Winter in Yellowstone last a long time. But in spring, snow-free patches of ground attract many of the park’s wildlife species. Some animals look as if they have narrowly made it through the winter, while others look healthy with their thick coats.
All the animals here have adapted in one way or another in order to survive one of the harshest climates in the country. Yellowstone’s bears hibernate through much of the winter and we discuss that in a separate video. Many species find that migration is the best way to survive a long winter.
Most people first think of birds when migration is mentioned. That is due to the great distances birds can travel. For example, Yellowstone’s population of American White Pelicans winter in the coastal lowlands of Mexico and return to this area in April.
Migration can also mean moving regionally to the lower elevations of the valleys that are found in and around the park. Elk, bison, and other ungulates follow historic migration patterns to escape the deep snow and to reach wintering grounds.
Other members of those same species migrate locally to escape the snow. Some of those animals move to the geyser basins and take advantage of the heat and the open ground. Every spring, old and sick animals die in the thermal areas. This often provides nutrients for emerging bears and a host of other animals.
Some of the common winter adaptations start to become noticeable in spring. The thick winter coat that protected the elk and the bison through the cold begins molting and then falls off as the weather gets warmer. Animals like the snowshoe hare begin to turn from their winter white to the darker grayish-brown of summer.
Adaptations and migrations require an incredible amount of energy. While the park supplies some of that energy, often areas found hundreds of miles away help sustain Yellowstone’s wild species. In turn, by protecting Yellowstone, we are helping those areas maintain healthy and diverse animal populations.