Wildlife changes during the seasons, and winter wildlife is different from the summer wildlife. During the fall months, it’s fun awaiting the arrival of our winter friends. It’s been an interesting summer, weather wise, and now that the southwest has been enjoying an extended fall season, the signs of winter wildlife returning to this area is becoming clear.
The first sign of winter wildlife here in the mountains is the the arrival of our winter birds. The friendly little Dark-eyed Juncos show up in groups. Also known as the Gray-headed Junco, these birds began arriving last week from Alaska and Canada. Juncos are a big part of winter wildlife here in the mountains. They’re a little bit bigger than chickadees and will hang out with the chickadees during the winter months. You can tell these birds apart as the males have a black hood and the females have a gray hood. They have a rust-colored patch on their backs and they’re ground dwellers eating seeds underneath the feeder or feeding on seeds and small fruits in the open. You usually don’t see the juncos eating at a feeder, however, over the years, I have had juncos on my feeders. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll sit and eat with the rest of the birds.
The return of winter wildlife means that the hummingbirds, bluebirds, tanagers, swallows, American Goldfinches, and the different Grosbeaks have all left the area. It is quieter in the trees and around the yard. A walk in the woods now is extremely quiet.
As I write this, at the end of October, we have not yet had a frost which is very unusual. Usually, after a couple of frosts, I can put up my winter birdfeeders. A winter frost signals that it’s too cold for the bears and they will go into their dens for the winter. Chances are, they are still out and about because we have not had a good frost. Birdfeeders that are filled with sunflower seeds are loaded with calories which bears need and they will happily empty a birdfeeder for those high calories. Bears are not a part of winter wildlife but we always have to keep them in mind.
Chipmunks and squirrels are busy hoarding food in their dens for the winter. They’re scurrying about everywhere and they also like the sunflower seeds in my birdfeeder. They, too, are not a part of winter wildlife and will be settling down in their dens soon.
Another winter wildlife sign is the return of the Bald Eagles. Sometime around November we’ll begin to see the arrival of these birds. They winter here in the Rockies and fish along the small streams that will soon carry freshwater salmon upstream. These magnificent birds are wonderful to watch and bring out the photographer in all of us. What’s really neat is when the Bald Eagles are flying above as they soar over the mountains. Just sitting and watching these majestic birds soar overhead is so peaceful that it makes you want to become one of them. Most people don’t realize that Bald Eagles are a part of winter wildlife in the Rockies. They are, and they’ll be here soon.
The most obvious return of winter wildlife is the deer and elk. The deer have already begun appearing in our yard and all around the neighborhood. Of course, we always have a few in the summer but most will move inland and return in the fall. We have a group of bucks that we fondly refer to as the ‘boys club’ in the neighborhood and they’ve been here for a few weeks. There’s been a lone doe or two pass through, but the majority of the deer should be arriving anytime. My yard is overrun with deer in the winter.
The deer are pretty tame as they’re use to living with humans. They will walk right up to you in hopes of a hand-out of free food. I’ve actually been down on my knees in the garden doing some weeding and had one doe come silently up behind me and nudge me on my back with her wet nose. I fell into the garden and quickly turned around to see what was nudging me. I’m always fearful of a mountain lion encounter. My quick movements frightened the doe and she backed off a bit but once I calmed down, then she calmed down. I gave her my pile of weeds to pick through and she ate what she wanted and left. We live in unison here.
The big return of winter wildlife and the one that the locals anxiously await is the arrival of the elk to the lower elevations and the golf course. There’s several herds here and soon we’ll be seeing them daily in the early mornings and early evenings. They move down from the mountains as they cannot move easily through the deep snow that higher elevations get. These majestic creatures are a welcome sight for everyone and again, the photographer in all of us will come out.
The elk are not tame and will walk away from people and cars that have stopped to watch them. They will not get as close to you as a deer will and they’re happy to keep their distance from us.
Oh! I can’t forget another fun winter wildlife creature. Wild turkeys. These winter wildlife birds walk around in groups and they have a horrible sound when they are conversing with one another. It sounds like a puppy screeching and is being beaten to death! The first time we heard them, we thought that somebody was beating a puppy and went to investigate. About twenty wild turkeys went running and the screeching stopped. They will roost in the trees and eat seed on the ground under my birdfeeder. They’re fun to watch and are very shy of humans.
Last night, temperatures got down to 38ºF which means there wasn’t a frost but it’s cold. It is raw and drizzly this morning and it’s cold enough for the bears to stay in their dens. This morning, I put up my birdfeeder and the chickadees are happily feeding. I threw seed on the ground and the juncos are busy feeding on those seeds. Yes, winter wildlife is returning to give humans companionship here in the mountains and we welcome their company.
Source: Personal experience