Why zoos aren’t usually open in the winter in the northeast

Last month, The Nephew, his mom and I went to the science museum in Schenectady to see butterflies and a planetarium show and also play with huge Lego blocks and train sets. It was very much enjoyed by all parties and the minute it was done, The Nephew’s mom and I started talking about our next adventure, but weren’t sure what it would be.

She sent me a message on Facebook not long after I’d gotten home saying that The Nephew had already planned our next adventure.

Your nephew wants our next adventure to be at the zoo! I told him it’s too cold for a zoo in the winter so we can go in the spring or summer. He said with his infinite wisdom “Mom, the animals don’t just disappear in the winter. Take me to wherever they put the zoo animals when it’s cold. Maybe Aunt Amy will know.” Impossible to argue with that!

Well, I have to agree. How can you argue with that? So I began to research local zoos.

At first, I thought of the Binghamton Zoo, which used to be open year-round when I was a student. I know this because friend R. and I used to go there, and once went the day after an ice storm and were the only ones in the zoo and it was just the best. The animals were all frolicking just for us, and I got a puma to come out of its home by saying “rrawr?” and it said, “RAWR” and came out and we had a happy talk through the wire. He seemed very engaged. He was probably lonely. Or wanted to eat my face. Debatable, I suppose.

But the Binghamton Zoo is no longer open year-round, and a lot of other zoos nearby are also closed for the winter, so I started to despair until I found…


Open year-round and a mere 90 minutes away. We would see our animals in the wintertime after all! AUNT AMY WINS!

So we packed ourselves into the car, and an hour and a half later, we arrived at…

The Utica Zoo!

Driving through Utica makes me sad. It was a grand town, once, and now it’s kind of falling apart, and the buildings have a lot of broken windows and are filled with lost grandeur. You can see how beautiful it must have been, once, though. The buildings are beautiful and stately in that old-fashioned way, and look like they’re waiting for the next act…but the next act isn’t coming, I don’t think. I think the show’s been cancelled. And things like that hurt me. I love history. I don’t like when things are thrown away like that.

On the drive there, mostly The Nephew played Angry Birds and said, “Aunt Amy! Play this level, it’s easy!” but they were never easy, and then he would sigh like I exhausted him and he would say, “Oh, just give it to ME” and then he’d solve it in a second. (I’m terrible at Angry Birds. Those pigs are WAY wily.) He also is fascinated with family relationships. “Aunt Amy, who is your mom?” he’ll ask me, and I’ll say, “Your grammy is my mom!” and he’ll laugh and say, “Oh!” and then he’ll say “Aunt Amy, who is your dad?” and I’ll say “My dad is your grampy!” and he’ll laugh and say “Oh!” and then finally he’ll say “Aunt Amy, did you know my daddy’s mom and dad are my grammy and grampy?” and I’ll say, “Yes, did you know your dad is my brother?” and he’ll say “OH!” and this always cracks him up and he laughs. To REALLY make him laugh, I call his dad my LITTLE brother. “No! He is a grown-up MAN!” he’ll say, then giggle and giggle. I enjoy that kids don’t understand that once, the GROWN-UPS were ALSO kids. This makes me smile, to think that in a child’s mind, we’ve always been this age.

So there were a few signs when you first entered the zoo saying “paths may be icy.” We were all, “pooh pooh! How icy can they be?”

The answer is…glare-icy.

Apparently, in order to stay open all winter, they had to cut back on grounds maintenance. None of the pathways had been cleared at all. There was ice and snow and SO MUCH ICE ZOMG, and of course The Nephew tramped along it merrily (and fell once, but picked himself right back up like he’s made of rubber and kept-on a’runnin’.) At one point, the path just STOPPED, and we had to tromp through the snow, and The Nephew was all “well, now we are lost in the WOODS!” and he was sort of right. But then the path started again, sort of. It got so bad I purposely walked through the snow instead of on the path because the path was slipperytown. Bad news, Utica Zoo! I realize salt wasn’t probably a good idea with all those animals. But sand? Maybe? Or don’t be open? Because you are COURTING DEATH with those paths, you guys.

Other than the DEATH-ICE, and how cold it was (we all had windburned faces and chilly legs and hands when we were done) and the fact that about half of the animals were gone (I don’t know where…I guess wherever animals go when it’s cold? Vacation? Florida, like retirees? Just inside in the groundskeeper’s buildings? Anyone know?) it was kind of an awesome zoo. You know how much I love zoos. It would take a lot more than a little ice to put me in a terrible mood.

What’s that?

You want to see photos of our day at the zoo?

