The Heart of New England
"Wild" Ideas for Surviving
New England Winters
By Margaret Gillespie

We live in New England so we
have winter all figured out,
right?  

Deep down, I think many of us would admit that we have a least a few things to
learn about our coldest season, and from what better source than some of the
wild creatures that have been New Englanders long before this place got its
name?  At the very least, wildlife can remind us of the things we should be doing
to better benefit from these snowy months.

Our primary focus here is on the ungulates or hoofed mammals, specifically the
even-toed ungulates that inhabit New Hampshire, and what they can show us
about winter survival.  

Yes, we will explore the winter habits of moose and white-tailed deer. Here are
some "wild" thoughts!

Insulate!

The coats of moose and deer change dramatically with the onset of fall.  With
deer we notice the color change from rusty red of summer to thick grays, but
more important things are happening with this pelage difference.  Thick dense
undercoats grow, hidden by long guard hairs that incorporate a special
ingredient -- air.  Air is a good insulator and, of course, there is more room for it
if the hair is raised.  Moose guard hairs, hollow and air-filled, may be 10 inches
long, resulting in excellent insulation, while those of deer average two inches in
length.  People can benefit from insulation too, in our homes, our jackets and, so
easily forgotten, our hats.  Hats slow heat from radiating from our heads where a
rich supply of warm blood circulates in our scalps.  Up to 50 percent of our
radiant heat loss can be from an uncovered head!

Reduce and recycle!

Why have excess baggage at any time of the year? Antlers in male deer and
moose emerge in April, grow rapidly over the summer covered by velvet, and
are transformed when the velvet is scraped off into magnificent displays of
strength during the fall rutting season.  Moose antlers in particular are especially
impressive with some spanning five feet from tip to tip and weighing up to 70
pounds.  In deer, we cannot tell the age by the number of points on the antlers; in
general, healthy adult bucks have the most developed antlers.  After the rut, the
level of testosterone declines significantly and the antlers, now unneeded, fall or
are rubbed off, often in early winter, leaving the small pedicle where the new
antler will grow next spring.  

Recycling?  Porcupines, deer mice and other forest rodents eagerly chew the
antlers to get the calcium and other minerals they hold.  On a different reduction
topic, moose in particular can be infested with many thousands of winter ticks,
sapping energy through blood loss and through extra grooming which removes
fur as well as ticks.  A recycling market may be difficult in this case.

Eat locally!

Moose and deer do not have the choice between Spanish oranges and Chilean
grapes or foods grown in New England.  However they do conserve energy by
finding food within their natural communities even though this means switching
to different and often less palatable food sources.  In summer deer may be seen
snipping green shoots of grass and moose may be observed diving for aquatic
plants, but in winter they become browsers or eaters of twigs and buds.  
Preferred deer foods include white cedar, hemlock and maple and deer need
about 5 to 9 pounds of food per day.  

In contrast, moose consume about 40 pounds of food each day in winter and
often feed on willows, balsam fir and aspen.  Moose will readily eat bark and, in
fact, get their name from a Native American word meaning, “animal that strips
bark off trees.”

Conserve energy!

Deer regularly gather in “deer yards” in the winter -- areas often with coniferous
cover where the snow is less deep and there is protection from wind, but where
browse may be limited.  As with us, energy is saved by traveling on packed
trails. Moose “yards” are much less common and usually the result of deep,
crusty snow.  Both deer and moose respond to winter by maintaining a lower
metabolism than in summer; thus they require less food.  The ungulates’ four-
chambered stomach with its special microbes and these animals’ ability to chew
their regurgitated cud enable them to get the most out of their food.  More time
is spent lying down to prevent heat loss and solar heat is used especially in late
winter.

Some wild suggestions may be more popular than others, but a good way to
keep warm in winter is an energetic walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski,
especially enjoyable under the brilliant blue skies of winter.  Be sure to keep a
look out for those characteristic tracks made by split hooves that tell you a deer
or moose found this a good path to follow too.

About the author: Margaret Gillespie is a naturalist at the Squam Lakes Natural Science
Center, Holderness, NH,  a private, nonprofit organization opening a window to the
natural world.
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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