There are lots of ways that we get ready for winter. You may have to dig out your woolly mittens and sweaters, bundle up when you go outside, and turn up the heat when you stay in. Animals get ready for the winter months too – except since they don’t have mittens or thermostats they have to prepare for the cold in their own ways.
Animals start planning for winter even when it’s still warm out. You may see squirrels in the fall carrying nuts and burying them in the ground, they’ll dig them up months later for a winter snack. Mice and beaver will pack extra food into their homes to eat when it’s too cold to go out, and honeybees live off the honey they’ve been making all summer and autumn. Most mammals will try and eat as much as they can in the warmer months so that they’ll have extra fat for the winter. This both keeps them warm and stops them from getting too hungry.
Other animals adapt to winter weather by changing their look. Fur grows in thicker and heavier, like the way we switch from a fall jacket to a winter parka. Animals like the snowshoe rabbit or arctic fox change the colour of their hair completely, going from darker colours in the summer to white in the winter, so they can blend in with the snow.
The nights are longer in the winter so most people do like to get some extra sleep, but some animals take sleepy-time to the extreme. Animals like bears, squirrels and skunks prepare cozy dens and sleep for weeks on end, waking up every so often to look for food or enjoy a brief sunny day. Some, like chipmunks, groundhogs, and even snakes and bats, go into an even deeper sleep where their bodies slow down for months, often not waking up until spring. This is called hibernation and it lets the animals save their energy and not worry about food and cold for a while. They wake up hungry, and often cranky, but at least they’ve avoided the worst of the weather.
Some creatures just don’t want to deal with winter at all! Instead they travel south to spend the season in places where they can still find food easily and it doesn’t get too cold. This is called migration. Geese are the most obvious travelers because they fly south in big V-shaped lines, but lots of other birds do it too. Caribou and some types of deer make winter trips, and so do whales and some fish, swimming long distances in search of warmer water. Even monarch butterflies fly all the way from Canada and the United States to Mexico in search of sunnier days. In the springtime the migration happens in reverse, north to where the winter is finally done. Something for all of us to look forward to!