KSN - Vol 14, No 2 - Winter Nature Study

THE UPPER COVER PICTURE, reprinted from Vol. 1, No. 2, taken in Massachusetts by Donald S, LaCroix, shows a type of track not often seen in Kansas-made by a person wearing snowshoes. The lower picture, reprinted from Vol. 2, No. 2, taken by Paul Elmore, of McPherson, shows a winter scene along the Smoky Hill River below the Kanopolis dam.

Volume 14, Number 2 - December 1967

Winter Nature Study


Published by: The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and Issued by: The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Division of Education


Editor: JOHN Breukelman

Associate Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee: Ina M . Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Gilbert A. Leisman, Bemadette Menhusen, David F. Parmelee, Carl W. Prophet

Online format by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of Ocotber, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Emporia, Kansas 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor: John Breukelman, Department of Biology.

Winter Nature Study

Ever since the publication of "Wildlife in Winter" and "Snow," two early issues of The Kansas School Naturalist, both long since out of print, many readers have been suggesting that we publish more about winter nature study. Indeed, this has been a neglected area, not only in the Naturalist, but in nature study literature in general. Most of us tend to associate nature study with spring, summer, and fall-not with winter, when nature is considered dormant and lifeless. Dormant is may be, but lifeless it is not. Many aspects of plant and animal life can be studied more conveniently during the winter than during the other seasons.

For example, bird nests - how difficult they are to find and to see distinctly during the nesting season, when they are hidden among the foliage of trees and shrubs, but how conspicuous they are in the bare trees and shrubs of winter. Now the birds have abandoned their nests; you can collect the old nests and take them apart if you wish. You can study different kinds of nesting materials, different styles of nest
architecture, and locations of the different kinds of nests. In taking the nests apart, you can even figure out the sequence in which the birds put the nests together. You can find remains of fruits and seeds, as well as other materials that the birds used for food. You may even find living insects that use the bird nests for winter homes, or insect eggs deposited there, ready for hatching in the spring.

This issue of The Kansas School Naturalist is mostly a condensed rerun of selected portion of "Wildlife in Winter" and "Snow," especially as regards the illustrations and the suggested activities. The illustrations were in the original issues; they were drawn by Dr. Robert F. Clarke, Associate Professor of Biology, who was then an undergraduate student in biology.


It has been said that only a stranger or a fool tries to guess what Kansas weather will be more than a few minutes ahead. Kansas winters are said to be especially variable. The average January temperature at Topeka is about 29°F, but this statement doesn't really mean much. For example, during January, 1930, the average was 17°, while in January, 1933, it was 41°. Temperatures of -40° have been recorded, yet entire winters pass in southeastern Kansas without a zero reading. Annual snowfalls as low as two inches and high as fifty inches have been recorded within the state. Sometimes the heaviest snowfall of the winter comes as early as November and sometimes as late as March.

If we measure the length of the winter season from the time of the first killing frost in the fall to the last one in the spring, the average winter is about 165 days long in southeastern Kansas, and about 210 days in northwestern Kansas. At Emporia the winter has been as short as 141 days and as long as 226, with an average of 178.

During some winters ponds and lakes scarcely freeze over; in other winters an ice cover a foot thick may last for weeks. The water in shallow pools and roadside ditches may in some winters freeze solid. The frozen upper layer of soil may be only a few inches deep one winter and two feet deep the next. However, soil covered with a thick layer of snow during the coldest weather may scarcely freeze even at the surface, because the snow acts as a protective blanket.


Everyone who has seen at least one Kansas winter knows what snow is, but he may not have thought much about it except that it is white and cold, and that it drifts. But snow is a complicated matter, as suggested by the following questions. How many of them can you answer?

  1. How is snow formed?

  2. What can you do with snow?

  3. What good is it?

  4. What harm is done by it?

  5. How can you control it?

  6. What is the average annual snowfall in Kansas?

  7. During what part of the year docs most snow fall in Kansas?

  8. How deep does snow get in Kansas?

  9. How long does snow remain on the ground in a Kansas winter?

  10. How much water is there in an inch of snow?

  11. What is the effect of a snow cover on the ground underneath?

  12. What is the effect of a layer of snow on to p of the ice that covers a pond or lake in winter?

  13. What is "black snow"?

  14. What is a "black blizzard"?

  15. Where do most blizzards occur?

  16. How does snow differ from hail; from rain; from frost?

  17. Is it true that snow comes only in winter and hail only in summer?

  18. Where do snowdrifts form?

  19. What are snow fences, and where a replaced?

  20. When a roof is covered with snow, is the snow distributed evenly?

  21. Where does snow on a roof melt first?

  22. Where do icicles form?

  23. What is a snow crystal?

  24. What is a snowflake?

  25. Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?

  26. Are snowflakes formed according to a common pattern?

  27. How do you go about examining them?

  28. How do you go about building a snow house?


As you know, the atmosphere contains a considerable amount of water vapor. The temperature at which this vapor condenses is called the dew point. When the temperature of the air is lowered to the dew point, a mist or fog is formed when the water vapor condenses into tiny droplets of water. If this condensed water
vapor is at or near the surface we call it fog or mist. A mass of fog or mist floating high in the atmosphere is called a cloud. Thus fog is a low altitude cloud, and a cloud is fog that is hundreds or thousands of feet above us. Fogs or clouds may be followed by dew, frost, snow, rain, or hail. When clouds are formed at temperatures below the freezing point of water, moisture in the air condenses directly into crystals; the condensed moisture then falls as snow, unless the air close to the earth is so warm that the snowflakes melt as they fall.

Snow crystals, freezing freely in the air, show an infinite variety of designs. It is commonly remarked that no two snow crystals are exactly alike. However, as may be seen in the drawing on page 6, there is a regular six-rayed pattern, with the rays at angles of 60°. The exact shapes and sizes of snow crystals are influenced by the atmospheric conditions under which they form. In crystals which are formed at higher altitudes, so that they are in cooler regions for a longer time, the spaces between the rays are built up with ice so that the crystals present a more solid appearance. Crystals formed at lower altitudes, which fall to the earth in a shorter time, have, a more open pattern. Both types are shown in the drawing. In Kansas one ordinarily, finds more of the open, low altitude crystals, such as those shown on the lower half of the page.

When snow crystals fall to earth through a layer of warm air, they may melt somewhat, and these moist crystals may stick together, forming large but light masses. Such masses of snow crystals are called snowflakes; a single snowflake may consist of hundreds or even thousands of snow crystals.

KSN - Vol 14, No 2 - snowflake patterns


It supplies water for trees, crops, wildflowers, wildlife, and domestic animals, as well as for lakes, ponds, and streams.

Snow does not supply much water for plants unless it is spread somewhat evenly over the ground, so that when the snow melts the water soaks in. A deep snowdrift in a roadside ditch does not help the adjoining field or pasture. A bare plowed field can hold only a little snow, but a weed patch or stubble covered field holds a great deal. So does a hedgerow or brush thicket. Some of the "clean farming" practices, which give the wind a clean sweep over a field, are not helpful in this respect.

Snow protects soil from extremely low temperatures. Plants can survive much colder weather when the ground in which they have their roots is covered with a blanket of snow, than they can when the ground is bare.


Snow may be useful and beautiful, but it may also do considerable damage. Blizzards sometime kill livestock and even people, and the also make travel difficult and dangerous. During the early history of Kansas, when there were few buildings and fences, the chief danger in blizzards was that a person might get lost in the blinding snow. Even now, with fences, highways, and motorized snow plows, there is still the danger of an automobile being stalled in drifted snow so that the passengers may have dif ficulty reaching shelter. Although blizzards occur through ut Kansas, they are more severe in the western part of the state, because of the combination of high wiwls and dry powdery snow.

Damage is not restricted to that done by blizzards. The accompanying illustration shows how an ordinary cover of snow over the ice covering a pond may become harmful to fishes and other animals living in the pond.

Ordinary snowfalls, such as occur in Kansas, may block roads, streets, and railroads, causing late arrivals of trains, delays in mail and shipping, and upset schedules of all sorts. The snow, particularly if it is wet, or if it freezes on as it falls, may break down trees and branches, telephone wires and poles, and sometimes even roofs on buildings.

KSN - Vol 14, No 2 - water cycle

As you no doubt have noticed, drifting snow accumulates wherever there is an obstruction to slow down the wind. Such an obstruction may be a box, building, tree, brush, or snow fence. Where no such obstructions exist, the surface is exposed to the wind and snow blows away. Thus a field of smooth bare soil will not hold much snow, while a field covered with stubble will hold a great deal. However even a field or garden of bare soil may hold considerable snow if it is surrounded by a hedge or weedy fence.

Sometimes when snow drifts across a bare plowed field, some of the topsoil is blown along with the snow and mixed with it. This "black soil" may be piled up in drifts in roadside ditches and behind hedges and snow fences. Sometimes a "black blizzard" may result in the movement of more topsoil than snow.


So you'd like to be a detective? After the first snowfall, your home or school yard will be full of clues to practice on. Any animal that walks, runs, crawls, or hops about after the snowfall will leave tracks in the snow. After a little study, you can tell from these tracks how big the animal was, whether it was two-footed or four-footed, and in which direction it was going. What else might you detect?

On the illustration below are some snow clues. See the difference between the house sparrow track (No.1) and the horned lark track (No.2). The sparrow hops; the lark walks.

Compare the dog track (No.3) and the cat track (No.4). The dog "drags" his feet somewhat and shows his claws; the cat places his hind foot neatly into the track made by the front foot and does not show his claws.
Among the most common snow tracks in Kansas are those of the cottontail (No.5). See how he puts down one forefoot, then the other forefoot, then both hind feet in front of and outside of the tracks made by the forefeet.

On the opposite page are some of the other common snow tracks to be found in Kansas. Of course, many of these tracks may also be found in mud, sand, or soft earth when no snow is on the ground.

KSN - Vol 14, No 2 - animal tracks in snow


A roof may be compared to a landscape, with hills, slopes, valleys, ridges, cliffs, and other features which affect the distribution of snow. Drifts may form back of chimneys, dormers, and other roof projections. The chimneys may give off heat, which causes nearby snow to melt even during an extremely cold day.

In some cases the roof covers a heated building, such as a house, and is not well insulated. Then the part of the roof that extends past the walls will be colder than the rest, so snow may melt faster on the main roof than it does on the parts that extend.

If the ridge of the roof extends east and west, the roof has a north .slope and a south slope. Does the low winter sun warm the two slopes equally?

Icicles form along the edges where water drips from the roof. They form sooner and usually become larger along the south edge than along the north. They cannot form at all until enough snow melts, (either by the sun's heat or by heat from inside the building) to result in dripping water. They cannot form at all unless the air temperature is below freezing. If icicles are produced in a high wind they may hang · at an angle instead of straight down. The largest icicles of all are usually formed at the end of a valley where two roof slopes come together.

KSN - Vol 14, No 2 - snow on the roof


In an agricultural state like Kansas we usually think first about the harm that weeds do. They use soil moisture which crops would otherwise have. Insect pests use them for winter homes and they are nuisances in fields and gardens. However, weeds also do some good. They check soil erosion, add organic matter to the soil, check drifting snow so it will add to soil moisture, and provide seeds for birds during the winter. If we were birds, we would probably consider nearly all weeds useful and beneficial.

The tops of weeds that stick up through the snow are well supplied with seeds. A sparrow or other bird, as it lights on the top of a pigweed or ragweed, will shake loose some of the seeds, which will fall on the snow. It will require deeper snow than usually occurs in most parts of Kansas to cover all weed tops. Wild sunflowers, smartweed, curly dock, pepper grass, mullein, and dozens of other weeds are tall enough to keep their heads above all but the deepest snow.

The seeds of plants provide rich and well-balanced animal food. They contain proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in compact form.

Many of the weeds that are so important to birds do not do much harm even to crops, especially when they grow in out-of-the-way places, along fences, in corners, or in places not being cultivated.


Have you ever thought you would like to crawl into a cozy bed the first freezing night in October and not bother to wake up until the first warm morning in April? If you were a frog, lizard, turtle, or snake, you would do just that. All of these animals, as well as insects, snails, centipedes, and many others, go into some type of "winter sleep" known as hibernation. Frogs and other water animals burrow into the mud at the bottom of a pool; lizards dig in under a rock ledge or log; both go down far enough to escape freezing during the cold winter days and nights. All of these animals are "cold-blooded." They do not control their body temperatures. Like an unheated building they warm up and cool off as the outdoor temperatures go up and down. If cold-blooded animals did not go into protected places, they would freeze to death.

Even some warm-blooded animals, such as "The Seven Famous Sleepers" (bat, bear, chipmunk, jumping mouse, raccoon, skunk, and woodchuck) hibernate. They differ widely in the length of time and the soundness of their winter sleep. But in all cases, while they are in their winter quarters, their heart and breathing rates become so slow that they can hardly be measured, their body temperatures fall to only a few degrees above that of the surrounding mud or soil, and the fat stored in their bodies during summer and fall is used for food.

Hibernation is only one way of living through the winter. There are many other ways. Some birds travel great distances to warmer regions, thus escaping winter altogether. A list of such birds is found on page 13.
Other birds, and most mammals, remain active even in the coldest weather. These must find plenty of food. The colder the weather is, the more food they need to keep up their body heat, just as it takes more fuel to keep the schoolroom or home warm in colder weather. If birds and fur bearers can find enough to eat, they can develop enough body heat to live through even the most severe winter. They are likely to suffer more from lack of food than severe cold.

For most animals, food is hard to find in winter. Birds that eat insects in summer must change to something like weed seeds for winter. But deep snow or icy rain may cover weed seeds, so that birds cannot get them.


Daily Temperature Record

Keep a daily record of temperature. The thermometer should be placed where the sun will not shine on it. Why? Read the temperature just before school starts in the morning, at noon, and after school closes in the afternoon. Pupils may wish to read the temperatures at home before and after school, and on Saturdays and Sundays. Charts can be made and posted on the school bulletin board.

Snowfall Record

Keep a snowfall record-date of snowfall, depth of snow on the level, depth of drifts.

Drifting Snow

On a day when snow is drifting you may set a box in the open yard, and watch a drift form. Does it form on the side of the box away from or toward the wind? Note how the particles of dry snow blow from the windward side to the leeward side of the drift, thus causing the drift to move along in the direction the wind is blowing. After a drift has formed you can take away the box and watch the drift disappear.

With a stick make a deep groove in the surface of the snow. How is this groove filled in? Make one groove in the direction of the wind, and another at right angles to it. What difference does this make in the way in which the groove is filled up?

Snow Fences

Next time you are driving out in the country, see where the snow fences are located to keep snow from drifting across highways and railroads. Then, next time U1ere is enough snow and wind to cause large drifts, you can see whether the fences were located in the right places to do the job for which they were intended.

Snow House

Sometimes snow is hard and crusty so you can build an igloo or snow house. Good building snow is not as common in Kansas as in the northern slates, but it does occur once in a while. A picture of a Kansas igloo is shown on page 15.


You can make tracks in snow. Try walking forward several steps, then turning around a nd walking backward several steps. Is there any difference between the tracks made while you were walking forward and those made while you were walking backward?

You can be a detective and study animal tracks in snow. You can tell from the tracks how big the animal was, whether it was two-footed or four-footed, and in what direction it was going. The accompanying picture of tracks is reprinted from the December 1954 issue of The Kansas School Naturalist.

Snow Crystals

You may examine a number of snow crystals under a microscope or magnifying lens, and make sketches of them. Be sure to cool the microscope stage or glass plate on which you place the snow crystals, or the snow will melt before you have time to examine it carefully.

Snow Pictures

If you have a camera and like to take outdoor pictures, try the hobby of winter pictures. Many pictures taken in winter are flat because of the lack of shadows. This is because most people take pictures with the sun a t their backs. To get pictures with good contrast, the camera must be at right angles, or nearly so, to the direction of the sunlight. Some of the most interesting of winter pictures are those of weed lops sticking out above the snow. Other possibilities are snow 0 n trees, on roofs, and in drifts along fences and buildings.

Water Equivalent

To find out how much water a certain amount of snow provides, fill a suitable container, such as a pound coffee can, with loose snow. Bring the snow indoors and allow it to melt. You can calculate the amount of snow and the amount of water, in cubic inches, fluid ounces, or other suitable units, or you can simply measure the depth of the water in the same can in which you collected the snow. You can make up all sorts of arithmetic problems, based on the differences between snow and water.

Melting Rate

To see the effect of other materials on the rate of melting of snow lay such things as a sheet of white paper, a sheet of black paper, a piece of tinfoil, a pane of glass, a piece of tin, or a shingle (you can think of many others) on the surface of clean snow. Do this on a clear sunny day and lay the objects in full sun. After an hour and at intervals through the day, see which of the objects has any effect on the melting rate. Black paper absorbs more heat from the sunlight than does white paper; how does this affect the melting of snow under the paper?

Temperatures of Mixtures

You can bring in a can of snow and allow it to melt until you have a slushy mixture of snow and water. What is the temperature of this mixture? Now add some table salt to the mixture and stir thoroughly. What is the temperature of the mixture containing the salt? How does this experiment apply to ice cream freezing?

Temperature Effects

On a really cold winter day, in a place where the sun is not shining, you may lay one thermometer on the surface of a bare soil area and cover another with several inches of snow. After an hour or so see whether or not both thermometers register the same temperature. You may be surprised if you bury several thermometers at different depths in a snowdrift. If the outdoor temperature is much below freezing, you may find the deepest part of the snowdrift is the warmest. The snow acts as a blanket; as a drift forms over weeds and brush, hollow places are left where rabbits, bobwhite, and other animals can burrow and be protected. The temperature at the bottom of a deep snow drift does not drop much below 32°F, no matter how cold the air above the drift may be.


How many different kinds of weeds can you find in your school or home yard? Are any birds using the weeds for food or shelter? Look for tracks of birds that have gathered around such weeds as ragweed
and dock. If you find seed tops of such biennials as mullein you may presume that this ground was not cultivated the previous season.

Living Things Within Soil

On a cold day, dig into the soil. How far down is the soil frozen? Bring a lump of frozen soil into the schoolroom and keep in a warm place. Do you find any living things in the soil after it has been warm for a few days? Do the same with soil from below the frost level. Are there any differences between the living things in the soil that has been frozen and that had not been frozen?

Winter Twigs

In winter, trees and shrubs have leaf scars and buds at the points at which leaves were attached during the summer. You can identify trees and shrubs by the size, form, and arrangement of these scars and buds. For example, an ash twig has its leaf scars arranged in opposite pairs, each with many small scars, but with only three bundlescars each. The elm, on the other hand, has alternately arranged leaf scars. You can make a collection of winter twigs and classify them, once you get used to looking for differences among the scars and buds.


During the winter you may often notice cocoons attached to trees, weeds, and woody plants, since they are no longer hidden by foliage. If these cocoons are collected after they have been out in three or four weeks of winter. weather, they will hatch about four weeks after being brought into the, house. What cocoons are you most likely to find? That of the promethea moth is one. This cocoon, suspended by a thread from a twig, is about one and half inches long and is a tan-brown color. Another common moth cocoon is the cecropia, which you will generally find on a cherry, maple, or willow tree, and other plants, attached snugly anywhere from hvo inches to several feet above the ground. This cocoon is a burlap-brown color and is about three inches long.

Remove cocoons carefully so that the structure of the layers is not torn severely. Make a special point of noting where and when you found them. If you can identify the kind of plant to which each one was attached, write this down also.


The cocoons should be placed in an open cardboard box and left uncovered. Once a week, using a salt shaker or something similar, sprinkle water on their surface, (don't saturate them) and tum them at the
same time. The moisture is necessary because it is usually so dry indoors in the winter. If you happen to be present at the moment when a pupa in one of your cocoons emerges as a butterfly or moth, you
have an exciting observation in store for you. If the cocoon looks stretched and swollen and shows much movement, it is probably ready to open. It is interesting also to cut open a cocoon carefully with
fine scissors and observe the pupa in its last stages before emerging as an adult.


Plant galls are swellings that occur on any part of the plant. They usually result from eggs laid in the plant tissue by insects, mites, or worms; occasionally they are produced by fungi. The hatching eggs or fingi irritate the plant tissues, and these swell, forming a gall. The inner lining cells of the gall usually serve as food for the developing creatures, thus providing a home and food supply all in one. Each gall-maker produces its own particular type of gall; so by knowing the type, you can identify the organism that made it.

Where Do Our Nesting Birds Spend The Winter?

In this table the first column lists 25 common Kansas nesting birds which do not ordinarily stay here in winter; the second column indicates the months in which the birds may usually be seen in Kansas; the third column shows where they are during the winter.

1. Great blue heron


Southern states to South America

2. American bittern


Southern states, West Indies

3. Blue-winged teal


Southern states, Mexico, Central America

4. Turkey vulture


Southern states, Mexico

5. Killdeer


Middle United States to South America

6. Mourning dove


Southern states to Panama

7. Yellow-billed cuckoo


South America

8. Nighthawk


Mexico to South America

9. Chimney swift


Amazon basin

10. Hummingbird


Southern states to Panama

11. Eastern kingbird


Southern Mexico to South America

12. Phoebe


Southern states

13. Barn swallow


Mexico to Brazil

14. Purple martin



15. House wren


Gulf states, Mexico

16. Red-eyed vireo


Mexico to Ecuador and Brazil

17. Catbird


Central America to Panama, Cuba

18. Brown thrasher


Southern states to Panama

19. Wood thrush


Southern states to Panama

20. Yellow warbler


Mexico to Peru and Brazil

21. Red-wing


Southern states

22. Baltimore oriole


Central America to Colombia

23. Cowbird


Southern states

24. Dickcissel


Central and South America

25. Field Sparrow


Southern states


Barker, Will. 1958. Winter-sleeping Wildlife, Harper and Row, Keystone Industrial Park, Scranton, Pennsylvania. 18512. $3.95

Blough, Glenn O. 1961. Christmas Trees and How They Grow, Whittlesey House, a division of McGraw-Hill, 330 West 42nd Street, New York, New York 10036. $3.50 (For primary and intermediate grade pupils)

Hillcourt, William. 1950. Field Book of Nature Activities, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 200 Madison Avenue, New York 10016. $4.95

Lehr, Paul K, R. Will Burnett, and Herbert S. Zim. 1957. Weather, (A Golden Nature Guide). Golden Press, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York 10020. $1.00 (paper)

McFall, Christie. 1964. Wonders of Snow and Ice, Dodd, Mead and Co., 432 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10016. $3.00

Partridge, J. A. 1955. Natural Science Through the Seasons, The Macmillan Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10022. $4.25

Simons, Mina and Howard. 1966. Who Knows When Winter Goes? Follett Publishing Company, 1010 West Washington Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois. 60607. $3.95 (For primary grade pupils)

Zim, Herbert S., and Ira N. Gabrielson. 1949. Birds, Golden Press, New York, New York. $1.00 (paper)

Zim, Herbert S., and Clarence Cottam. 1951. Insects, Golden Press, New York, New York. $1.00 (paper)

Zim, Herbert S., and Alexander C. Martin. 1952. Trees, Golden Press, New York, New York. $1.00 (paper)

(The last three are Golden Nature Guides.)

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