For many animals in the north, finding a warm, safe place to spend the winter is a must. The opossum, for example, is seen only when the temperature rises above freezing. They find a nice, cozy place to sleep when it's cold. In the back corner of the old shed, there's a pile of old boards which I use to make birdhouses and repair the buildings. Under the pile of boards is a burrow that an opossum is using for his winter home. Every time the temperature rises above 32 degrees, I see possum tracks coming out of the shed and heading over to the bird feeders or the compost pile. When spring comes, the possum will abandon his winter home and go off wandering for food and love.
At the other end of the old machine shed are some wooden fence posts stacked on the ground. Under the pile of posts is another deep burrow. This is the winter den for a single large woodchuck. I think he's down there now, because last fall I could see where he had been digging under the pile. He has a longer winter sleep than the possum. He probably has a warm, safe nest wher he's quite comfortable being sound asleep. He won't wake up until the weather is warm enough to thaw the ground. Then there will be lots of fresh green shoots of grass to eat, and he'll probably get spring fever and wander off.
The bluebird house has become the winter home for the deer mice. Two of these busy little rascals have filled it to the top with chewed grass, paper, milkweed pods and other nesting materials they found. Inside their warm birdhouse nest, they are safe and snug and there's even room for some nuts and seeds. The truth is, several of the bluebird and wren houses on the property are inhabited by deer mice through the winter, and I don't mind. I put the houses up for someone to live in, so it's fine for them to be mouse houses all winter. In March I'll go around and clean the houses out, and the mice will have to find another home for the summer. If a pair of mice decides to have a litter of young ones in a bird house, I'll politely leave them alone until they are gone.
Just before sunup, I caught a glimpse of a deer mouse ducking into a knothole on the side of the old grey shed. A moment later he reemerged from the hole and jumped to a nearby dried zinnia. He gathered up a mouthful of dry flower seeds and scurried back to the knothole again. Much of the little mouse's time in winter is spent going in and out the doors of his winter home.
This morning I also noticed a little flying squirrel duck into a small hole under the eve of the house. These pixie-like little squirrels often find their way into my attic, but I don't think any are living up there. They prefer to build their winter nests in an old hollow trunk or tree limb.
The brown bats sleep through winter in the dark, dry rafters of the attic. They won't awaken and go outside until it is warm enough outside for insects.
My senses are alert to the sounds and sights that each day brings, as mild weather is heralding many signs of spring. I've been listening for the songs of robins and bluebirds. I haven't seen any yet, or heard them, but I feel they must be around already. I've heard lots of reports of people seeing both birds in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Other birds that may be showing up these days include the Red-winged blackbirds, Killdeers, Woodcock, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes. Spring's doors may open a little early this year.
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