Winter Wildlife Adaptations
By Jasmine Torrez
Winters in Texas can be unpredictable at times, and nature has a way of dealing with its unpredictability. Animals, for example, have developed different adaptations that help them through the winters in Texas and allow them to be seen continuously by people. Some animals in the Boerne area and more specifically at the Cibolo that can still be seen throughout the winter are white-tailed deer, various birds such as hawks, great blue heron, and even fish.
White-tailed deer prepare for the colder months by consuming more food which adds layers of fat to their bodies. By the time winter comes, they will have also shed their summer coats and have grown their winter coats which insulate them from the cold. At first glance, they may look the same as they do during the summer months, but the winter coat that comes in is a bit darker, which helps them absorb heat. This coat also has two layers: longer and hollow and shorter and is known as the undercoat, which provides even further insulation. The longer loose fur is also a fantastic adaption that traps air to help insulate the deer.
Birds such as hawks that stay in the area also have unique ways of dealing with the temperature change. Diet is one of the most significant changes for hawks in the area. As the weather starts to cool, cold-blooded animals such as lizards and snakes spend a lot more time hiding in burrows, under rocks, in tree holes, etc., to shelter from the cold. These animals make up a significant portion of the hawk’s diet in the spring and summer. Because they are not so abundant during the winter months, hawks will switch over to a warm-blooded diet meaning they will hunt mostly mammals such as small rodents. The blue herons can be seen during the last winter month of February as they begin to fly into the area to build their nests and begin a courtship.
The Cibolo Center for Conservation has an ongoing project on blue herons where community scientists monitor a heron rookery located at the Cibolo Preserve. This project has been running for many years and has seen many successful breeding pairs and fledglings leaving the nests. This brings me to the next group of animals that can still be seen throughout the winter months- fish!
Fish are cold-blooded animals, which means that their body temperature depends on their environment. The Cibolo Creek stays at a constant temperature range throughout the year and fluctuates very moderately, allowing the fish to remain in the area. If the creek’s temperature dips more than usual, the fish will move to a place where the water is a bit higher. The body processes in each fish may also slow with a drop in temperature.
We encourage you to continue walking the trails at the Cibolo Nature Center safely and dressed appropriately on colder days because even though it is cold—you can still enjoy the vast array of wildlife that roam the campus. In March, we are noticing subtle changes as the days get warmer, dry plants look full and healthy, and grasses will soon stand tall. Winter months and any time of year are a great time to continue enjoying the fresh air in nature. Go to www.cibolo.org to learn more about the wildlife research initiatives and outdoor events and activities at the Cibolo.