Family in snow A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photo © Rohit Seth \ Fotolia.com

Winter's here but you don't need to hibernate! Celebrate wildlife with these family-friendly indoor and outdoor activities.

Explore Winter Wonderlands

Where the wild things went. Figure out who frequents your local trail or backyard by analyzing tracks in fresh snow. Keep an eye out for hair caught on fences or twigs, wing prints, owl pellets and scat (aka. poop) as well. Take a sandwich bag to store mysterious objects for further study.

Scavenger hunt. The sparseness of winter reveals details that go unnoticed other times of year. Go for a nature walk and see how many nests, berries, cloud types and birds you can spot. You can even print off a checklist and challenge yourself. [Checklist 1] [Checklist 2]

Build snow buddies. Snow people are so passé! When the snow reaches the perfect stickiness, craft your favourite critter instead. Add twigs, stones and bark to create hair, eyes and other features and spray on diluted food colouring to bring your masterpiece to life. Here are some examples to inspire you: shark, sea turtle, porcupine.

Feed the birds. Install a feeder in your yard and keep it well stocked to help neighbourhood birds thrive throughout the winter. Your efforts will be rewarded with great opportunities to view and photograph visitors at close range. Here are some tips to get you started. You can also register for Project FeederWatch and submit your observations to help scientists study winter bird populations.

Build a shelter. Just like us, animals need places to hide out from the cold. Build a brush pile or simply relocate a used Christmas tree to your backyard to provide refuge for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. A roosting box is a great place for birds to hide out when the worst weather hits.

Observe feathered friends: Spend a day viewing the magnificent creature of the bird. There are a variety of bird species in the Canadian wilderness to watch out for. Go on a birdwatching tour to see as many as you can.

Ask an expert. See what's happening at your local park, nature centre or conservation authority. Guided hikes, workshops and other programs are often available year-round. For example, the Police Point Park Nature Centre in Medicine Hat, AB, offers art and natural history exhibits as well as a StoryWalk program. On the other side of the country, kids can learn to cross-country ski through the Jackrabbit program at Alma, NB's Fundy National Park.

Run with the wolves: Cruise through winter wonderlands by going dogsledding. See the freshly fallen snow on pine trees, and the beautiful forest landscape. Adventurous souls can even partake in multiple day expeditions.

Toss a line: Throw your bait in the water to catch some swimmers. Check out these Saskatchewan fishing hot spots to reel in the finest fish.

Escape the Cold

IMAX theatres – Across Canada. Travel the world and experience wildlife in its natural habitat, all from the comfort of your chair. Nature flicks playing now include: Journey to the South Pacific. Island of Lemurs: Madagascar and To The Arctic, Find a theatre near you and check listings.

Vancouver Aquarium – Vancouver, BC. Experience various exhibits at the Vancouver Aquarium with the clownfish, penguins and frogs.

Royal Ontario Museum – Toronto, ON. Check out the new Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit in its 50th year reunion of 100 breathtaking photos of nature and wildlife. The Schad Gallery of Biodiversity allows visitors to experience wildlife from a variety of different ecosystems.

Ontario Science Centre – Toronto, ON. Explore a variety of scientific exhibits. Watch an IMAX film on Lemurs in Madagascar, or help local researchers make an impact with the Research Live program.

Canadian Museum of Nature – Ottawa, ON. Learn about different forms of wildlife through natural history collections. Explore the nature of the Arctic during the Arctic Voices exhibit feature between December 5 – May 3.

Ecomuseum – Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC. Take the kids and let them play the role as a zookeeper for the day. Have breakfast with the animals and get to know them on a more personal level. Book your breakfast on the calendar here.

Biodome – Montreal, QC. A Naturalia Room awaits this season for your kids to learn about plant and animal biodiversity! Meet Biodome's mascot, Commander Macaw, enjoy a live puppet show and explore interactive exhibits. Don't forget to say “hi” to the insects, and see how they survive the winter seasons.

Granby Zoo – Granby, QC. Visit the North Pole without crossing the Arctic Circle! This winter festival boasts activities from carnival games to camel rides and exotic species from Amur tigers to Andean condors. Open daily from February 28 – March 8. Open on weekends only from January 10 – February 22 and March 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29.

Know of any great activities or exhibits in the Maritimes? Let us know!

Read the rest of A\J's Winter Holiday Survival Guide:

Daina is A\J's LSPIRG Editorial Intern, a Communication Studies student at Laurier, and a reporter for The Cord.

Ellen Jakubowski is a former A\J editorial intern with a BSc in Biology from the University of Guelph and a science communication diploma from Laurentian University. She works as an interpreter at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and blogs about animals in The Wild Side.

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