations Manager at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, says the key to caring for them is preparation. There are heat lamps for the snakes, a backup generator, and ECLP has moved any animals close to windows further into rooms. Staff also is assuring that all the animals are well fed. In addition, all the ECLP exhibit animals are native, so they are acclimated to these conditions.

Farm Manager Paul Nicholson at Frying Pan Farm Park says most of the farm animals have been spending time in a barn or a run-in shed.  Barns and sheds will keep the livestock sheltered from the wind and snow. The snow wouldn’t bother them as much the high winds.  Meanwhile, farm staff has been making extra stalls in the barn and machine shed to move animals around before the snows. They’ll be moved closer to the feed room, milking parlor and hay storage areas to make it easier for staff to care for them. “Everyone will be bedded down with extra hay and straw and plenty of water,” Nicholson said. “We do have some young goats that are drinking from a bottle and a few mothers that are due in early February, so we will keep a close eye on them as well.” Two staffers live within five miles of the park and will do what it takes to care for the animals during the storm, even stay in the farm office overnight if needed.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

8 thoughts on “Where Will Animals Go During the Snow Storm?

  1. Linda Mooring

    Thanks so much for this informative article! I was wondering about all these things. You forgot to mention that snakes, frogs, toads, and lizards are dormant, too. Walking around our community pond last night I was intrigued by the animal tracks on our mostly frozen pond. A light dusting of snow revealed some goose prints. Some dog-like prints that completely crossed in a straight line were probably from a fox. But there were also prints all along the edge of the pond. These prints had a straight line down the middle – muskrat tail!

    One snow mystery I will never solve: A year or two ago when the sun came out after a snow my husband happened to look out the window in time to see a small light brown animal crossing our street. It was about the size of a hedgehog or small rabbit. It had no tail and definitely wasn’t a rabbit nor a gopher. Its footprints were like tiny elongated triangles.

  2. Deborah Semb

    We have an orchard oriole that did not go south for the winter. He’s hanging around our porch overhang and the garage. What do I feed him?

    1. Kristen

      Hi Deborah, an Orchard Oriole here in January would be an extreme rarity. Can you get a photo? Check out allaboutbirds.org for lots of great species information.

  3. Mike M

    Fascinating! I saw a hawk yesterday perched less than 50 yards from the entrance to a busy squirrel nest inside the hollow of a tulip poplar. He looked a little desperate as he normally watches from three times as far. He was nearly in their face and over their right shoulder if they popped out of the hole.

  4. Renee

    National Wildlife Federation also says that wild animals need water, even more than food, when snow is deep and temperatures below freezing. They suggest we put out shallow bowls of warm water and replace them once frozen. That’s something I never thought of but makes sense when the temps are 20-30 degrees and especially when snow’s this deep! Nothing melted until yesterday evening where I am.

  5. Pingback: What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm? | Our Stories and Perspectives

  6. ICE

    yes, I agree with your point Ice and snow: When we let your pets in from a walk or a romp outside, make sure to wipe their paws and undersides — get those ice balls off as soon as possible, as they can cause frostbite.


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