Winterfest draws lots of participants to Refuge Saturday
By Naomi Lindberg
Many animals in Minnesota have developed adaptations that help them to survive the cold, often brutal winters.
Adaptation was the focus of Winterfest Saturday, where presentations were given concerning how to dress for Minnesota winters, winter wildlife, bird feeding hints for winter and the status of wolves in the area.
Refuge Specialist Nancy Haugen spoke on some of the different adaptations Minnesota wildlife have developed to help them get through the winter.
Some animals sleep through the winter, such as turtles and frogs.
Turtles in the area will burrow down into the mud and lower their blood pressure, which will lower their body functions such as breathing and heartbeat. While encased in the mud, the turtle will get all of its oxygen through its skin.
Frogs do the same, but they remain just below the surface of the mud, said Haugen.
Other animals such as otter, muskrats and beavers remain active throughout the winter and survive by eating stored food and off of body fat, which they collect during the year. Muskrats slow down their activities during the winter as a way to conserve energy and do a lot of sleeping during the hard winter months, says Haugen.
These animals also grow a special coat to help keep them dry and warm in the winter while foraging for food in and around the lakes.
Long guard hairs keep water away from the skin of the animals, while soft down-like hair that grows near the skin stays dry and keeps the body warm.
Coyotes also grow a special coat for the winter, which helps keep snow away from their skin, allowing them to stay warm and dry throughout the winter. Because coyotes do not hibernate, they must constantly keep moving in search of food, which also helps in keeping them warm.
Some animals, like birds, simply move out of the area and migrate south when the weather turns cold.
Most of the birds that fly south, says Haugen, are birds that rely on fish, flying insects or fruit as their primary source of nutrition. The birds that remain in the area have a diet consisting of insects and seeds as their main source of food. Those birds include woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and chickadees.
Birds that stay in the area are always on the lookout for any easy food supply. Marv Ziner, Refuge volunteer, was on hand to tell people how to attract birds to their backyards.
To get the most variety in types of birds in a year, a person should have two types of bird feeders, said Ziner - a low feeder, located about 20-25 feet away from the viewing window and a mounted feeder as close to the window as possible.
While the unwanted birds, such as the sparrows and blue jays, prefer the low feeder, the more colorful birds such as the cardinals, chickadees, finches and nuthatchs will prefer the closer feeder.
Ziner recommends cheaper food for the low feeders, while the more expensive feed is put in the closer feeder. Although cardinals, chickadees, finches and nuthatchs prefer the more expensive feed, they will eat the cheaper, if there is no other alternative
If squirrels are a problem, Ziner said feed should be placed in the lower feeder, while the closer feeder is left empty. When the squirrels get used to the food being located in that feeder, then when food is placed in the closer feeder, they will not pay any attention to the feeder with the more expensive food.
Ziner also recommends buying a couple extra Christmas trees during the holidays to provide protection for the birds while they are feeding. Digging a hole for the trees about 10 feet away from the feeder will provide the birds with cover, while giving them ample time to flee if a predator springs out from behind the tree.
Tree growers will sell unusable trees in order to make more room for planting in the spring. Ziner makes a row of these trees and come spring, he recycles the trees.
Other types that help in attracting particular birds are tray feeders, suet, two deck and hopper feeders.
Visitors could make bird treats to take home with them.
Along with crafts, the Refuge supplied snowshoes for hiking, cross country skiing, sleigh rides, a scavenger hunt, face painting and a bonfire where hikers could warm up and enjoy roasted marshmallows.
Approximately 425 people attended the event, which was co-sponsored by Friends of the Refuge and Sherburne County National Wildlife Refuge.
The Winterfest was held to celebrate the 98th birthday of the Refuge system. There are over 500 Refuges nationwide, which are land set aside where wildlife comes first, said Haugen.
The celebration ended with a candlelight ski held at the Sand Dunes State Forest.