By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
SEATTLE — I don’t know if you think much about going to the zoo in winter, but you should.
Some animals actually like it when it gets a little cold. And like any other time of year, there are always a few surprises.
I visited Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo last weekend and saw two animals together that I would never have imagined would buddy up: herons and penguins.
It wasn’t deliberate.
The penguins were in their enclosure being served a late brunch by Celine Pardo, the penguin keeper.
As she handed out fish, a heron that was not part of the exhibit flew atop the concrete enclosure above the pool, watched Pardo for a while, then dropped in just a few feet behind her. As it waited patiently for a fish dinner, a crow flew in, grabbed a couple of the herring-sized fish and flew away.
After watching the penguins and the panhandlers, I headed for the Northern Trail on the advice of Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator. “It has many animals that love the cold weather,” she said.
That grouping of exhibits includes brown bears, wolves, elk, arctic foxes, snowy owls, river otters, mountain goats and a Steller’s sea eagle. At least one of the foxes already has its all-white coat for the winter.
There are animals that like the cold in other areas as well, including the snow leopards in the Australasia exhibit.
“The snow leopards really enjoy it when it snows,” she said, adding, “The zoo is really beautiful when it snows. People break out their skis, it’s great for photography, and the animals really get playful.”
I was surprised to learn that the zoo’s brown bears don’t hibernate for the winter. The grizzlies apparently sleep a lot in winter, but they don’t den up for a long siesta like some other bears,
One was pretty active when I visited, the other was snoozing under the viewing window, just where Hawkes said it likes to lie down.
Hawkes noted that the brown bears, lemurs, gorillas and some of the other animals will get some “holiday themed enrichment” during two weekends this month, today and Monday and Dec. 21 to 23.
“The grizzly bears will get a tree with some treats on it,” she said.
Also during the holidays, the zoo will offer holiday lights from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Another good reason to visit the zoo in winter, Hawkes said, is to see the babies born there this year. Many will be leaving in 2014.
“We had a lot of babies that will be moving on in the spring, she said.
She mentioned four young lions, three jaguars, two sloth bears and four Asian clawed otters.
The baby giraffe born in August, a popular draw, won’t be going anywhere. Hawkes also said the zoo has a new walleroo joey that just started coming out of its pouch.
If you’re not a fan of cold and wet weather, the zoo has maps and a free app that shows you where to go to get out of the weather, including the Reptile House and the Tropical Rain Forest.
The rain forest sounds a lot like Seattle in winter, but at least it’s warm.
Woodland Park Zoo
Hours until April 30: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m;
Holiday lights: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Cost: Ages 65 and above: $10.75; ages 13 to 64, $12.75; ages 3 to 12, $8.75; Ages 0 to 2, free.
Animal holiday enrichment: Dec. 14 to 16; Dec. 21 to 23.