Have you ever wondered how animals are able to walk in the snow and ice barefooted, while we have to put on warm socks and boots? Here in Kentucky we have many animals that are active during the winter, all of which have different adaptations that help them adjust to the cold winter months.
Many mammals have extra fur and padding in their paws that helps keep them from getting frostbite in the snow. This is why I don’t have to put boots on my dog when I take her for a walk in the snow. Sled dogs sometimes wear boots because they are exposed to the cold for such long periods of time, but they lose speed and traction without the use of their claws. Other animals enter a period of inactivity or hibernation in which their metabolism slows and they don’t need to eat, so they can mostly just sleep through the winter. Animals also adapt to the cold by adding fur to their winter coats- kind of like us when we put a parka on!
Some birds such as Canadian geese even have a built-in heating system for their feet. The blood vessels carrying warm heart from the bird’s heart are able to transfer heat to the cooler blood moving from the birds feet to its heart; conserving heat and helping to maintain body temperature.
Most of the migratory birds who visit Kentucky in the summer months have flown south to more tropical climates to avoid the cold. Birds that overwinter in Kentucky are particularly well suited for snow, with light hollow bones birds put less weight on the snow. Some heavier birds such as wild turkeys, raptors, and vultures have wide feet with claws that act like snowshoes dispersing their weight over a greater area. Birds also have downy feathers next to their skin that they can fluff to add warmth to their coat.
As humans, we can also fly south for the winter, or we can stay and adapt to the cold by dressing for the weather in warm coats, boots, hats and gloves. With these additions, its easy to be comfortable in our winter season, so bundle up and take a walk- it’s a great time to observe Kentucky’s winter wildlife!
Hannah joined the 21st Century Parks in 2013 as an Interpretive Ranger, responsible for creating and delivering interpretive programs to the public. As a native Kentuckian, Hannah has a passion for educating herself and others about Kentucky’s complex ecosystem. Hannah is a graduate of the University of Louisville where she studied Biology and English. Hannah in currently enrolled in continuing studies at U of L and has just completed an Ichthyology course. In her free time she enjoys long walks in the woods with her husband and her dog.
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