Eye on Nature

Cold Weather Wildlife Fun

by Jane Kirkland

To some people, nature seems to be nonexistent in cold weather; the wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies are gone, the trees are bare, some animals are hibernating, and the birds have migrated.

But cold weather provides the perfect opportunity to see the wildlife that remains active. Without leaves for cover, and against the white snow, animals are much more visible and easier to observe. This is particularly true of birds and foxes, two of my favorite winter subjects.

Make a plan to do some nature observation this winter. Don’t wait until you have cabin fever; plan ahead. You can enjoy nature indoors as well as outdoors with these winter nature activities — great for kids ages 3-17. These activities will bring a new awareness that exploring and learning about nature is a year-round, life-long
opportunity.

Start a Life-list
A life-list is a list of the wildlife you’ve seen. It’s a great tool for helping children remember things about their childhood. It’s also a great exercise in reading, writing, research, drawing, and data collection.
The most popular kind of life-list is a bird list, but you can keep a life-list of all the animals you’ve seen. Winter often provides an opportunity to see foxes, deer, rabbits and other animals that seek refuge and cover under shrubs and grasses at other times of the year.

A life-list contains the species name, the date you first saw it and other information such as the location, time of day, or what the animal was doing when you saw it. You can create your own book and sort the wildlife by category, such as birds, mammals and reptiles.

You can draw, cut out or download a picture of the wildlife. I think it’s more fun and creative to make your own life-list book, but you can also keep your list online by going to www.enature.com. (Click on the Local Nature tab and then choose Wildlife-lists. You’ll need to register; there’s no charge.)

Play Bird-of-the-week
Every week of the winter, choose a bird that you see and learn more about it. Start with a bird you recognize, such as a cardinal. Visit the library or search the Internet for more about that bird, such as how it got its name, how many broods it has each year, its habitat and food preferences and its range.

You might see birds you don’t recognize. They offer a special challenge. Write a description of the bird or even draw or photograph it. Then look it up in a bird field guide at your library or online at www.enature.com.

Take a Nature-in-the-Snow Walk
Don’t let snowy weather keep your kids indoors. Take a quiet walk with them in your local park. Look for signs of wildlife, such as fresh tracks in the snow. Your library will have books on mammal tracks; consider borrowing one to see if you can identify the tracks you see.

Look for berries on bushes and in trees. Where you find berries, you’re likely to find berry-eating birds. Look carefully at the evergreens — they provide cold weather protection and shelter for birds. Take some birdseed with you and place it on a log or on the fresh snow. Then wait nearby to see which birds come to eat.

If you live near a lake or large body of water, take a pair of binoculars with you and visit the water to see how many species of ducks and other waterfowl you find.

Be a Scientist
Citizen scientists help scientists learn more about a particular topic by gathering information on it. Your family can choose from numerous citizen scientist programs, including ones on frogs, weather, plants, salamanders, butterflies and pigeons.

Perhaps the most popular (and certainly one of the oldest) citizen scientist programs is Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology program called Project FeederWatch. In this program, people from all over the U.S. report the species of birds they see at their bird feeders from November though April.

This is a great cold weather project for any family — something you can do from your kitchen table during breakfast. It’s not only fun and educational, the data provided by thousands of U.S. feeder watchers has helped scientists learn valuable information about our birds — where and when they are migrating, their food preferences and even information about their health and population growth or decline.

To learn more about Project FeederWatch, visit their website at www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw

Jane Kirkland is a Downingtown, PA speaker, naturalist, photographer and author of the Take A Walk nature books for kids. Learn more a
t www.takeawalk.com