Nature Notes

At Home for the Winter

I’m keeping my eyes open for animal homes—all the places wild creatures will go to sleep and stay warm over the cold winter months.

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By Holly Einess

The last time I walked Three-Mile Walk, it was July and full-on summer. I’m eager to experience this lovely route in December on a day that feels more like early November, with plenty of sun and unseasonably mild temps. 

Squirrels—both gray and red—are out in abundance. The gray are making a show of eager productivity, digging industriously in the leaf litter—whether burying nuts or digging them up, I can’t tell. A red squirrel squawks noisily as it leaps from branch to branch, taking a moment to check me out before returning to its agile antics.

Gray and red squirrels

I’m keeping my eyes open for animal homes—all the places wild creatures will go to sleep and stay warm over the cold winter months. Once I start paying attention, I see possibilities everywhere. An opening at the base of a tree may house squirrels, mice, or chipmunks. Hollows in tree trunks provide shelter for woodpeckers or chickadees, squirrels, or raccoons, depending on the size of the access hole. Squirrels will also make nests (called drays) of dried leaves and twigs high in trees; the interior of these structures is waterproof. Fellow naturalist Larry Wade has much to say about animal homes (and many other nature-related subjects) on his highly informative website.

Animal homes

Just past the Garden for Wildlife, a whole flock of robins flies in. As quickly as they appear, I suddenly can’t spot any. I stand still, listening, and hear a faint rustling in the dry leaves. Peering into a thicket, I see one poking its bill into the leaf litter, pulling up worms. While robins are considered a sign of spring, a small number never actually leave Minnesota, but stick around all winter. These hardy few tend to congregate in trees and shrubs rather than on snow-covered lawns, so are seldom seen.

American robin

A cedar waxwing lands on a nearby branch and stays put for a good while, looking about. Cedar waxwings are social birds that normally travel in flocks, so I’m surprised to see this one on its own. True to their name, these birds love to eat the blueberry-like cones of cedar trees (as well as the small fruits of many other trees and shrubs). The characteristic yellow-tipped tail is usually easily visible, but the red waxy-looking wingtips are often hard to see.

Cedar waxwing

As I near the end of Three-Mile Walk, I am enticed off the pavement onto Ridge Trail, which takes me past a low marshy area full of cattails on one side, and a wooded area on the other. A downed log is covered in redshank, a common moss that thrives just about anywhere and is found throughout the world.

Redshank moss

I pass still more busy squirrels and numerous animal homes, including a now-empty hornet nest, as I finish my walk around Green Heron Pond. I suspect that my next visit will be colder and (hopefully) snowier!

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

4 comments on “At Home for the Winter

  1. Rebecca Zins

    I always enjoy your posts. Thank you for writing them!

    • Holly Einess

      Thanks so much, Rebecca! I love being out at the Arb and then sharing what I’ve seen 🙂

  2. Thank you Holly. Such a nice blend of photos and text.

  3. Pingback: Arb Links, vol. 35 | News from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

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