The DNR communications team works with agency experts to develop the weekly questions and provide the answers. This feature addresses current DNR issues, interesting topics, or the most frequently asked questions from around Minnesota.
Q: Why does the fur coat of a deer change colors depending on the time of year – a reddish color in the spring and brown in the fall?
A: The deer’s coat is designed to provide both a means for thermoregulation and camouflage. Summer coats appear reddish and are thin, allowing deer to better cope with heat stress. In the fall, deer begin a process of molting, which is triggered by hormonal changes that reflect the changing seasons. The reddish summer coat turns into a faded gray or brown color as the new winter coat begins to grow. The new coat is comprised of two layers. The outer guard hairs are hollow, stiff and grow about 2 inches longer than the undercoat. The inner layer is soft and dense which insulates deer from the cold weather and snow. Coat color, regardless of the season, tends to be darker in forested areas and lighter in agricultural areas where deer are exposed to more direct sunlight.
- Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor
Q: How does the winter cold and snow affect deer, and how do they survive Minnesota’s winter weather?
A: Wildlife in Minnesota must be able to withstand a wide variety of environmental conditions, which provides a niche for cold-adapted species that may otherwise be outcompeted by species that cannot survive the winter. White tailed deer are found throughout North America and Central America, but also exhibit some winter adaptations. The heavy fur on the outside of a deer’s coat is hollow. The air stored inside each hair serves as an insulator that buffers the deer’s warm body from colder outside temperatures, much like the insulation inside a house’s wall traps warm air.
Snow affects deer in many ways. Like the hair on a deer’s back, fluffy snow can also trap air and provide good insulation for any animal that beds down in a deep snow drift. Snow can also be a detriment to deer because it can make food more difficult to find. In winter, deer often shift from typical grazers feeding on grasses and herbaceous plants to browsers that feed on buds and rely on fat reserves gained during the summer. Deep snow can also make travel more difficult for deer, meaning that they may alter their movement patterns or try to find areas where food and cover from wind are nearby one another. This can cause deer to “herd up” in winter as they congregate near an available source of food or a windbreak.
-Charlie Tucker, assistant manager, Red Lake Wildlife Management Area
Q: Where does the balsam fir boughs used to make holiday wreaths and garland come from?
A: The specialty forest products industry uses many of the natural resources found in Minnesota’s forests, such as pinecones, mosses and birch twigs, to make everything from decorative items to medicinal and herbal products. One of the most important specialty products is the balsam bough. About 1,700 tons of boughs are harvested annually from Minnesota forests, and each ton makes roughly 400 wreathes. However, the number made per ton varies depending on the size of each item. The main products, which consist of wreathes, garlands, and swags are 95 percent balsam fir based. Pine and white cedar are also used to create holiday decorations.
Most of the boughs used by Minnesota’s special forest products industry are harvested from public and private lands across the northern part of the state. Itasca, St. Louis, Aitkin and Cass counties support more than one-half of the bough harvest in Minnesota. The state’s balsam bough industry has annual retail sales topping $30 million. When the 9 million pine cones and other decorative items are added in, the economic impact is much bigger.
- Steve Vongroven, DNR forest utilization and marketing program coordinator
Q: Not every bird species migrates from Minnesota to warmer climates down south before winter sets in - some stay behind. Is there anything that can be done to help these brave birds survive winter?
A: An easy plan for winter bird feeding is to provide three main choices of food – large seeds, small seeds, and suet. Black-oil sunflower seeds and cardinal mixes have the greatest appeal to the broadest variety of winter birds and contain a high-energy content.
Water is a critical ingredient of a winter-feeding program. There are excellent birdbaths with heating elements and thermostats available from bird feeding supply stores. The heated water is primarily for drinking. Don't worry about birds freezing if they bathe on a cold winter day because native song birds seem smart enough not to bathe when the wind chill is 40 below.
More information on winter bird feeding >>
- Carrol Henderson, DNR nongame wildlife program supervisor