Desert Winters are for the Birds: Margie B. Klein, nature blogger

Winter in the desert – is there such a thing? It doesn’t seem like it if you’re from a colder climate, but just remember it’s all relative. In fact, one of the things that make a desert a desert is an extreme variance from summer to winter temperatures.

Human snowbirds migrate to our area to spend the winter in what seems to them quite mild
weather. But what does Mojave Desert nature do in the winter?

Small mammals like rodents and bats will go into true hibernation for the season, decreasing their body temperature and heart rate. Large grazing animals like elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep, however, are still active and looking for food.

Reptiles, which the Mojave is full of, seek shelter usually underground and go into a hibernation-like state called brumation. While activity is decreased, they may still come out on an extra-warm day. Some reptiles share their winter burrows with other animals, presumably for warmth.

The rattlesnake is known for this, conjuring up visions of deadly snake pits.

Amphibians (frogs and toads) dig themselves deep in the mud, and fish find warm pockets in the water and become lethargic. Insects may migrate south like some butterflies, or overwinter in a pupal stage, or simply hunker down in a covered area.

Birds vary in their winter habits. Some birds fly even farther south than southern Nevada, but some just make the journey down from the mountains into the valley. Many live here year-round. Still others fly from northern climes to winter here. In fact, winter in the Mojave is a great time for birding. It’s a thrill to see the mountain bluebird at slightly lower elevations, in the foothills. A member of the woodpecker family, the flicker, is also at lower elevations – in the valley – in wintertime. These birds are common to Mt. Charleston and the rest of the Spring Mountains.

Raptors, such as golden eagles, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, and kestrels, fly in from the north to join those of the same species that are year-long residents here. Others, including the bald eagle and a number of hawks, only spend the winter here. Unique water birds, too, can be seen in the cool months. Don’t forget about the many birds that live in the eastern Mojave all year long, like Phainopepla, Anna’s hummingbird, and finches. They’ll be easier to spot among the bare vegetation.

Although many of the imported landscape plants stay green through the winter, most trees around the area are deciduous, going bare until early spring. Desert annuals will disappear and desert perennials go dormant while the winter monsoons prepare them for regrowth in the spring.

Days can be anywhere from fifty to seventy degrees, so consider coming out of winter
lethargy yourself on a nice day and get out and active in nature.


Margie B. Klein is a freelance writer, nature lover, and retired environmental educator who’s lived in Las Vegas since the ’90′s. Follow her on Twitter @NatureWriterVgs.

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