Program of vertebrate zoology course (IWES)

This course description relates to International Winter Ecology School

WoodpeckerSnow is often referred to as a «white book». During winter months and period of the stable snow layer all terrestrial activity of mammals and birds can be tracked by signs they leave on snow. One of the aims of vertebrate zoology course is to learn the ability of finding and reading these signs. We will study the main features of winter ecology and behavior of different mammals that active in cold season – from small rodents and shrews to carnivores (such as different mustelids) and ungulates (wild boars and elks). The method of tracking the mammal behavior on the basis on such signs was one of few that allowed collecting precise information about wild mammals before the era of digital cameras and radio tracking and it is still have great importance and can be used also for the mammal counts.
During excursions, we will discuss the interactions between animals (birds and mammals) and their food bases during winter. We will study the methods of catching the prey by raptors and carnivore animals, methods of finding the hibernating insects and spiders by small birds, the animal’s habits of food storage. School participants will carry out an experimental work to study the abilities of insectivorous birds to find well hidden food.

Hare tracesSocial behavior of birds during winter months differs greatly from their habits during breeding period. We will discuss nomadic and resident habits of different bird species, interspecific and intraspecific interactions including winter territoriality and forming of mixed flocks. School participants will study social hierarchy in small passerine birds observing individuals with color marks. We will discuss how birds can use winter months for preparation to breeding.

The course includes lections and seminars where we will compare birds and mammals habits in different parts of the world with seasonal climate (including comparison between temperate and tropical forests), discuss features of social behavior of wintering birds and mammals.

Hazelgrouse tracesIndividual student projects:

  1. Tracking the titmice flocks and mapping their winter territories
  2. Mapping the mammal tracks to study their winter activity
  3. Observing the food searching techniques of the titmice
  4. Studying the winter food preferences of the elks (counting trees with and without traces of the elk teeth)
  5. Observing the interspecific interactions among the birds at the food table
  6. The counts of mammals using their tracks on snow
  7. Experimental studying of the food searching techniques of the titmice