Can wild animals really predict a harsh winter?

Alex MacKay-Smith says he's seeing "unprecedented" animal activity on his Wakefield, Que., farm, and he's got a wild hunch why: the unrelenting raids by raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bears and ravens portend a fierce and wicked winter to come.

Farmer believes wild intrusions portend brutal weather to come

Racoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, wolves, foxes and even ravens have been raiding Juniper Farm in Wakefield, Que., with unprecedented frequency. (Caitlin Taylor/CBC)

Alex MacKay-Smith says he's seeing "unprecedented" animal activity on his Wakefield, Que., farm, and he's got a wild hunch why: the unrelenting raids by raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bears and ravens portend a fierce and wicked winter to come. 

The intruders have been breaking through fences and into coops in unprecedented numbers to steal chickens, eggs and crops at Juniper Farm, MacKay-Smith told CBC Radio's All In A Day. 

"I would walk out and there … and a flock of ravens would just take off into the air. It's totally unprecedented," said MacKay-Smith, who has farmed the western Quebec property for 13 years.

He said he's never lost as many chickens and turkeys to wild animals as he has this year. His theory is that the animals know a long, cold winter is in the offing. 

One local farmer says the raids on his farm this year have been constant -- racoons,skunks, bears, coyotes, wolves, foxes, even ravens -- breaking through fences and into coops to steal chickens, eggs and crops. 8:25

'It's unbelievable' 

Indeed, the Farmers' Almanac's winter forecast calls for "teeth-chattering cold" this winter. However, Environment Canada's senior climatologist gave a much more moderate outlook, predicting a "milder than normal" season.

MacKay-Smith said the animals might hold the real answer. They've been eating more, acting aggressively and having more babies, a departure from the behaviour he's witnessed in past years. His neighbours are witnessing the same thing, he said.

MacKay-Smith said one bear climbed over an electric fence to get to a beehive, and there are more mice nibbling on his beetroots.

Are the critters really storing up for an unusually long winter? MacKay-Smith is a farmer, not an animal behaviourist — but he knows what he's seen, and believes the proof of his theory is in all that lost produce.

"It's unbelievable," he said.

CBC Radio's All In A Day

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