How Do Wild Animals Survive Bitter Cold Winter Weather?

Deer walking in the snow
(Photo credit: Buck Stevens’ trail cam)

I am an outdoors man and hunter, if you listen to me you likely know that. Last week a co-worker asked me, “How do deer survive this bitter cold weather?”

What prompted her question is that we (and many others) remind you that if your pet is outdoors during bitter cold weather their life is in danger. She wondered if that were true, then how do wild animals survive during those extreme weather times?

The question of how wild animals survive extreme cold during the winter has many answers as there are many species of wild animals that have different coping strategies.

For example, and to be specific to the question I was personally asked, deer survive the bitter cold in few ways. To begin with, their hair is hollow and helps to insulate them better to preserve body heat. When the thermometer drops drastically, deer do a couple of things differently. They eat more and move less to preserve energy to keep warm.

The less they move the less fat is burned and again there is more insulation and energy to keep warm. Deer tend to be nocturnal (move at night) most of the time. However, during really cold spells, they often move more in the day when the temperature is a bit warmer than the night to again preserve energy and body warmth.

Emperor penguinsYou may also see bigger groups of deer during the really cold times. This act of “herding up” allows them to bed down in groups to share and preserve body warmth. This method of group warmth is best seen in the emperor penguins (pictured on right) that huddle together in massive groups of thousands and thousands of animals to keep warm.

Some wild animals dig dens deep enough in the ground to get below the frost line and spend most of the winter in those dens to keep from freezing. They will come out only when they need to eat.

There are animals that build nests that they spend a lot of the year insulating their nests with grass and other material to keep them warm in the winter.

Many animals like several species of birds will migrate to warmer climates during the winter to survive.

Other wild animals like bears will hibernate in dens during the winter to avoid the extreme cold temperatures.

My co-worker also asked me if some deer don’t survive the extreme cold. The answer may seem harsh, but yes some deer and other wild animals simply do not survive the winter. It is part of the natural world and the saying “survival of the fittest.” Again, that may seem harsh, but it is one way “Mother Nature” keeps life in balance across the globe and keeps the population of these animals from getting to a level that would be harmful to the ecosystems around the world.

Wild wild animals are equipped for surviving winter’s bitter cold, your family pet is not. That is why we are always reminding you to make sure your dog (or other pets that are outside) have more than adequate shelter from the winter cold and in extreme cold weather bring them inside if at all possible. Taking steps to protect your furry family members from winter’s bite will help you avoid tragic consequences of not doing it.

By: Buck Stevens