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When weather turns cold, where do Rowan County wildlife go?

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While most humans prefer to stay inside when the weather turns cold, the story is different in the outdoors, where non-domesticated animals endure dropping temperatures.

Piedmont winter months are not the coldest in the state, but the area does see a substantial drop in temperature. Local wildlife feels that, too.

Tree squirrels, like gray squirrels, are not true hibernators, but they will spend more time during the winter sleeping.

Rowan Wild Naturalist Megan Cline said black bears, while mostly found in the mountains and coastal areas of the state, are not true hibernators either.

“The bears typically bulk up during the fall, trying to pack on a lot of extra weight,” Cline said, adding bears will spend much of their time sleeping.

Bears in captivity, including at Rowan Wild at Dan Nicholas Park, tend to be active all year because they have a steady supply of food.

Groundhogs, on the other hand, are true hibernators, going into a dormant state where bodily functions decline significantly.

Cold-blooded animals have their own approach, slowing down but it is hard to generalize them too much.

“They’re just slowing down,” said North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Fish Biologist Casey Grieshaber.

Grieshaber said the goal for most fish is just to survive until spring when they will spawn and begin eating everything in sight.

There are some fish like crappie and striped bass that are still active in winter. For those willing to fish in cold weather, Grieshaber said, it can be one of the best times of the year because there are fewer people out and potential to catch larger fish.

Not everything is sleeping more or moving less, though.

North Carolina is home to a number of migratory species of birds. Some birds that were here for the warm weather will be heading south while others are coming in from the north.

Carolina Wrens are here year-round. N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission biologist Falyn Owens said the rotund little birds are one of her favorites and she enjoys getting to interact with them during tagging operations.

Other birds like cardinals are also here year-round, and some Canada Geese stick around, though they are technically migratory birds.

The geese have historically spent winter months in the area, but can be found at lakes year-round. Owens said the birds thrive on mowed turf grass to the point they have no reason to go anywhere else.

The populations of migrating and stationary geese are even treated differently, with separate hunting seasons for each.

There are some unique opportunities coming up for Rowan fishermen as well. The mountains are well known for fall trout fishing, but you will be able to catch one in a local lake this year. The Wildlife Resource Commission will stock excess hatchery trout in Salisbury Community Park and Salisbury City Lake on Dec. 10.

Grieshaber said the trout can be harvested and the commission wants fishers to take them home because, while the fish do well in the lake, they are not able to survive long-term.

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