Winter Wildlife

Winter for wildlife is a time of survival as they have to contend with the sometimes harsh conditions of cold and snow. Different wildlife deal with winter conditions in different ways. Learn about some common wildlife and how they react to tough winter conditions.

Mule Deer

When deep snows accumulates, mule deer migrate toward their winter range. This area generally lies in lower elevations and provides stands of sagebrush and bitterbrush. This vegetation not only provides food, but also a place where deer can bed down and find shelter from the weather.

When snow accumulates to several feet, it’s difficult for them to dig down and find the brush. If they are unable to do so, the deer begin searching for other means of shelter and food. This may lead them into residential areas or even the city. It may also lead them to busy highways that cross their natural migration routes.

Accumulations of more than eight inches of snow plus roads and fences in the mule deer movement corridors present obstacles that cause additional stresses and force deer to exert valuable energy needed for basic winter survival.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I feed the deer I see in my yard?

Biologists agree that the answer is NO. While the intention may be good, feeding deer anything other than their natural source of food can do more harm than good.

What can we do to help?

Unfortunately, cold winters and heavy snowfalls are part of the natural process that mule deer have to deal with as part of the natural life cycle. As part of this cycle, some deer may not make it through the winter.

The best thing people can do to protect deer during the winter is to protect the winter habitat that shelters and feeds them. Get involved and attend your local city and county planning meetings to help protect remaining mule deer habitats and migration routes.

As emphasized in the question above, DO NOT FEED deer. Your attempts to help can do more harm than good.

Also, as deer migrate to lower areas that may have less snow, they are likely to come in contact with people. Do not chase or allow a dog to chase the deer away. Deer, during a hard winter, need all the energy they have to simply survive. That extra burst of energy expended to flee uses up precious energy supplies needed to survive the hardest stretch of winter.

Because roads and highways intersect many migration routes, be aware that deer may attempt to cross roads in times of heavy snow accumulations, so slow down in areas where you see deer crossing warnings to avoid injury to yourself and wildlife.


Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope Pronghorn antelope are well adapted to cold conditions. They have hollow hair that acts as insulation, and they can move quickly. However, like mule deer, pronghorn antelope migrate to winter ranges, usually in lower elevation areas where they can find sagebrush and bitterbrush uncovered by snow. This brush provides shelter and thermal cover for the animals. When snow accumulates to several feet, it’s difficult for them to dig down and find the brush.

Pronghorn also follow migration routes that may cross roads and highways. Be aware that they may attempt to cross roads, and slow down in these areas to avoid injury to yourself and wildlife. 

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats Mountain goats tend to be well adapted to harsh winters. Mountain goats look for wind-swept bare spots on the mountain.

Elk

Elk Elk are better adapted to heavy snow conditions and cold winters than are deer and pronghorn antelope. Their bigger size provides a larger body-to-surface area ratio allowing them to stay warmer and expend less energy to do so than their counterparts. They also have longer legs, making deeper snow less of a challenge and keeping their body out of the snow. Wide feet allow greater stability and ease of travel, thus less energy is used to move around.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep Bighorn sheep are well adapted to winter weather conditions and generally do not migrate in the winter. Because they live up in the rims and rocks of high mountains, these areas are often first to melt when exposed to the sun providing small amounts of green vegetation that the bighorns can eat. When temperatures remain cold and the snow does not melt, bighorns cannot find this vegetation and may become weak and more susceptible to disease.

Sage Grouse

Sage Grouse Sage Grouse deal with winter particularly well. At that time of year 90% of their diet will consist of eating sagebrush leaves. Sagebrush also provides cover and a means to stay out of the harsh winds and snow. When snow depths add up, the birds have been seen burrowing into the snow and roosting within small snow caves where they can regulate their body temperature and stay warmer.

Chukar

Chukar Chukar do not migrate, however they will head for lower elevations if snow accumulates in their typical habitat. When lower elevations do not provide the cover needed, they opt for south-facing slopes that get more exposure to the sun, melting the snow faster than hillsides facing other directions. When a cold, crusty layer is formed on the snow, it makes it difficult for them to find food. January and February are the coldest months of the year when winter mortality may occur.