True the winter months don’t offer you the opportunity to see the kaleidoscope of colors that the prairie offers in the summer when the wildflowers are at their peak, but, it is a great opportunity to learn about the mammals of the Monument.
According to a 2004 survey Homestead is home to at least thirty-one different mammals. Winter is a great time to observe mammals. Okay, so not all are easy to see but winter does help for some. Without the cover of herbaceous plants in the woodland the white-tailed deer are easy to spot. As many as 93 have be count on the Monument at once. That still does not guarantee that you will see one.
Mammals that you won’t see in the winter include the bats. Four different species were identified during the 2004 study. It is great fun to watch them at dusk during the campfire programs on Saturday nights in the summer, however, during the winter the Big Brown Bat hibernates, most likely in a cave or other underground structure, the Eastern Red Bat may migrate south or hibernate in hollow trees or leaf litter, the Northern Long-eared Bat hibernates in caves and research still needs to be done to figure out what exactly the Evening Bat does during the winter. Woodchucks and thirteen-lined ground squirrels are the only other animals that hibernate at the Monument. Most of the mammal species remain active all winter long including: white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail rabbits, red squirrels, coyotes, red foxes, armadillos, beavers, muskrats, minks, least weasels, mice, shrews, moles, and voles.
A few however, like the striped skunk, raccoons, opossums, and badgers sleep or enter states of of torpor during bad weather.
So now you are aware that at least 31 species of mammals occur at the Monument why can’t you see any of them? First you need to be patient, observant and quiet. Still many of these species are rather hard to find so I encourage you to use signs to help tell the story. Scat and tracks can take a gray winter walk to a new level.
My three year olds daughter’s favorite book at the time is Who Pooped in the Park by Gary Robson. The book takes you on a walk through Yellowstone National Park, on the trip they have many encounters with fierce animals such as the gray wolf, badger, grizzly bear and mountain lion; however, they are not scary because they are encounters of the “poopy” kind.
On that next warm winter afternoon or after the next snow I encourage you to see who pooped in the park while enjoying the trails at Homestead National Monument of America. While I cannot guarantee that you will see a white-tailed deer or any other mammal, I can guarantee tracks and scat.
Bowers, N., R. Bowers and K. Kaufman. 2004. Mammals of North America. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY. 352 pp.
Harvey, M. J., J. S. Altenbach and T. L. Best. 1999. Bats of the United States. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Arkansas. 64 pp.
Robbins, L. 2005. Inventory of Distribution, Composition, and Relative Abundance of Mammals, including Bats a Homestead National Monument of America. Missouri. Technical Report NPS/HTLN/HOME/ J6370040013. 19 pp.