Wildlife Whereabouts: Settling in for a long winter


Now that the snow is here to stay, animals in Grand Teton are either hibernating or migrating. More specifically:

• Nearly all bears will be denned by the end of December, sleeping through the heart of the winter.

• Fall elk migrations were early this year, with high numbers of elk arriving on the National Elk Refuge and other wintering grounds throughout late November and into early December.

• Winter closures to protect elk and other wildlife are now in effect in the park’s Snake River bottom, some high elevation bighorn sheep wintering areas, and throughout many local national forest lands.

• Snow arrived early in the high country this year, causing Teton Range bighorn sheep to move to small patches of rugged winter range where sun and wind keep upper elevation ridges relatively snow free.

• Bighorn sheep from the Gros Ventre population have already moved to lower elevations like Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge, where they can often be seen from the refuge road.

• Most deer and elk will migrate from summering areas to wintering areas, but timing and migration rates will be influenced by snow.

• Moose have begun congregating in areas where bitterbrush is abundant, such as the sagebrush flats near the Jackson Hole Airport and north of the town of Kelly.

• Long-tailed weasels and snowshoe hares have traded in their brown summer coats for a more seasonally cryptic white fur. The weasels maintain the black tip on their tail to help distract potential predators.

• As snow accumulates on the valley floor, sage grouse begin seeking out tall sagebrush for shelter and food.

• Resident waterfowl, such as mallard, goldeneye, bufflehead and trumpeter swans, become confined to ice-free waters (thermal areas or moving streams and rivers).

• Rough-legged hawks, a close relative of the red-tailed hawk, are now in the valley, having recently arrived from their arctic nesting grounds. Look for these beautiful birds on the Refuge fence north of Jackson, in South Park, along the Moose-Wilson road south of Grand Teton National Park, and in the park’s Elk Ranch flats are just south of Moran Junction.

Photo by Pat Leary

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