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Animals that Hibernate, or do They
November 18, 2013

(November Sunset.)

By 9:00 or 10:00 PM, depending where you are in your time zone, look to the east on a clear night.

In the east southeast is the dominant constellation of the winter skies.

"Orion" casts its imposing figure.

A couple hours later the dog star "Sirius" appears as the main stay in the hunter's dog.

Sirius is the brightest (8.6 light years) star to the Northern Hemisphere, not including the sun.

These objects will appear 4 minutes earlier each night, and 4 minutes more across the sky, as the earth rotates.

About the same time, to the east and northeast is the Jovian planet.

Jupiter disappeared in the east earlier this year, and will now grace the winter skies.

Because Jupiter too orbits the sun, the time difference is slightly less than 4 minutes.

Venus is still visible in the early evening in the southwest skies.

Night time is still a good time for bird migration.

I will on occasion still hear peeps of birds heading south.

A couple of nights ago, I was blessed with a nice flock of about 40 Snow geese.

The snow white birds set in a night sky, stick out like a large white check mark.

I hear them first, and then look up.

Snow geese will often make the trip from the Arctic region and northern Canada, to the Gulf coast non stop.

That is a serious flight plan.

(Late Season Primrose)

The yard is officially to to bed.

Early week temperatures into the teens killed off any leftover flowers.

Seasonal transitions........

Snow and cold the first part of the week.

High winds, scattered severe storms, and tornadoes pummeled parts of the midwest yesterday (Sunday).

Our prayers go out to many.

I'm hoping I can finish raking leaves by mid week.

Yes, some trees were hanging on for dear life, into the middle of November.

Put those leaves to good use.

Mulched leaves make a wonderful compost and winter insulator.

By mid spring you will hardly notice they were there in the first place.

Decaying into organic rich matter for your gardens and flower beds.

The shredding foliage also offers food sources for your ground feeding birds like Juncos and such.

No need to throw away some of your Zone sensitive plants.

A leaf bag stuffed will provide protection enough to save many of your sensitive plants.

In my Zone 5/6, I can easily save Zone 7 plants and sometimes Zone 8.

This may work for Zone 5 plants in Zone 3 or 4.

For sure it will work for Tender plants in zones 8 and higher.

You can even offer protection for root crops like carrots in regions where the ground freezes.

When spring rolls around, spread the leaves in your gardens, or allow them to break down even more in the bags for leaf mold next fall.

Give it a try, you have nothing to lose and much to gain.

Besides, pushing the growing zone envelope is a fun challenge, and what gardener isn't looking for a challenge.

Today is the last of a short series on hibernating wildlife.

Some of the wildlife like bees and butterflies we plant special plants, just to attract them.

Other critters are either a bonus or a scourge (for me the scourge is woodchucks).


My first love with nature is watching and caring for the wild birds.

Still, I find time to enjoy all of God's creatures.

In spite of the fact that I have been entertained and have watched wildlife in my yard for decades, I enjoy it more today than ever before.

One reason for this is that the more I watch the creatures (great and small) that live outside my backdoor, the more I encounter Nature’s mysteries that beg to be solved.

Take the Eastern chipmunk, for example.

For weeks, every autumn, I enjoy watching chipmunks gathering sunflower seeds and corn beneath my bird feeders.

They stuff their cheek pouches until they are bulging with seeds.

Then, with their tails pointed toward the sky, they would scamper off to their burrows.

Knowing that chipmunks escape the perils of winter by hibernating in their burrows stocked with a bounty of seeds.

Or do they........

This is so cool.

Chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths.

These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure.

Eastern chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows.

When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate but wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

Throughout the year a chipmunk takes 60 or more breaths per minute. While hibernating this rate drops to fewer than 20 per minute.

Additionally, the animal’s heart rate plummets from 350 to only 15 beats per minute.

And the normal body temperature of an eastern chipmunk, which ranges from 96 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, declines to only 42 to 45 degrees.

Yet they still manage to wake up for the occasional snack.

Chipmunks may not see the light of day for several months here in the Great White North.

You may even however, spot a chippy scurrying around on a mild (snow melt and warm) winter day.

In the south, they often hibernate for only a few weeks.

Next spring, the rascally Chipmunks will be up to their old antics once again.

They can be a pain for gardeners, they are certainly with their weight in entertainment.

