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Winter Diet for the Animals of High Park
March 06, 2017 by Gar Concannon

The recent snow melt and increase in temperatures of late have transformed High Park into an early spring landscape for all to enjoy.  As you are walking through the park exploring the paths and trails, it’s hard to imagine that animals have stayed in High Park all winter long, surviving through the cold temperatures and snowy conditions. Keep an eye out for signs of winter wildlife on your next journey through High Park.  

We know there are plenty of animals that stick around and call High Park their home during the winter, but what are they eating to survive the cold temperatures?  One of my personal favourite sounds on spring walks in High Park is the chirp of chipmunks as they forage for seeds left over from the previous summer months – a sound that may be heard sooner than anticipated!

I often wondered what happens to these little mammals during the bitter winter months and what are they eating to survive?

The Eastern Chipmunk hibernates during the winter months, but does not build up layers of fat. In the summer months, chipmunks will begin to collect and store large quantities of seeds. By October, each chipmunk has accumulated enough seeds to enable it to survive the winter months.  With the onset of winter in November, chipmunks will then disappear into their subterranean burrow.  Chipmunks are important in the dispersal of seeds because of their habit of storing them underground. Any seeds that are not consumed stand a better chance of germinating than those remaining on the soil surface. In this way, chipmunks assist in the spread of shrubs, trees, and other plants.  

They have been known to pop up from hibernation on milder days during March, occasionally burrowing through a meter of snow to do so.

Photo by Peggy Cadigan

Another animal that always fascinated me was the fox.  In Ireland where I grew up, these shy creatures were plentiful and would often be spotted at dawn when there was less chance of bumping into a human!  These animals are beautiful to observe in their natural habitats if you ever get a chance to do so.  High Park is no stranger to Red Fox activity and winter is a great time to see them with the sparse landscape making sightings more common.  The fox is well acclimatized to dealing with cold winter months.  The fox will wrap its long bushy tail around itself to keep their face and feet warm.

During winter, food is not as plentiful for foxes. They primarily eat meat during the winter months such as meadow voles, mice and squirrels.  When High Park is covered in snow, foxes rely on their senses to hunt for food.  A fox’s hearing is one of its strongest senses when it comes to winter food.  It is said that a fox can hear a watch ticking from 120 feet away!  This incredible advantage is important in tough winter landscapes.  

Foxes can locate rodents and other small animals underground by sound.  This is important when there can be up to a meter of snow between the fox and its prey.  If a fox’s hearing allows it to locate a small animal below ground, the fox stalks it and pounces from as far as 16 feet away, using its tail to steer while in mid-air.  The agility and speed (a fox can run up to nearly 50km per hour!) are significant advantages to surviving winter in High Park.  Keep an eye out for fox tracks in the snow in winter.  To distinguish a fox track from a dogs you can study the pattern.  Dog track marks will be random, whereas a fox track tends to have more purpose and direction as they hunt.

Although High Park might appear to be empty at this time of year, the park is in fact teeming with wildlife and activity.  As humans brave the winter elements, so too do our animal friends. They just have to work a little bit harder than us for their meals!

If you’re looking for a family adventure this winter, why not take advantage of one of the many guided Family Nature Walks in High Park. For more information on specific dates, please follow this link: https://www.highparknaturecent...


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