It’s a common sight in the months leading up to winter: geese and other birds migrating south. While not all bird species migrate, a sizable amount does, limiting the options bird watchers have during the chilly months. Other species go into what is known as “torpor,” a hibernation-like state that keeps them warm but makes them easier prey. All these factors make winter seem like a less-than-perfect time for bird watching. But it’s not: winter offers opportunities warmer months don’t provide. One just needs to be clever, patient, and use a few of these tips.
Create a Master Bird Watching List
Expert bird watchers should already be familiar with what species are native to their area. If not, guides are available online and in local libraries. Using these resources, construct a master list of bird types commonly (and uncommonly) seen in winter. The research might be a bit tedious at times, but it results in a reference point and familiarity with the species that are most likely to show up. The question is, how do you attract them in the first place?
Going outside with a camera isn’t always the best plan when it’s cold. The chill can cause damage to the fragile pieces inside the device. Instead, stay indoors and set up a bird feeder. If you don’t already have one installed, try placing it somewhere out of danger and where the worst of the weather won’t affect it too badly. Building it near a bush is also advised, as it offers extra security. Try filling it with high-fat foods like sunflower seeds and suet. (Be sure to clean it regularly, lest you invite some other hungry guests…)
Water is a necessity for all living things. A safe and reliable water source is crucial for birds, especially in winter. Like the bird feeder, a bird watcher may find it helpful to install a birdbath. These are a bit more expensive but are less likely to attract foxes or other predators. If you want to make the birds’ day even better and invite them to linger, consider adding a birdbath warmer. Yes, they exist. If you have limited space, a dish filled with water kept free of ice has the same effect.
Nature sanctuaries, including those specifically for birds, are typically open year-round. Because these areas are protected and away from traffic, birds enjoy nesting there during the winter. While especially appealing to bird watchers dwelling in the city, it’s an excellent option for those willing to venture outside. And if you do brave the cold…
Dress Appropriately for Bird Watching
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget to dress warmly when going on nature expeditions. Areas that birds tend to gather in are far more exposed to the elements than residential areas. The wisest option is to dress in layers. If you have camouflage gear you prefer to wear during bird watching trips, use it as the top layer with sweaters, long johns, and thermal underwear underneath. Avoid bright, flashy colors- they’re even more noticeable with most of the foliage gone for the season.
Attend a Birding Festival
Use sources like BirdWatching Magazine, to find birding events hosted across the country. Birding festivals offer more than just chances for bird watching. It’s an opportunity to meet other birders in your area and attend workshops to sharpen your skills. They frequently have shopping options as well, making it ideal for those needing to replace the supplies.
Another no-brainer, but it bears repeating: patience is critical when bird watching. The lack of foliage makes it easier for predators to spot birds, encouraging our feathered friends to be more cautious. Even the slightest movement can be enough to scare away a bird. Keep your distance and move slowly. Let the birds come to you, not the other way around.
What are some tips you use for bird watching in the winter? Let us know on social media or in the comments!