Just because the days are shorter and the warblers and hummingbirds are gone from our midst doesn’t mean we should put our binoculars, field guides, and bird watching plans in storage for the winter. There are many winter birding activities we can enjoy as backyard bird watchers. Here are a few suggestions:
Feeder check let this serve as a gentle reminder to check on your seed stock and on the status of your feeders. While inspecting your feeder, you may notice that it is nearly falling apart. A replacement looks a lot better and holds more seed—an all-around upgrade.
Switch to high-protein foods. Suet and peanuts are great high-energy foods for winter bird feeding. Today, more than ever before, there is a plethora of great peanut and suet feeders available to discerning consumers. Suet comes in a variety of flavors from pure suet to nuts, to fruit, to seed to peanut butter! Offered in logs or cakes, the birds will love suet!
Watch for unusual visitors. Bad weather can really smoke out the unusual birds. Heavy snows here in Ohio will bring lots of our usual feeder visitors to our yard, plus blackbirds and the occasional oddity such as a swamp sparrow or a Savannah sparrow. Will this be the winter that the northern finches invade southward? I hope so. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a common redpoll or an evening grosbeak.
Cover your feeder. Add an over head baffle or weather dome to you feeder. This protection from ice and snow will keep your feed dry, reducing freezing, making winter birding more enjoyable for you and your birds! And as a bonus, you can also eliminate your chances for squirrel access to your feeders!
Check your nest boxes for roosters. If you have sturdy nest boxes on your property you may already be providing a sheltered spot for your birds. Check inside your nest boxes for evidence that birds are using them as nighttime roosts. Nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, owls, starlings, house sparrows, and bluebirds are just a few of the species that will roost in nest boxes outside the normal breeding season.
Follow a feeding flock. While you’re out filling the feeders or out for a walk in the woods, watch and listen for signs of a feeding flock. Winter feeding flocks comprise birds of different species that are loosely knit together in a quest for food, while being vigilant for predators. A typical feeding flock here in Ohio might consist of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, kinglets, woodpeckers, creepers, and perhaps a yellow-rumped warbler, an eastern bluebird, and a hermit thrush. The flock will make noises while flitting through the trees looking for food. If an alarm note sounds, watch for the flock to stop moving or make a dash for thicker cover.
Look at tracks. A favorite winter activity is trying to determine what a bird has done by looking at the impressions it has left in the snow. It’s amazing how much of your yard is visited by birds in the course of a day. The bird tracks left behind in the snow can be a great indication of what birds were there and what they were doing. As an added activity, try to decipher the many animal tracks you’ll also encounter.
Keep a journal. When did the first junco show up at your feeder last fall? When did the last hummingbird depart? What date do the fox sparrows pass through in spring? Did that sapsucker show up in 2006 or 2007? These are questions that can be answered with a quick reference to your bird or nature journal. Keeping some sort of written record of your sightings can be fun, useful, and fascinating. Keep a journal in a spiral-bound notebook or on your home computer. Things to note in a journal include sightings, date, time, weather conditions, plus bird behavior, arrival and departure dates, and interesting tidbits you wish to remember. Try it, you’ll like it!