Other ground squirrels and gophers also hibernate ar take a long winter's nap as well.

Side Note:

Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers.

They have two breeding seasons.

The first begins in February and the second in June.

They can have up to nine babies but average four.

When most people think of hibernation they picture bears.

Yet bears aren’t true hibernators either.

Their long nap is more properly called winter lethargy.

The heart rate of a bear drops, though not as rapidly as the chipmunk.

During the early part of its winter dormancy, a bear’s heart rate averages 50 beats per minute.

After a few months of uninterrupted sleep, the rate may drop to as low as 8 beats per minute.

But a bear’s body temperature remains nearly normal during this period.

Pregnant females wake in mid-winter to give birth, then go back to sleep while their newborn cubs nurse.

Still, most bears sleep all through the winter if left undisturbed.

Do Skunks and Raccoons Hibernate?

They don’t hibernate, however skunks are dormant for about a month during the coldest part of winter.

They may den together in winter for warmth, but generally are not sociable.

In mid winter thaws here in Michigan, it is common to smell a skunk or spot roadkill

Raccoons do not truly hibernate in winter, but "hole up" for days, weeks, or even months, depending on the weather.

Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year and the young will often den for the winter with the adult female.

Prairie Dogs:

The white-tailed, Gunnison's and Utah prairie dog prefer high deserts and mountain valleys.

Because they live at higher altitude, each of theses species tend to hibernate.

Both Black-tailed prairie dogs and Mexican prairie dogs live in the low, dry grasslands and do not hibernate.

Dogs of the great plains and Prairie.


When bats are left alone, they can be some of the longest hibernators.

In the wild, big brown bats have spent 64-66 days in hibernation while in captivity one lasted an incredible 344 days!

These flying mammals don’t have to eat but they do wake up to drink.

Their heart rate drops from 1000 beats per minute to only 25 and some bats only take a breath every 2 hours.

Of course, all sorts of insects hibernate, while many perish from the cold.

What about other animals like opossum, or armadillos?

Good questions.

Neither of these animals hibernate or really slow down during the winter.

Opossum frequent bird feeders, garbage dumps and wherever they can find a meal.

These omnivores aren't choosy.

Armadillos can't hibernate either.

Without a fur coat to help keep them warm, they can only survive in the south.

Cold winters will thin out even a southern population.

Every so often, an Armadillo population will gradually immigrate northward.

Somewhere in Missouri, and other locations, there will be a few warm winters.

Then comes along a good old fashioned winter.

And there goes the Armadillos.

Beaver live out the winters mostly in their lodge.

The same goes for Muskrats.

Mice, voles, rats.................................

All very active throughout the year.

These creatures are looking for a warm, safe haven like you house or garage to call home.

Moles are well and active, most of them simply run deeper under ground in search for food.

Hibernating Birds?

It isn’t often that you hear about a bird that sleeps the bad weather away

Most of you know of or have read about hummingbirds and a Torpid state.

When the temperatures drop, so do the body temperatures, heart rate and breathing of hummingbirds.

Once the temperatures warm up, the birds almost magically come back to life.

Did you know that another bird hibernates?

The Common Poorwill, a bird of the west.

From southern Canada, down to Mexico.

From the western Prairie and Great Plains, to the Pacific coast.

The Common Poorwill is the only known bird species to hibernate.

It picks a spot under shallow rocks or rotten logs and stays there for up to five months.

Its daily energy needs drop by 93% and it can stay asleep for 100 days.

Once hibernation is over, it needs seven hours to get back to its normal temperature.

So Who’s The Champion Hibernator?

Possibly the largest rodent that truly hibernates is the Woodchuck (also known as the Groundhog), and it’s a champion napper.

Here in Michigan, it has been known to enter its burrow while the weather is still warm in September and not emerge until late March.

In other words, a Woodchuck can spend more than half of its life sleeping!

Long gone are the Woodchucks, but Chipmunks, Skunks, and Coons will appear from time to time during winter thaws, to graze and gorge.

Some winters are so harsh, that even so called hibernators like skunks and raccoons will die of starvation.

The mighty chipmunk............

Simply awakens, munches on its stash and falls back to a deep slumber.

How is your local wildlife preparing for winter?

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

Carl Bard

If I could do that over again.

How many times have you said that?

Each day is a new start, and we can work on becoming a new person.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said,
“I am making everything new!”

Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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