Students will be able to:
- list what animals must have in order to survive winter;
- explain some specific difficulties that animals face during winter; and
- list some ways in which humans make winter life more difficult for wildlife.
In this card game, students take turns selecting cards from a centre pile until they have a complete set of winter “needs” for their species.
copies of playing cards, a “Winter Survival” sheet for each player, and an instruction sheet to play the game, as provided in this activity
Winter can be tough. That’s why some creatures migrate to warmer spots and others hibernate through the long, snowy months. Wildlife species that are active all winter encounter severe cold and snow, and must find enough food and a decent shelter to survive until spring. (Getting enough to drink is usually not a problem as animals will eat snow.)
Snow can cover grasses and other food sources. Deep snow can make it difficult for creatures to move around. Some of the small species, like mice and voles, use snow both as a cosy blanket and as a shelter from predators. They travel through a series of tunnels in the shallow area between the ground and snow. This area is called the subnivean space. It is the narrow space formed between the snow and the warmer ground directly below. Mice and other small creatures travel in the subnivean space all winter. Not only are they able to hide from predators there, but they can also keep warm! That’s because snow insulates, just like a blanket does. In fact, when the temperature outside is as low as -40°C, the temperature in the subnivean space may be only -4°C – positively balmy by comparison! There are other spots where wildlife can find winter shelter. These spots include the inner branches of conifer trees; sunny, south-facing slopes where animals can warm up during the day; brush piles; and snow drifts or underground burrows.
As the snow deepens, many species are unable to forage for grasses and food on the ground. They must look for other edibles, such as twigs, berries, fruits, seeds, or wintering insects. Many species, including the beaver, the pika, the squirrel and the nuthatch, store food in caches that will last through the winter. Sometimes, very severe weather conditions make it almost hopeless for any animal to find enough to eat. Blizzards can cover everything edible, or freezing rain can make it impossible to burrow into the subnivean space.
Carnivores, such as the wolf, the coyote, the fox, the lynx and the weasel have a tougher time finding prey in winter. Not only can small prey hide under snow, but the snow makes it hard for carnivores to chase them. Instead, foxes and owls must wait to pounce on mice or voles when they pop out of the snow. The long, skinny weasel, however, can follow small creatures through their network of subnivean tunnels. The lynx can travel very well on top of snow using its large, furry, snowshoe-like paws to chase a hare or a ruffed grouse.
Some species are scavengers. That is, they will eat animals that are already dead (carrion). This source of food may have died naturally, been killed by another species, or been hit by a vehicle. The magpie is a scavenger, as is the coyote, the woodpecker, the chickadee, and the weasel, along with many other species of wildlife.
Humans can have a negative impact on wildlife in several ways. Cultivated land wipes out the shrubs, snags, or bushes that help produce subnivean space. Parking lots and other developments produce wastelands for wildlife. Logging destroys snags and trees that creatures depend on for food and shelter, particularly in winter.
Luckily, some human impacts are positive for wildlife. A landowner who plants a shelter belt of trees and bushes, or leaves stubble in fields, provides winter habitat for wildlife. Loggers who leave snags or fallen logs in the forest are also helping wildlife.
- Provide each student with a “Winter Survival” sheet. Explain that the sheet will help students keep track of various components that wildlife needs to survive winter, which in this case will be food, shelter, and a feeding site.
- Announce that a wildlife card game will be played and the species to be featured will be a mouse, bird, squirrel, and weasel. Explain that the object of the game is to collect all the components that an animal will need to survive winter. To “survive winter,” students must collect all the components for each of the four animals.
- Then, divide the class into groups of three students. Give each group a set of playing cards that are provided in this activity. Prepare the cards in advance (i.e., cut them out and laminate them) or have students cut them out. Provide each group with a copy of “How to Play the Dinner Time Winter Survival Game,” which is located below, as a playing guide.
- Review with students the instructions on how to play the game (below).
- Let students practice a round or two of the game to become familiar with it.
- Vary the game by using fewer limiting factor cards. If time is an issue, shorten the game by requiring students to fill sets of component cards for two species of wildlife.
- Students could play a game of “baseball” by answering questions such as: What is one shelter component for a field mouse? What is one winter food component for a bird? Players advance one base for each correct answer.
Ask students to:
- List four places where animals find shelter in the winter.
- Describe three foods that animals eat in winter.
- Explain how severe weather can make life even tougher for wintering wildlife.
How to Play the Dinner Time Winter Survival Game
- Supply each player with a “Winter Survival” sheet to keep track of the components that wildlife needs to survive winter (which in this case will be food, shelter, and a feeding site).
- Players must fill their sheet with component cards for four animals (squirrel, mouse, weasel, bird) in full view of other players.
- Deal three cards to each player to begin the game. Place remaining cards face down in the centre pile.
- The youngest player takes the first turn and selects the top card from the centre pile.
- The play continues clockwise as players attempt to collect three component cards (food, shelter, and feeding site) to complete a set of “winter” needs for each animal.
- When players pick up their cards, they must read out loud the information contained on them and take the appropriate action.
- When WILD CARDS are picked up (for food, shelter, and feeding site), they can be used for any animal.
- Some LIMITING FACTOR CARDS will instruct a player to return a component card for an animal to the centre pile.
Here’s an example of how to follow this kind of instruction:
- Suppose a player draws a LIMITING FACTOR CARD for an animal’s FOOD with an instruction to return it, along with a FOOD card for that animal, to the centre pile. The player must return both cards to the pile.
- A WILD CARD for FOOD can be used as a substitute for the animal’s FOOD card.
- If a player does not have the animal’s FOOD card (or a WILD CARD for FOOD), the player must:
- Keep the LIMITING FACTOR CARD and continue to play the game.
- When the player picks up the animal’s FOOD card (or a WILD CARD for FOOD), he or she must return it, and the LIMITING FACTOR CARD for the animal’s food, to the centre pile.
- After discarding both cards, the player continues to play the game.
- The first player who fills all components for all the animals has “survived” winter and wins the game.
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