Ha, it’s like you don’t even know me. I took a MILLION photos of the zoo. The whole time, I told The Nephew’s mom, “This is for a MOST IMPRESSIVE BLOG I will be writing about this adventure!” and she said, “Of course you will!” She totally knows about the bloggery. Most of my people do. It doesn’t even shock them anymore.

Let’s go to the zoo!

First we had to go to the bathrooms, and outside the bathrooms, randomly, was this loose peacock. The Nephew was all “LOOK AT THAT!” and wanted to I think either pet or ride the peacock, but the peacock was having none of that and booked it away from us. (Isn’t it pretty? I’ve never seen one up close!)

Here’s The Nephew chasing it as it walked away. He really wanted a pet peacock.


It was all, “listen, dude, I am JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU” and The Nephew was all, “No, seriously, come back, I will play “In Your Eyes” to you on a boom box! YOU COMPLETE ME!”

Then we saw some goats. I know some people who like goats. I took a lot of photos of these fellas.

This one looked like a genetic abnormality. Therefore he was my favorite.

There were none of those little feeding stations at this zoo. I hear rumors that they all had to be removed because hooligans were breaking into the zoo to steal the money in them. This goat didn’t get the memo. He wanted me to feed him. I had no food. Only Tic Tacs. I don’t think the goat wanted Tic Tacs.

This goat looks like he knows a secret. Do you think it’s the secret of why they didn’t put any sand on the paths so we almost died like a hundred times?

This goat was chewing on a log. I don’t know why, either. But it made me laugh. He was SO FOCUSED on this. He didn’t even look up. Look at his funny pupils! This is why I love goats. They have curious eyes.

I think this is the genetic abnormality goat again. I was a fan of his.

ZOMG GOAT! Stop with the log, already, people are going to think you have a complex!

Next was a thing I loved, and I think I need to get it on a teeshirt.

I BITE! And there was NOTHING IN THE CAGE! So it was totally scary for no reason. I like that it’s in ALL-CAPS.

But then the bitey thing came out. What do you think it was? A cougar? A wolverine?


This stork-thing. I would think he pecks and pinches more than bites. Just to be safe, though, in case his beak was hiding sharp teeth, we didn’t poke him.

This is his wanted poster. I BITE, DAMMIT!

Yes, I know. That’s a lot of snow. We’re really mired in this neverending winter up here.

Thought you’d like to see some adorableness. Here’s The Nephew taking a photo-op in front of the children’s zoo. He has many layers on. We were chilly, yo.

Yeah, I know. Worst photo ever. See, my nice camera totally died almost immediately and I had to use my phone for the rest of the day. This is a zebra. He was really far away and to get to him, you had to cross TREACHEROUS ICE. So I decided to zoom in as far in as I could and call it a day. HI, ZEBRA! (He totally finds me fascinating. Look at him checking me out.)

This is a camel I decided to call Spicoli. He seems to be stoned, and really laid-back. I think he would call you “dude” a lot and laugh inappropriately. Look, he totally has hay in his hair and he doesn’t even CARE. And he looks like he’s grinning at NOTHING. (Also, apparently in the winter, this kind of camel grows a lot of dreadlocks, and their humps droop randomly to one side or another. Just makes them look more like stoner-camels to me.)

This was some sort of peacock with a huge lacy tail. There was no sign on this exhibit so I can’t even tell you what kind. I liked how fancy it was. This peacock would ALWAYS get invited to the dance.


The Nephew didn’t see this eagle at first, then when he did, he was kind of tired, and said “That doesn’t even LOOK like an eagle” and I said, “No? What does it look like?” and he sighed and said, “A big bird with a yellow beak.” But later when we asked him what his favorite animal was, he said the eagle.

Oh, pretend there’s a photo of a sea lion here. They wouldn’t stay out of the water long enough for us to photograph them, but they were very cool. One popped up long enough to kind of clap his flippers at us, then disappeared again. I do so like sea lions.

Why does every zoo have Cotton-Topped Tamarins? These things freak me out, man. Where’s that stoner camel. He’d calm me down. I think he has something that’ll help me out with that.


Snakes! This one’s pretty. I think it was a corn snake.


I don’t remember what kind of snake this is, but the photo turned out well. Sometimes that happens.

These were gigantic pythons, and they would most definitely eat you and digest you. I even like snakes but I’m glad they were safely behind glass.

The website said there would be so many turtles and tortoises, and there was only this one. This is for Heather. She is my tortoise-friend and she said I would love this guy the most of all the turtles and tortoises. She was right, considering he was the only one. Sadly, this is not a very good photo. Good grief, why is it so RED? Sorry, Heather.

