WASHINGTON – While the blizzard of ’96 forced many residents indoors, Maryland wildlife resorted to other survival strategies.
“Most wildlife have a great ability to adapt to changing circumstances,” said Tom Mathews, a wildlife manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
White-tailed deer, which had put on body fat for the winter, were in good condition in western Maryland even though snow had restricted their daily movements, said Mathews, an Allegany County native.
Wild turkeys, which fly up on a limb every night to roost, can remain there for a week to 10 days without food, he said. “They are a very hardy bird and survive winter storms like this on a regular basis,” Mathews said.
Other birds moved south, said Bill Harvey, waterfowl project manager of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“Because ducks and geese are so mobile, it would be rare that they would starve,” Harvey said.
Weather patterns for the next few months will determine if creatures will live or die, Mathews said. If there is more deep snow, severe cold and frozen ground for four or five weeks, birds can’t scratch the surface to feed, he said.
During the blizzard, many small birds and other animals along the C&O Canal probably ventured into the backyards of nearby suburban residents. Many residents put seeds out in the winter, said Pat Toops, head of natural resources at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
“The animals were probably stressed somewhat, but we haven’t had any problems,” he said. “The snow was deep, but it was light and powdery, so they could still get through it.”
On the Eastern Shore, Canada geese and other waterfowl survived on crops of standing corn that poked through the snow at the Blackwater and Eastern Neck wildlife refuges in Cambridge and Rock Hall. The corn is planted annually as feed for the migratory waterfowl wintering in the area.
“The standing corn was extremely important for getting these birds through this,” said Bill Giese, a biological technician at Blackwater.
While some smaller songbirds and quail were found dead in the refuges, the bald eagles were better off, he said. They were able to feed on weakened birds, he said.
The wild ponies of Assateague Island also remained unscathed by the blizzard, said Assateague Island National Seashore Park spokeswoman Gerry Bell.
“They fend for themselves,” Bell said. “Critters usually know what to do unless we get in the way.”