Vermont’s human residents are not the only ones coping with the continued wintery conditions this year. The state’s wildlife are also searching for ways to deal with the deep snow and ice that may remain late into spring.
Bears begin to emerge from their dens as the snow starts to melt and food typically becomes exposed and accessible. Despite the cold, snowy weather, they have already been spotted this year raiding birdfeeders and garbage cans looking for an easy meal.
“Once we receive reports bears are out and about, we urge Vermonters to remove any bear attractants,” said Mark Scott, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s director of wildlife. “Take down your birdfeeder, seal up your garbage, and turn on the electric fence around your chicken coop or beehive.”
The lingering winter weather is also affecting moose and deer, according to Scott. “Late March through April is a critical time for deer,” he said. “They don’t eat much during the winter, which depletes their fat stores. If the snow cover doesn’t decrease in the next four to six weeks, we could see some impact on the deer herd.”
Conversely, moose are not as strongly affected by the late spring and may actually benefit. Snow depths in Vermont are not typically deep enough to be problematic to moose, but late season snows can take a welcome toll on the moose’s parasite, the winter tick.
“Winter ticks have increasingly become a problem for moose populations in many parts of the country,” said Scott. “Snow on the ground that persists through April can cause moose tick loads to decline, which is very beneficial to moose survival.”
Drivers are warned to keep an eye out for moose and deer along the roadways as the snow melts. They are attracted by the residual salt left behind from winter road maintenance.
Migratory birds usually begin heading back to Vermont when the days start getting longer, but they may linger elsewhere until the winter weather is over. “We’ve received reports of bird numbers building up in southern New England, which may mean that they are waiting for more favorable weather in our region,” said Scott.
“Red-winged blackbirds and bluebirds typically arrive this time of year and just wait it out until food supplies become more available,” added Scott. “Many birds snack on the residual fruit left on trees until the buds start popping and insects become available.”
Vermont’s bald eagles have been setting up territories and building nests since January, and many nesting pairs along the Connecticut River have already begun incubating eggs.
Other animals that are usually active in the spring are still out of sight. In the unusually warm March weather in 2012, turtles were basking and frogs were chorusing by this date. “Frogs and salamanders wait for warm, rainy nights to begin their breeding activities,” said Scott. “Once temperatures remain well above freezing at night, we begin to hear the spring peepers and wood frogs. The amphibians and reptiles may have to wait a while for those conditions this year.”