Nature Notes

Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.

Animals in Winter

 It has been a mild winter so far for us, but we have plenty of time for that to change.  Meanwhile, park paths are clear and the days are getting longer as we anxiously await spring.  Visitors to the park are enjoying brisk walks and the increasing warmth of the sun.  The enjoyment of being outdoors has not gone unnoticed by our park residents particularly the squirrels, chipmunks and birds.

 Squirrels have been out actively seeking more food sources for the remaining winter days ahead.  They build large nests high up in the trees using twigs, dry leaves and grass.  They don’t store food in the nests, however, so they are readily seen scurrying around the park.  They are searching for acorns and other nuts as well as seeds.  Squirrels are known as scatter hoarders so they will bury acorns and other nuts in the ground in many different locations.  They have a good success rate of finding what they bury supposedly due to a good memory and the use of landmarks.  Watching them during this activity certainly explains the term “squirreling away”.  Whatever acorns that are left behind will grow into oak trees.

 Chipmunks go through a type of semi-hibernation.  They wake up from time to time to seek food and do other essential tasks.  Chipmunks spend most of the winter in a borough.  They may store nuts and seeds in this area, an act known as “larder hoarding”.  When they are awake and searching for food they may also bury their finds in the manner that other scatter hoarders do. Before going back to sleep they will often eat a large meal.  With the warmer winter the chipmunks have been very visible in the park.  They are frequently seen dashing about with more food to store or bury.

 Many birds in the park are winter residents including the cardinals, blue jays, robins, bluebirds, woodpeckers, titmice and chickadees.  They visit our feeders as well as the fruit producing trees and shrubs.  Recently, a flock of robins devoured the red berries on the American hollies planted near the main house.  The winter birds seek shelter in conifers and the protected forest areas of the park.   On sunny days many are also providing the welcome sound of bird song.

 We still have variable winter days ahead.  We will probably have some snow and ice but we will also have some sun and warmth.  Come for a visit!  There will be lots of activity to hear and observe and nothing refreshes the spirit like a winter walk.