Thank you to author Kevin Kurtz for today’s blog post featuring a few mountain creatures and their ways to weather the winter!
This winter, as you walk across the parking lot in your boots and winter jacket, be glad you are not a marmot. Like the other animals featured in my book A Day on the Mountain, marmots have to deal with a winter that may last from September until May. If you were a marmot, right now you would be in a state of hypothermia in a hole underneath a freezing rock, not really moving until you woke up some time in April.
Mountain animals must spend summer getting ready for the long winter. For marmots and black bears, this means getting as fat as they possibly can. They need to be fat in order to hibernate. Marmots pig out on grasses and flowers and black bears devour berries to build-up fat cells full of energy. When the mountain gets buried in snow, their bodies live off the energy in their fat until springtime.
Hummingbirds use a different strategy. They spend the warmer months sipping nectar from the flowers that decorate mountain meadows. Then when the weather turns frosty, they do what pretty much every person over 70 in the northeast United States does: they head south for the winter. Instead of driving a minivan full of half their belongings down I-95, hummingbirds will fly their 0.2 ounce bodies hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to reach warmer climates during the winter.
One of the most amazing mountain winter survivors is the Clark’s nutcracker. During the summer, these relatives of jays and crows use their long beaks to pull seeds from pinecones. They eat some of them, but then fly around with the rest to bury tens of thousands of them all over the mountain. In the winter, they can remember the thousands of places they buried the seeds and dig them out from under the snow to get the food they need. I can’t even find the remote control in my living room half the time.
As extreme as our winters can seem, they do not match the winters animals on mountains must endure. Because the high elevation of mountains affects the temperature, these animals live in Arctic climates within temperate latitudes. So think of that the next time you are shoveling snow. At least you aren’t doing it to find pinecone seeds.
Do you want to learn more? Check out Kevin’s book A Day on the Mountain at Arbordalepublishing.com, then head to the coast with A Day on the Salt Marsh and into the sea with A Day in the Deep!