It is very hard to see, but up in the upper left-hand corner of this one is a beautiful owl. I love owls. I went “hoo! Hoo!” to him but he was all “I’m napping, lady, sheesh.”

This is not a helper mule, as much as I’d like it to be. This was just a donkey. He was pretty cute, though.

This was a HUGE Flemish rabbit. The sign says they can grow to 28 pounds. I was all “The Nephew! Come see this huge rabbit!” and he came over and said, “Aunt AMY, that rabbit isn’t that huge. He’s just really fat. I think he eats too much food” and that made me and The Nephew’s Mom giggle.

Look at this guy. He’s GORGEOUS. I sincerely want an owl. On the way home, we saw two hawks, too. It was a raptor-bird kind of day.

Look! He looked at us! He wanted to be our friend!

It’s hard to tell, because he’s very blending-into-the-landscapey, but this is a beautiful lynx. He watched us the whole time but not in a scary way. In a “bring me home!” way. The Nephew said I could bring him home, and he PROBABLY wouldn’t eat Dumbcat. I like them odds.

I saved the best for last. What do you think is best?

What’s that? You can’t see them very well? I CAN FIX THAT!


At first, The Nephew said, “I don’t think I want to see lions…” in a scared little voice, but then he realized they wouldn’t eat us and he was cool with the lions. This one was pacing the whole time we were standing by it. He wanted to eat our whole faces. I loved him.

I’m going to be obnoxious and show you a lot of photos of this lion. He was my best fella.

Isn’t he so PRETTY? I do love big cats.

And you know what you have to do when you’re around the lions.

You HAVE to make a lion face! (Those lions don’t even care.)

Then we discovered one of my favorite things at zoos…


One of these “you are an animal” face-thingies! First The Nephew was a lion. You can also see Aunt Amy behind him holding him up so he didn’t fall on the little teeny-tiny piece of wood he was standing on in order to be a lion. I especially like the paws on this thing. Very realistic.

I am a scary lion! This is totally my Facebook cover photo right now, yo. This is like the best thing ever. RAWR I AM A SCARY LION (who is also holding a Utica Zoo sign, for some reason!)

Then we were cold and tired, so we hoofed it to the gift shop and The Nephew decided he wanted a scary lion thing that bit things and grabbed things but we convinced him that really he wanted a spelunker’s hat with a VERY cool flashlight built in (when I told him the word “spelunker” he repeated it and giggled – this kid LOVES learning, it is so good for my heart) and I got a NEW FRIEND!

His name is Trent. He is a very brave tortoise, and not at all afraid of Dumbcat. (Right after this photo was taken, Dumbcat randomly started purring and headbutted poor Trent right onto the floor. Oh, Dumbcat. That’s no way to treat your new housemate!) Don’t even mock my warm flannel PJs, yo. It’s going to be NINE DEGREES tonight. Where is my spring?!?!)

Then we all went to a diner and The Nephew had pancakes and french fries (which was an awesome combination, I thought) and I helped him clean up some spilled milk and I told him I was helping him because I loved him all the way to the moon and back, and he said “I love you TWO TIMES that!” and I kissed him on his little head because that made me have tears. Oh, do I love that child.

Then it was time to go home, and tonight I am ouchy from walking and ouchy from windburny but we had a lovely day. But I would recommend that you probably don’t go to a zoo in the winter that DOESN’T upkeep their paths, though. Total liability. Otherwise? Good times had at the zoo by all. Including the animals. They were probably so sad to see us go. We’re excellent zoo visitors. No one was as happy as we were. We won zooing!

About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

40 responses to “Why zoos aren’t usually open in the winter in the northeast

  • becomingcliche

    Nephew and Trent? Pretty darned cute!

    Snakes: Milk snake or king snake, Carpet Python (or carpet/diamond hybrid), boa constrictor (yellow is albino).

    I want to be friends with that goat.


    • Andreas Heinakroon

      I’ll second that milk snake. It looks a bit like a coral snake but the banding is wrong. Non-venomous is it then.


    • lucysfootball

      I knew you would love Trent! It was down to Trent, or a really cool owl. And I took a LONG time to decide. But I don’t have a tortoise stuffed animal, and he had such a cute little cranky face. I had to bring him home!

      And The Nephew! He was the light of the whole zoo yesterday. So much fun!

      Ha, the goat was a SHEEP! I feel so foolish! An Isle of MAN sheep, no less! I had no idea there were 4-horn sheep, isn’t that wild?

