How Local Animals Survive in Winter

How Local Animals Survive in Winter

Winter’s back and it’s time to stock up on essentials like soup and firewood, and make sure your Netflix subscription is up-to-date. Everyone has a different strategy to survive the winter – and animals are no different. Each species has a different strategy to get them through the frigid winter weather. Here’s how some of our more familiar local wildlife in the Credit River Watershed survive winter:


It’s a common sight in autumn to see Eastern Grey Squirrels running around frantically trying to find and hide food for the winter. This is an import survival tactic as these easy-to-find food caches provide squirrels with calories they’ll desperately need when the cold hits. Squirrels also build up layers of fat over the course of the year to help them stay warm. Living mostly in tree hollows and leafy dens, squirrels use their bushy tails as a sort of blanket to keep them nice and cozy in their homes.

Eastern Grey Squirrel standing on log - Photo Courtesy of Jon Clayton

Photo Courtesy of Jon Clayton

Fun fact: In Central and Northern Ontario, most Eastern Grey Squirrels have black fur. Black fur is better at absorbing the sun’s radiation than grey fur. This adaptation allows ‘black’ squirrels to burn 20% less energy than their grey counterparts, helping them stay warm during the dark winter. They are still, in fact, the same species, despite their different colours.


If you’ve spent any time driving around the Credit River Watershed, chances are at some point you’ve seen White Tailed Deer. Deer keep warm through physical adaptations. Like squirrels, they insulate their bodies with fatty reserves. Throughout autumn, they gradually trade their summer coats for longer, thicker winter coats. White Tailed Deer also change their behavioural to adapt to winter. They take shelter in stands of conifer trees during periods of harsh weather and reduce activity to conserve energy and warmth.


Fish are cold blooded. They need warmer water that maintains their internal body temperature (typically between 5 and 8oC) to survive the cold weather. Native Brook Trout, for example, find warmer water in deep pools that don’t freeze all the way to the bottom. Brook Trout will typically stay in these deep pools for much of the winter. The pools aren’t complete safe havens. Disease, predation and competition from other fish can significantly reduce a pool’s population. Other fish, like catfish and sunfish, can’t cope with the colder water temperatures and survive the winter by burying themselves in the riverbed and hibernating.

Brook Trout swimming - Photo courtesy of Jon Clayton

Photo courtesy of Jon Clayton


Many birds, such as the Black-capped Chickadee, store food in hidden crevices to make sure they have something to eat when food becomes scarce. Black-capped Chickadees in particular have a fascinating way of remembering where they hid their food supplies – they grow their brain. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Chickadees have the capacity to grow (and shrink) the region of their brain responsible for memory and special organization by 30 per cent. This amazing adaptation gives them more than enough memory space to hide enough food to last the winter. When Chickadees aren’t busy finding and hiding their precious food supplies they often huddle together in groups (called roosts) for warmth while puffing out their feathers to maximize the layers of warm air. This puffing technique results in the cute little puff balls you often see on branches during winter months.

Black-capped Chickadee perched on branch - Photo courtesy of Patrick Ashley via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Patrick Ashley via Flickr Creative Commons

Interested in learning more about the animals of the Credit River Watershed? Visit our page on the Plants and Animals of the Credit.

Lucky for you all you have to do to enjoy the outdoors this winter is to throw on a hat, jacket and some boots. Visit Island Lake Conservation Area or Terra Cotta Conservation Area to experience the cold for yourself.

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