Winter Listing

6:00 PM

Well, tis the season... where the temperature drops below zero, snowflakes fly and our resident winter birds (and some other passer-bys) are taking refuge in stands of trees, open bodies of water and visiting feeders that homeowners graciously offer to the birds.  While many folks prefer to stay inside during these cold months, others jump at the opportunity to get out during December, January and February and compile a “winter bird list”.  

The winter bird season starts on December 1 and carries through until the end of February.  Birders take many approaches to filling in a winter bird checklist – feeder watching, casual visits to local parks and waterfronts, or viewing it as a challenge to get as many species as possible seen during this time period, for personal goals or for public recognition.  

Its remarkable how many birds can be found during this time of the year.  Birds are not migrating or nesting, there is no singing on territories or breeding displays in full force to help us find these birds during the winter.  Despite this, impressive winter lists have unearthed species that are unexpected seasonally, regionally and even nationally.  There is currently a Blue-headed Vireo in Burlington and a Northern Parula in Oakville, species that should be otherwise enjoying the heat and food abundance in the tropics at this time.  A Cattle Egret, a very rare species for Ontario, especially in the winter, is currently only a couple hours drive out of the GTA.  These particular birds are the ones that winter listers are gunning for to add to their lists.  Owls, another favourite group of birds to find in the winter, are popping up all over Southern Ontario this winter due to rodent population crashes up north, so the reports of Snowy Owls are literally “flying” in, and birders, naturally, are flying to see them!

Eastern Screech-Owl, Photo by: Jenn Sinasac

In the past, I have not been much of a winter lister.  Spending winter in Ontario this year, I am seeing it as an opportunity to get out the house, enjoy the winter weather and enjoy the birds of the area as well.  This winter I am participating in the Wellington County winter bird-finding challenge.  I’m not in it for a trophy or even a personal best, but I have enjoyed visiting the open water so far and compiling a list for the season.  The other day I was birding with a friend of mine, Val Wyatt, and we found a Northern Flicker in southern Wellington County, the first one found for the 2011-2012 season.  As it is not a common winter species in the area, we were very excited about the sighting!   

If you need some more incentive to get out in the cold weather (as I do!) and see birds, there are various projects you can immerse yourself in.  Project Feederwatch, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, is an international citizen science endeavour that everyone can participate it – just put up a feeder, count the birds, and submit your data online.  It’s great for families with younger kids and contributes to the greater world of bird science and conservation (you may not even need to leave the house to do this – just to fill your feeders!).  Also, as the holidays are approaching, many birders, including myself, are anxiously awaiting the 112th Christmas Bird Count season!  Counts take place in 2011 from December 14 – January 5th, all over the Americas.  Contact a local naturalist group or click here for more information.   

So embrace the cold weather, dress warm, grab your binoculars and see what’s out there – a sighting of a Eastern Screech-Owl could have you hooked on winter birding for many years to come!

Happy Winter Birding, 

~ Jenn Sinasac

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  1. Definitely my favourite time of year to bird in Ontario! Also I'm incredibly jealous of your backyard screech owl!

    An excellent post :).



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