Getting Ready for Winter — September - October 1993

Where Do Animals Go?

Have you ever watched geese flying south and wondered where they were going?

Turtles that live in a pond and frogs that leap through tall grass—where are they when snow covers the ground?

Delicate butterflies cannot survive the icy wind of winter. Where do they go?

These animals and many others have special ways to cope with winter in Minnesota.

Long-Distance Travelers

Many birds -- and some other animals -- move long distances to reach warmer weather. This seasonal travel is called migration.

Why do birds migrate? Usually to find food. Before ice and snow cover the plants they eat, geese fly to the southern United States. Many Minnesota songbirds eat insects, which disappear in winter. So the birds fly south -- as far as Central America -- to find insects.

Monarch butterflies fly nearly 2,000 miles to the mountains of Mexico. There they cluster on trees in such numbers the branches sometimes break from the weight. In the spring they migrate north again, looking for ripe milkweed. They lay eggs on milkweed, which the caterpillars eat until they change into adult butterflies and continue north.

Snowy owls nest and spend the summer in northern Canada. In winter, some fly south -- to Minnesota! They eat small animals called lemmings.

A Hummer of a Stumper

A ruby-throated hummingbird flies nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 600 miles. The trip takes 25 hours. The hummingbird beats its wings 3,000 times a minute as it flies. How many times does it beat its wings before it can rest?

Answer: 4.5 million wing beats.

Finding a Good Place Nearby

Many animals cannot travel long distances. So they find good places nearby to spend the winter.

Some animals, like chipmunks, go into a deep sleep called hibernation. Their heartbeat and breathing nearly stop. Their bodies get as cold as your refrigerator.

Frogs hop to a lake and burrow in the mud bottom. To breathe, they absorb oxygen through their skin.

Many river fish, like smallmouth bass, swim downstream to rest all winter in a deep pool.

What's Happening?

One year, naturalist Jim Gilbert kept track of animals making these preparations for winter.

Toughing It Out

Many animals spend winter right where they are. They have special adaptations that help them get through winter.

Some birds, like cardinals, eat seeds. These birds can stay in Minnesota because they can find seeds all year. (Seed-eating birds have short, thick, strong bills to crack seeds.)

The snowshoe hare stays, but it does a disappearing trick. It turns white in winter to help it hide from owls, lynx, and other meat-eaters.

Where to Watch Animals on the Move

Thousands of migrating hawks fly by Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve in Duluth in September and October.

Go down the Mississippi River on Highway 61 to Lake City, Wabasha, and Winona, to watch bald eagles fish in open water.

Up to 130,000 Canada geese gather at Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area near Appleton in October and November.

A complete copy of the article can be found in the September - October 1993 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, available at Minnesota public libraries.