      I went back and forth deciding whether those were boas or pythons in the big enclosure. I always guess wrong, eek! And the Carpet Python is so pretty! (I really need to take notes the next time I’m at the zoo, but The Nephew was zipping around like a little jumping bean, so I hardly had time for photos! I was so afraid we’d lose him!)


  • 35JupiterDrive

    My next door neighbor in Arizona had peacocks and they loved our yard. They especially loved snacking in the garden and leaving feathers all over the place. They make a sound like a strangled cat. And even when they are your neighbors, they do not like you and do not like to be touched. They love to snack on snakes, though, so I loved them in the yard because I felt that we would be less likely to bump in to a rattler with them constantly wandering around. (There were about 12 of them or so.) Poison snakes are their chocolate. I do an excellent peacock imitation.

    The animals seem to be taking winter in stride, which I find amazing considering I’m not.


    • 35JupiterDrive

      Oh…do you know this rhyme? Red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Red next to black, friend of Jack. Snake identity my friend. Ta freaking dah.

      And then there’s this: Snake of black and yellow and red, soon a stupid rhyme is said.

      In Arizona, I saw rattlers three times over a ten yearish period. Always when out hiking or in the middle of nowhere. I backed up and let them have the trail.


      • lucysfootball

        I didn’t know that rhyme! I love that! Seriously, rhymey things that teach me a lesson save my life over and over. It’s the only way I know which way to loosen a nut, whether or not a red sunset means it’s going to be nice or bad weather the next day, the order of the compass points, and what order to drink alcoholic beverages in!

        Ooh, although scary, I’d really like to see a rattler someday. I think they’re kind of fascinating!


        • 35JupiterDrive

          It was apparently made up by a guy named Jack that rhyme. (Really.)

          It’s funny, you don’t see them as often as you’d think, rattlers. I have a funny story about one of them. I’ll tell it at some point. Mostly I have just respectfully backed up and told other people on the trail to turn around.


    • lucysfootball

      They eat SNAKES? Well, that’s neat, right? They’re like the mongooses of the avian world! That’s so cool!

      The animals were doing the same things they’d be doing in summer – hanging out, sleeping, eating. They were unfazed by the cold. We were all “SO COLD SO COLD!!!” but they were like “silly humans.”


  • Mer

    Adventures! And, Holy Crow, The Nephew is big (as I think all dorky adults are suppose to exclaim)!


    • lucysfootball

      So many adventures! And isn’t he huge? Such long legs! He’ll be FIVE this year, can you imagine? It seems like just yesterday I was holding him for the first time and he was just a teeny little scowly fella! He’s so funny and smart and wise and wonderful, and he gets better every time we hang out – he just makes my whole heart ache with how amazing he is!


  • Jenn

    Not to be a downer, but its sad to see animals like the Majestic Lion forced to deal with our cold upstate winter weather. Lots of controversy these days about zoos, and whether certain animals should be kept in captivity for our pleasure. But on a lighter note, if you start making tee-shirts that say, “I BITE”, I would definitely buy one! :-)


    • lucysfootball

      No, not a downer at all. I have such a struggle with zoos. I was just talking to someone about that the other day, actually – I’m always torn between how much I love zoos (and oh, I love zoos – I love seeing animals so much, and I can’t get enough of them) and how much I hate that they really are animal prisons. So I feel equal parts happy and guilty every time I’m at a zoo. I always have to hope that the animals are being well taken care of (these animals seemed to be – everyone was clean, well-fed, and the zoo, other than the paths, was very well-kept) and most of the animals were taken off exhibit for the winter that weren’t used to the weather (the lions and the zebra weren’t, but the zebra was only let out for a short period of time, and we were trying to figure out where the lions went to warm up, or if they’d be taken in for a while, too – I think they probably would.)

      You’re never a downer, lovely. You’re welcome here anytime. Your love of animals is so inspirational, and I love it about you!

      Ha! I totally want an “I BITE!” t-shirt! The minute I saw that I said “I NEED A PHOTO OF THIS!”


      • ravinj

        Good zoos do work to help rehabilitate and breed animals in captivity to help restore wild populations. They also help educate people.


        • lucysfootball

          Yes, which is why I’m torn about them – I love zoos, and I love that it’s the only way some people will ever get to see/learn about animals, and I know all the good things good zoos do…but I also feel like animals belong in the wild and I’m heartbroken for them, seeing them caged.


  • Andreas Heinakroon

    This is a most excellent post! You saw all the animals and The Nephew had the best of times. And so did you, it seems.

    It did look awfully cold though. Look at how much snow there is there still.

