Why you should start winter birding (especially if you are a beginner)

You might think winter is a barren season with little life thriving, but if you take a look around, you will begin to see life everywhere. Despite the shorter days and cold weather, winter birding is becoming a favourite time of mine. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it is a great time for beginners like me. I only started seriously bird-watching this past summer, and I am finding the winter easier. Here’s why:

  • There are fewer species out and about, so it is easier to both spot and identify local birds.
  • One of the best things is the birds are much easier to see perched in the trees on bare branches rather than flowering, green ones in the spring or summertime.
  • Many migrating birds and birds of prey show up in the winter depending on where you live.
  • Its got to be good for your health to get out and about in the fresh air from time to time in the winter!

Just start out in the backyard and take it from there. Local parks, along streams or ponds and nature sanctuaries are all great places to get started. Birds can be found in even the biggest of cities. Look at the Painted Bunting that recently created a huge stir appearing in New York City earlier this month! You’ll never know what you might find until you open your eyes and start looking around.

Many people choose to bring out the bird feeders over the winter. This is especially important if you live in an area where bears will be attracted to the food so it is safer for both them and you if you limit your bird-feeding to the winter. This is very important as bears who successfully get bird food will continue to come back to a reliable food source and this often ends badly for the bear. Besides, food is less plentiful during this time anyway. (Read some useful tips on feeding birds in bear country from the Five Valleys Audubon Society. WildSafeBC also has other great information on tips for limiting bear attractants and more bear safety information.)

Personally, I choose not to feed birds as I prefer watching them in natural habitat rather than drawing them in with food. However, if you do wish to put out bird food (I can understand the appeal), I’d recommend these tips from the Audubon Society. Its important to remember that birds congregating at feeders can sometimes spread disease, so its important to feed right!

I am lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest where temperatures don’t plummet very far compared to much of the rest of North America at my latitude or further north. Birds I have been seeing frequently this winter around my backyard or neighbourhood so far include Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees (pictured top), Stellar’s Jay, American Robins (pictured above), Spotted Towhees, various sparrows and Anna’s Hummingbirds.

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