Nearly a full day before the threatened Great Holiday Blizzard of 2012 was to arrive, the wildlife of Northeast Ohio were busy feeding in anticipation of a long lay-over.
No nay-Sayers these, the wildlife were fattening up in preparation of hunkering down, a well-documented but little understood natural history phenomena, says wildlife biologists.
Deer, especially, on Christmas Day, were mowing the grass, eating succulent twigs and still-forming buds off trees, or else rooting around the earth in search of fat- and protein-rich acorns.
“That’s always been the thought; that wildlife can tell when there’s a weather change, especially when something major is brewing,” says Jeff Westerfield, a wildlife biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron.
“Just this morning one of our guys here in the office remarked that his trail camera was going ‘pop,’ ‘pop,’ ‘pop,’ showing all kinds of activity from deer as the animals fed.”
The obvious question then is how do these animals know when a storm is approaching?
“I asked that of the deer once,” “Westerfield said with a laugh. “Not really, but it’s just the same as it is for how waterfowl know when and where to migrate. Mother Nature has given them the ability to know.”
Westerfield also says that perhaps human’s senses have just gotten “soft,” no longer being able to gauge when a storm is on the warpath.
Yet even without fully understanding the physiological dynamics of why deer, wild turkeys, song birds, waterfowl and the like can sense a storm’s approach, the process remains a fascinating scientific area of study, says Westerfield.
“Oh, yeah, that what makes my job so interesting,” he said. “We can’t just say that ‘x’ equals ‘y’ when it comes to wildlife. Maybe in the end we won’t figure everything out but we have to keep working on it.”
Then asked how soon after a storm event will critters begin to stir and move about, Westerfield says wildlife won’t waste any time.
“I suspect it will come pretty quickly,” Westerfield says. “They’ll know when it’s over and time to fed.”
Until then the wildlife will live off their reserves, their bodies burning up stored body fat.
In the case of deer, these animals can easily go 72 hours before refueling with whatever the woods and fields can provide. The same is true for wild turkeys and almost any other wild animals as each is entering their winter mode of conserving energy, Westerfield says.
“We can go without food, too, for a while, though who wants to go without hot chocolate and cookies this time of year?” Westerfield says.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn