Human beings have figured out a number of ways to beat the cold – heavy coats, blankets, wood stoves, central heating – but animals have everything they need to stay warm, either already on their bodies or through what can be found in their environment, according to one Harford County naturalist.

"It's fascinating," Frank Marsden, naturalist and program director at the Eden Mill Nature Center in Pylesville, said. "We're the only ones that have to wear a coat; these guys have it figured out pretty well... These guys get it all naturally."

Marsden, along with Kim Peabody, a naturalist at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon, discussed how critters in Harford County, including birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles, get through the winter.

Marsden said creatures have three options as the cold weather approaches.

"They can either migrate, hibernate or adapt," he explained.

Peabody said some species of fish that live in Otter Point Creek and the surrounding ecosystem, which is studied and preserved through the Estuary Center and its partners, have already headed out to larger bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay to avoid the ice.

The aquatic species that remain are staying at the bottom of the creek and the marshes "to try to get to a low point where it's a little bit warmer," Peabody explained.

She said the waterways do not freeze straight to the bottom, and there is more oxygen for fish at the lowest point.

"They go to the bottom," Peabody said. "They don't necessarily go into the mud, but they go to the bottom of whatever body of water they're in."

Marsden said mammals such as otters and muskrat will also seek open, unfrozen water when looking for food.

"Find a spring and you'll find every critter on earth, from otters to mink to muskrat," he said. "If there's no ice everybody's fine."

Peabody said most reptiles and amphibians that call the Otter Point Creek ecosystem home, such as frogs, salamanders, snakes and turtles, are hibernating by this time of year.

They have buried themselves in leaves or the earth to stay warm.

As an example, Peabody said, box turtles will dig holes under the leaves in the woods.

"They're all hunkered down and their heart rate slows and they go into kind of a torpor, so they're OK, they're going to be fine," she said.

Migrating birds

Marsden said the population of birds in Harford County has shifted during the winter months as geese and some birds of prey move south, and other birds of prey such as species of owls, hawks and eagles take their place.

He noted the various animals in Harford are able to get through the winter for the most part, based on their ability to either find food, store food or hibernate.

Marsden said the types of birds of prey in Harford County during the winter depend on how cold it is; if it is too cold for the birds in Maryland they will go even farther south.

He said the birds of prey that stick out during the winter of 2013-2014 include snowy owls, one of which was seen around Havre de Grace in December, and a rough-legged hawk, which he saw in the Pylesville area recently.