    I think those goats were sheep. Perhaps even Manx Loaghtan sheep from the Isle of man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_Loaghtan The one eating the log was no doubt a goat however. Goats eat the most peculiar things.


    • lucysfootball

      Ha! Maybe it WAS from the Isle of Man! I didn’t see a sign on this enclosure, other than “goat pen” so I just thought everyone was some sort of goat. I think my brain was all befuddled from the cold and ice. I had never seen a goat (that was really a sheep) with four horns! It made me laugh so hard!

      We had the best time. That was The Nephew AND his mom’s first time at a zoo! Isn’t it cool I got to share that with them?

      It was SO COLD. I had a winter coat, two layers of clothes under that, gloves and a hat – and I was STILL freezing! (It was really windy, too!) We don’t have anywhere that much snow here in Albany. Utica is much snowier than we are!


  • Andreas Heinakroon

    I know that bitey bird from somewhere. *ponders* Could it be a scarlet crane? Is there such a thing? *wikipediaing* No. But there’s a white-naped crane from Mongolia that looks like that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-naped_Crane


    • lucysfootball

      Oh, that must be it, they look exactly the same! (I really should take notes when I’m at the zoo, but when you have a happy 4-year-old with you, you’re lucky if you can even take photos before he’s running off to the next thing!) A funny thing that happened was that the peacock jumped up on the fence outside the crane, and they were squawking at each other. SO ANGRY! Or maybe just chatting. But in angry loud bird-tones!


  • Andreas Heinakroon

    For the white birds: the white peacock is a – well, white peacock. Albino variants aren’t uncommon.

    The white owl is a Snowy owl – the biggest in the world. Well, that and the related Eagle owl. We have both of them here in Finland – the Eagle owl is truly majestic.


  • cynthiaw

    Yeah – the camera thing is probably because of the cold. When I took my fancy camera to my dad’s house for Christmas a few years ago and it was like 13 degrees out, I only got to take like 15 photos before my battery died and I had to swap it out.

    We took my niece to the zoo when it was in the 30s back in December and she loved it (no snow here though) – we did spend a lot of the day in the snake house and aquarium and bird house. We visited the elephants and giraffes, but all the monkeys were inside.

    I also have mixed feelings about zoos – I’ve come to accept that they do a lot of work with conservation and, while it sucks that people aren’t interested in conserving wildlife unless they’ve seen it up close and personal, that’s kind of the way that it is. I don’t know if it’s worse that many of them are born in captivity or better. I do know that some species would be extinct if it wasn’t for zoos, so there’s that.

    Now, Sea World, on the other hand, makes me FURIOUS – I have no ambiguity there at all.


    • lucysfootball

      You know, that totally makes sense – when I turned it on at home, it had a full charge and I couldn’t figure it out! Good thing my cell phone wasn’t so touchy!

      I wish there were giraffes at this zoo. And penguins. I missed seeing penguin antics.

      I’ve only gone to Sea World once, when I was very young, and although I enjoyed myself, I can’t imagine I’d go back as an adult who knows better.


      • cynthiaw

        There’s a Sea World in Ohio, of all places, so I went several times as a kid and had fun. Now I feel terrible about it – not that my parents knew about how terrible it was at the time either.


  • ravinj

    The Phoenix Zoo is much nicer to visit on winter than in summer, unless the only reason you’re there is to play in the water play areas.


  • Nicola

    I LOVED this post. I am sitting in the library trying to write the most horrible essay that there has ever been, and it is going HORRIBLY, but this cheered me right up! Especially the picture of the wonky camel. Zoos are just the best (allowing for the issues re. free animals vs. animal prison covered in other comments). My favourite zoo in the world is Chester Zoo here in the UK – I would go every weekend if I could.


    • lucysfootball

      We don’t have many zoos nearby. It makes me sad. Whenever I go somewhere there is one, I beg and plead and whine until someone takes me, then I’m very childlike in my glee.

      And I’m so glad this made your day! YAY! That’s the best compliment!


  • 35JupiterDrive

    I used to completely against zoos and aquariums. Now I know it is a far more complex question.

    I would wish that there were a few breeding pairs of western black rhinos in zoos. There are places that are still hunting animals to extinction and it may be the only way to save them from that fate is zoos.

    It’s hard to understand that these animals may not be safe in their own countries. But the fact remains that they may not be.

    So zoos: complex. Not an easy answer in this day and age.


    • Andreas Heinakroon

      Indeed. And most of them are better at treating the animals than they were in the old days, having proper habitats and providing good veterinarian care. But still – it’s wild animals caged up.


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