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Winter 101, tips from the Northern Trail

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Fantasizing about hibernating during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Many of us wish we could find a cozy den, curl up and peace out until spring, but there are ways to cope! Here are a few insider tips from the residents of the Northern Trail, our winter experts.
Wolves on the Northern Trail. Photo by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo.
Slip and slide

North American river otters know that saving precious energy during cold spells in not only smart, it can be a lot of fun! These playful winter experts use ice to slide to wherever they need to go. They might look like they are just having a blast, but they are conserving calories while they’re at it. We highly recommend sledding, but we aren’t sure it will save energy, so bring a snack if you plan to replicate this adaptation.
North American river otters. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.
Feet first

You aren’t going to get very far if you are stuck in the snow. Our wolves are equipped with humungous paws with fleshy pads and claws that can spread out to provide traction in snow and ice. They also eat a LOT of food to keep energy levels high enough to power through heavy snow. Snowshoes or ice grips are the closest people will get to replicate this cool adaptation.
Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
White out

Snowy owls are perfectly suited to blend into the chilly landscape. Their light coloration allows them to disappear among the snow tufted trees which gives them the advantage when it comes to hunting small prey. On the flip side, their camouflage also helps them to avoid predators, such as Arctic foxes. When it comes to Seattleites, your best bet for blending in this winter is a beard, a fleece and a tattoo of a snowy owl.
Snowy owl, photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
Layer up

Elk grow a special winter coat which is much thicker than their summer coat. The fur grows in two layers, one is a woolly undercoat which helps insulate the elk, and the outer coat is made up of tougher guard hairs which protect the elk while they forage through the trees. While you may be hard pressed to grow a woolly undercoat, wearing layers is a good start!

Elk on the Northern Trail. Photo by Dennis Dow.
Get your snooze on

Grizzlies, like most mammals, are not true hibernators, but are what we call light hibernators, since they can and do wake up and move about during their winter naps. However, a grizzly bear’s heart rate and breathing can become quite slow during dormancy. This one is easy, take it from our grizzly bears and use this month to catch up on your Z’s. Just like a bear, your circadian rhythm responds to your environment’s light (or darkness). In the Pacific Northwest (with sunsets around 4:00 p.m.!) your body will naturally tend to slow down as it gets darker and colder. 
A Grizzly bear and his snow nap. Photo by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo.
Shutter fingers

Zoo photographers have adapted to sitting in the snow for hours at a time. Their ability to remain dexterous in freezing conditions helps them to capture their subjects in the midst of snow, sleet or rain… or something like that. Our photog’s winter tip? Get plenty of hot cocoa before, during and after a snowy shoot. The chocolate keeps your shutter fingers nimble.  
Zoo photographer, Ryan Hawk is adapted to the chilliest conditions. Photo by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo.
Stay cozy and remember to visit Woodland Park Zoo for Winter Celebration this weekend!