A Winter Walk in the Woods

If you take a walk in the woods in the winter, you might not see many animals. Many of the forest's animals are sleeping. Some animals, like bears, hibernate in dens through the winter. Fish and frogs bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of ponds and sleep through the cold. But some animals remain busy as it gets cold outside. If you look closely, you might see some of the clues left by these animals.

Many animals build cozy homes for the winter. A hole in a tree trunk might be the entrance to a squirrel's home or a raccoon's nest. A hole in the ground could lead to a den of shrews. A big pile of sticks in a pond could be the top of a beaver's lodge. Fallen logs and old stone walls also provide shelter for animals.

If you walked through the woods after a fresh snowfall, you might find animal clues in the snow. Usually squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons sleep a lot during the winter. But on warmer days, they leave their cozy homes. Then you may see the tiny footprints, or tracks, that these animals leave in the snow. Maybe you would find larger tracks from deer. Deer walk around a lot in the winter. They look for lichen, moss, bark, and leaves to eat.

Have you ever seen tree squirrels running madly this way and that way in the autumn? The squirrels are gathering nuts and seeds to eat during the winter. When snow covers the ground, the squirrels return to the places where they have stored their food. Look for piles of acorn shells on the ground. The pile could be a sign that a squirrel has just finished lunch!

Do you see any freshly chewed tree trunks? Beavers might be busy gathering sticks to repair their lodges and dams. Do you see broken twigs on the ends of tree branches? A deer may have passed this way. Do you see a pile of freshly dug snow? A fox may have been digging in the ground for a meal.

It may be cold and quiet in the winter woods, but if you look closely, you will find all sorts of animal clues.

Vocabulary

hibernate:
To spend the winter sleeping.

lichen:
A plant made up of a fungus and a kind of algae growing together. Lichens form a scaly or branching growth on rocks and trees.

moss:
Any of a group of small green plants that do not produce flowers and that often form a dense growth on damp ground, rocks, or tree trunks.

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Activity

  1. What kinds of animal clues could you find in the forest in the winter?
    [anno: Animal clues in the winter forest could include animal tracks in the snow, piles of nut shells, freshly chewed tree trunks, holes in the ground, broken twigs on branches, beaver lodges on ponds, and freshly dug piles of snow.]
  2. Which animal clues would you not be able to find in the spring?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that there would be no snow to reveal animal tracks. There would be no snow to show where a fox had been digging. Piles of acorn shells might be harder to spot in the dirt than they are in the snow.]
  3. Think about a time when you found an animal clue. What did the clue look like? What kind of animal left the clue?
    [anno: Answers will vary.]