February Wildlife Whereabouts: Winter Still Poses Challenges to Park’s Wild Residents

Bison resting in winter

As of Tuesday, February 22, the Snake River Headwaters is recording snow water equivalents at 82% of median, compared to 100% in 2021 and 110% in 2020 for the same day. Even though this has been a low snow year to date, as we enter late winter/early spring, please keep in mind that this is the toughest time of year for many species as their fat reserves are the lowest while they wait for spring green up. Maintaining respectful distances and not allowing your actions to influence wildlife behavior are paramount.

  • By late February, bull moose have dropped their antlers. To tell the difference between males and females, look for the antler attachment points, called pedicles, on the heads of males or the white fringed area around the tail of females.
  • Wolves have finished breeding, and similar to dogs, their gestation period is 63 days. Females will whelp pups in mid-to-late April, but the pups will not emerge from dens until May.
  • Long-tailed weasels are crust cruising and leaving behind tell-tale signs of their activities—dumbbell shaped tracks zig-zagging across the snow’s surface and small holes that plunge to the subnivean (below snow) environment where they find prey.
  • The small, isolated population of greater sage-grouse that occupies the valley year-round survives the winter by foraging on sagebrush leaves exposed above the snow.
  • Park staff conducted their annual winter sage-grouse count in mid-February, with assistance from the Teton Raptor Center and other volunteers. The winter count was comparable to the past several years, suggesting the population is still low but stable. However, it's possible that sage-grouse were more dispersed this year and undercounted given the low snowpack. The winter count gives biologists a snapshot of sage-grouse numbers and distribution prior to their courtship at lek sites, which will begin in late March and early April.
  • Mule deer that summer within Grand Teton are on their winter ranges in the north and south forks of the Shoshone River near Cody; around Dubois and Crowheart, Wyoming; in Idaho’s Teton Canyon and Sand Creek Desert; and near Pinedale, Farson, and Rock Springs, Wyoming to the south. Some animals, like mule deer, migrate long distances to avoid the harsh winter conditions encountered in Jackson Hole and to find more accessible foods where snow cover is reduced.
  • During mid-winter, vegetation can be exposed on southern aspects where trees radiate warmth, causing the snow around the base of the tree to melt. Resident mule deer will move from tree well to tree well to take advantage of the available browse.
  • Pronghorn are poorly adapted to deep snow and the typical extreme winter conditions of Jackson Hole. Most of the 300 or so animals that summer here migrate to the Green River drainage south and east of Jackson Hole to winter, where snow is not as deep.
  • As days gradually lengthen, ravens, bald eagles, and great-horned owls—some of the area’s earliest nesters—have begun courtship activities.
  • River otters are active near water bodies all winter using holes in the ice to move between land and water. Otters are well adapted to a life in and out of cold water with thick, protective fur that helps them keep warm. Because of their short legs, webbed feet, and sleek bodies they are strong swimmers.

Remember to please consider the space and energy conservation needs of wildlife during winter and do not approach them closely, even though they may appear unconcerned. In many cases, they simply have nowhere else to go until snow depths decrease.

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