Forest in Winter
by Carol Lerner
Each morning the Sun rises a little later and dips lower in the sky. The shorter days of fall send a signal to every living thing in the forest. Winter is coming!
The summer birds have already flown south. Other forest animals are growing thick new coats of fur. They search among the dead leaves on the ground, looking for fallen acorns and nuts, or ripe seeds and berries. Skunks, bears, and raccoons eat as much as they can and put on layers of fat under their skins. Squirrels bury nuts and acorns to store for winter. Chipmunks and mice carry food to their winter nests.
When winter comes, woodchucks move into underground dens and begin a deep sleep called hibernation. Soon the woodchuck's heart slows and its body temperature drops almost to the freezing point. For months it will not eat or drink.
Bears and skunks take long naps too, but their heart rates and temperatures stay close to normal. Their winter fat helps feed them and keep them warm.
A freeze could kill cold-blooded animals—turtles, snakes, toads, and insects. Their bodies cannot make heat, so their temperatures drop to nearly that of their surroundings. Some keep warm and alive under the ground, where they sleep until spring comes.
Insects may pass the winter as an egg, a wormlike larva, a pupa, or an adult.
Moles dig down below the frost line and stay active, feeding on the worms and insects they find in their tunnels.
Forest animals that have not stored food for winter must struggle through deep snow to find a meal.
Deer eat buds and twigs on the low branches of trees and bushes. Foxes hunt for rabbits and mice.
Opossums are night animals. During cold spells they stay in cozy nests until hunger forces them out to look for food.
Shrews have little time to rest in winter. These tiny mouselike animals must eat almost constantly—day and night!—just to stay alive. They tunnel under the snow, looking for worms, insects, plant roots—anything they can eat.
A hollow tree may be a raccoon's home. Raccoons come out at night to feed. Squirrels and birds are active in the short hours of daylight.
Squirrels leave their leafy tree nests to eat twigs, buds, and bark. They smell along the ground to find the nuts they buried in fall.
The hardy forest birds that stay all winter search the trees for hidden insects and spiders. Chickadees and titmice pick small insects and insect eggs from the twigs. The nuthatch moves headfirst down the tree and pries insects and spiders from under flakes of bark. Woodpeckers drill into the trunk for beetles and other insects buried in the wood.
For forest animals, it's not easy to stay alive through winter. Each must find its own way to survive.
- What is the winter weather like in this forest? How do you know? Describe the weather. Tell how you know that this is what the weather is like.
[anno: The winter weather in this forest is cold. The forest animals have to grow thick coats of fur. Some have to move to underground homes. There is snow on the ground.]
- If this forest were in the United States, what state might it be in? Why?
[anno: Answers will vary. Students may suggest any of a number of different states. Students should pick states that have cold winters.]
- How would this forest be different in the winter if it were in southern Florida?
[anno: The forest would not get as cold. Many animals would not have to move underground. There would probably be more food available all year round.]