Winter Birdwatching Guide

If you’ve ever known the pleasure of eyeing a flash of cardinal red in the middle of a flurry of white snow you are already on track to appreciating the goodness that birdwatching in the winter can bring. Winter is a season for absorbing the world slowly, and birdwatching is a meditative activity that lends itself to the process of environmental immersion. Birds aren’t hibernating creatures and have high metabolisms which lead to their year-round visibility. Read on for a handful of tips that will set you up for successful birdwatching in the season ahead.

  1. Seasonal Markers 

Non-insect-eating birds don’t fly South to find food, so many local favorites stick around for the Winter. When birding in the winter be mindful of the ways in which bird plumage may change in the colder season. Just like dogs grow winter coats to stay warm, birds too adapt their outsides to the weather which sometimes impacts their coloring. Male goldfinches, for example, are known for their bright yellow appearance in the Spring and Summer but take on a more muted greenish-yellow color in the Winter. Avoid assumptions and consult a reliable birding resource to know what seasonal nuances exist in regional species. 

( Male Goldfinch, source: google) 

  1. Seasonal Visitors 

One of the exciting novelties of Winter birdwatching is the array of new visitors that show up on the scene. In Illinois, for example, a few sparrow species such as the Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow are much-anticipated Winter dwellers. Waterfowl species such as Mergansers and Buffleheads also increase in variety in Illinois Winter with some having their courting season in the Winter leading to brighter colors. Owls are another high-priority winter birdwatching group due to their nocturnal activity paired with earlier darkness which makes spotting them more convenient during this time of year. Do some research on which bird groups may only be spottable in Winter in your area to catch a glimpse of these fleeting treasures. 

(Snowy Owl, source: google)

  1. Remote Birdwatching 

If Winter is getting the best of you and you don’t want to leave your house you can still get your bird fix and opt into virtual birdwatching experiences that are often free and streamed to the public. Another benefit of this method is getting to see birds that you may not typically see in a natural environment based on your location. The Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), for example, has an aviary cam that streams from 7 am to 7 pm PST. Educational institutions like the MBA often provide other resources for learning about the natural world which opens the door to a world of possibility that’ll satisfy your curiosity. 

(Jalapeno the Common Mure, source: Monterey Bay Aquarium) 

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