Brrrr, I am shivering as I sit down to write this month’s blog post. Many kudos to you who have headed out in your woods these last few days. My skis and snow shoes are beckoning me, and I see some 20’s and 30’s on the horizon, so may have my chance soon. For those of you who do enjoy the beauty of your woods in the winter, this post is for you. This month, we are going to talk about tracking animals that use your woods in the winter.
Lucky for us, not everything heads south or finds a place to hibernate. Believe it or not, a lot of things begin their mating season in January, so there is plenty of activity going on. One very simple way to find out what is moving around is by using trail cameras. Find a place where there is obvious wildlife use; examples include trails, buck rubs, shelter areas or food plots. You may have to test the camera height and angle to get it right, but the photos will give you a great idea of what is in the area. Check out this publication from Ohio State with information on types of cameras, and how to use them. Also, you can contribute to our understanding of wildlife in Wisconsin by participating in Snapshot Wisconsin .
Another way to track wildlife is literally using their tracks. If you have trails that you regularly use in the winter, snow track surveys might be a good option for you. In the first few days following a snow fall, get out in your woods to see who is leaving footprints. These can be difficult to identify, so you may want to get a track identification book. James Halfpenny is the author of several good ones. I have also taken photos, alongside a quarter for size, if I want to identify something later. Alongside the tracks, you may find other signs of wildlife as well (scat, shelters, chewing or gnawing on trees) that will give you hints for what animals you have.
If you prefer to watch your woods from the indoors, you may want to try feeder birds survey. For this, you just put up feeders with the appropriate food, and wait. Well, it’s a little more involved than that, but not much. Although you are likely to find many birds year round, there are a few that spend mainly their winters in Wisconsin. Keep an eye out for American Tree Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Bohemian Waxwings. It is best to record some information about the temperature, precipitation, and time of day in addition to keeping track of your visitors. To read more tips on feeding birds, check out Bird Feeding: Tips for beginners and veterans .
To assist you in your winter wildlife inventories, here are a few more resources:
- There are handy data sheets for all your wildlife observations in the publication: How to Inventory and Monitor Wildlife on Your Land
- If you are looking for ways to get kids involved in the inventories, Penn State 4-H has this nice piece .