Winter reality and wildlife


When the phone rings or a sound comes from the inbox, it reminds us of unwrapping a Christmas gift. I literally have no idea what’s behind the loops and sounds. It’s part of my job that really keeps me awake, and I enjoy it.

Questions about regulations, to the most important hunting bite, or just random wildlife observation, I never know what’s coming.

As the saying goes, I truly believe there is no such thing as a silly question. none. Telephone conversations allow for a more natural flow and context with emotion, which is an important aspect of understanding where the caller is coming from.

I got a call about an injured goose earlier this winter, explaining how the goose didn’t want to be captured and that risking human life to stagger through thin ice was not something I would suggest. If a human being is rescued, you wouldn’t expect them to try to bite you. A goose or any other animal is likely to see you as a threat and either defend itself or run away.

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Watching a goose or deer suffer injury, illness or disease is not for the faint of heart. But it happens. It’s nature, and as you point out, nature is more PG-13 or R-rated for violence than G.

So it goes along with feeding wildlife in winter, even during a mild winter. North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists get asked about feeding the wildlife, and quite frankly, most people I’ve spoken to don’t want to hear the answer.

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Doug Lear


The ingredients—food, water, shelter, and space—needed to sustain wildlife during the harsh Midwest winter have not changed.

For the humans involved, providing food and water to wildlife was more readily available, while cover and space were more time-consuming and expensive, and therefore neither easy nor economical to apply. In fact, many people felt that providing additional winter food would make up for the general lack of adequate winter cover and adequate space.

Even North Dakota’s milder winters see periods of extreme cold that threaten some wild animals. Pheasants and even songbirds have been found dead with entire crops, succumbing to snow and hail, even when feeders are full. Over time, it became clear that more than food was needed to improve wildlife survival in the winter.

But what you don’t see if you don’t watch it all the time is that when deer are pulled from suitable cover and artificially concentrated around mounds of corn and bundles of alfalfa, the natural pecking arrangement preserves needed nutrients from the yearling’s young, which can even increase mortality. If enough fodder is provided. Big and Strong acts like a class bully when the piñata breaks, picking up the goodies while everyone else struggles for even a bite.

A couple of years ago, a friend was having fun with rabbits in his backyard feeding on some scattering grain. Shortly after when I asked for a status update he said the rabbits had shrunk and he thought it was a coyote who was taking advantage of his “help” to the rabbits.

This is a good example of a well-intentioned decision that may have done more harm than good, and helps sum up the current evolving theory about nutrition: it may be good for an individual or a few animals, but it doesn’t do much for the overall health of a species and in some cases can increase Things get worse.

The bottom line is that natural food plots, with adequate winter cover nearby, are best for wildlife management.

This comes from a balanced natural mix of food, water, shelter, and space. This is the best recommendation given the research and the knowledge we have to work with.

Doug Lear is a biologist with the North Dakota Department of Fish and Fish.

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