By Bruce Auchly, FWP Region 4 Information Officer
The hot weather outside makes it hard to think about winter, but a few smart humans and lots of animals are doing just that.
Those folks now cutting firewood, installing extra insulation on their homes or even checking their furnace are way ahead of the rest of us who just sit, sweat and curse.
Smart, too, are those critters that soon will be ready for winter.
Already some birds have left us for the long journey south. Birds like, orioles, western tanagers and yellow warblers are gone. Others, such as snipe and mourning doves are flocking together, preparing for a quick exit.
Early mornings on the prairie now are eerily silent. The clarion call of the western meadowlark from the spring and early summer is no more. Occasionally a young male meadowlark sings forth, but it’s just a youngster trying out its voice.
Within a matter of weeks, snakes, especially rattlesnakes, will start to gather near communal dens, called hibernacula. These are rocky areas deep below the frost line where snakes will winter, sometimes in groups of dozens or even hundreds.
That’s good for them and too bad for us.
Rattlesnakes get a bad rap. So anything they do, like go underground, that keeps them alive for another year is good for them.
Rattlesnakes are wonderful mousers, however, so taking them out of the predator-prey equation for months on end is too bad for us.
But too many folks just don’t like snakes, to the point of killing them for no good reason. I get the bad rap— just the way a snake slithers turns some people off, but as a predator, snakes are top notch at helping to keep the rodent population in check.
Besides snakes, other reptiles and amphibians are currently preparing for winter. That’s because they cannot wait for cold temperature that will slow them down before they find a place to winter.
Montana’s toads and salamanders spend the winter below the frost line. They have to find a burrow from another species or dig it themselves. The plains spadefoot toad may dig down as deep as 20 feet in loose soils.
Finally there are bears. As early as August, bears’ appetites start to increase and continue over the next few months as they hurry to consume calories before winter.
In the weeks before cold weather arrives, bears, especially grizzly bears, will eat almost any high-protein, high-fat food they can find: animal carcasses, berries, and whitebark pine nuts. But bears aren’t choosey; if humans leave garbage, pet and livestock feed, or bird feeders out in bear country, conflicts can arise, which may not end well for bears.
This intense eating period is known as hyperphagia, when grizzlies build up their fat reserves for the coming winter.
Overeating. Now there’s something many of us can relate to and claim it’s getting ready for winter.