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A group of second-graders looks up as I point to a bird constantly flitting back and forth above our heads along the trail. The students have come to Homer Lake for a field trip to learn about what animals do in winter.

“Those birds are called Kinglets,” I explain. “It’s easy to tell what they are, because this little bird never sits still.”

One student exclaims, “Just like me! I never sit still either!” — instantly making a personal connection with a tiny but courageous forest creature.

Earlier, each student fashioned a “home” for a “mouse” by placing film canisters inside layers of insulating materials of their choice: fur, feathers, craft foam.

The film canisters, filled with warm water, represent a mouse in its winter nest. These “mice” are now snuggled in their layers of insulation outside on the forest floor among the leaves.

Later, we will go back to measure how much the temperature of the water changed, and discuss the ways animals keep themselves warm on cold winter days.

Even though trees and plants have gone dormant, most birds and mammals in East Central Illinois remain active or semi-active throughout the winter. Very few are true hibernators. You can see birds of all kinds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and more. If the weather is warm enough, you might even observe insects and spiders getting active.

The Interpretive Center is active as well. Staff are preparing activities and crafts for public programs during the schools’ winter break and beyond.

Meanwhile, visitors outside enjoy a walk along the trails, taking in the beauty of snow and the winter woods. The great thing about taking a walk at Homer Lake during the winter? No bugs and crowds.

Also, our wildlife viewing window is a great place to see our feathered friends and other wildlife from a warm and cozy spot inside.

Bundle up this winter, visit Homer Lake Forest Preserve and get reinspired by the vitality of winter wildlife.

Pam Leiter is assistant director of the museum and education department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. She manages the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and oversees the environmental programming throughout the district. Email her at

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