Birds That Stay: A Surprising Few

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

As migration continues, it's undoubtedly sad for birders to watch so many amazing birds leave the region. Unfortunately, we do have to wait until spring for migrating birds to return. However, there are a few species that people are often surprised to learn actually do stick around for winter. During this time their behaviour can be different than what we're used to and results in them being less visible to us. Some of these species are heralded as the first signs of spring, but I am here to tell you that you may have a chance to see them this winter. 

Let's highlight a few cherished species that you could still spot this winter: 

1. Eastern Bluebirds: Would you be shocked to see an Eastern Bluebird in the winter? Some of them do stick around to overwinter in Ontario. They are able to live in cold weather, but do have to make adjustments to their diet. During spring and summer months Eastern Bluebirds are primarily insectivores. As the weather shifts and insect availability declines they will consume largely fruits to survive including staghorn sumac, juniper, wild grapes and more. This re-highlights how important planting some of these native species can be for attracting and supporting local biodiversity. Additionally, try offering mealworms to entice them to visit your yard, they certainly enjoy insects when they can find them during this time. 

Eastern Bluebird eating mealworms. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

2. American Robins: American Robins are touted by many as the first sign of spring. Here's the thing- some of them never leave! American Robins can be found in flocks in Ontario, even during the winter. Similar to Eastern Bluebirds, they shift their diet - the ground will remain too frozen for grabbing worms for some time- and focus on a fruit heavy diet. Most of the native fruit-bearing plants in Ontario create food availability throughout the winter.  Nesting season has also passed for the species so their behaviour shifts quite drastically, in the winter they are non-territorial and instead gather in flocks to feast on berries. This behaviour change is noticeable in autumn as well and you may see flocks of robins feeding at crab apple trees or other native fruit bearing trees. Offering live mealworms, Bark Butter and dehydrated fruit (i.e; blueberries) can attract any robins that have chosen to stick around. I know the first time I saw a robin in the winter I was surprised but it was doing just that - eating berries! For more information you can read our former blog post all about Winter Robins here. 

American Robin. Photo by Heather Kerrison. 

3. Belted Kingfishers: Belted Kingfishers are considered resident to long distance migrants. In areas where open water is available year round, they are still able to dive for their meals.  These areas are often where there is water movement (rivers and streams) that stops the water from freezing entirely. If you know of any such areas near you, keep an eye out for Kingfishers continuing to fish. Kingfishers do not band together in flocks during this time and it is imperative to winter survival that a Kingfisher secures a large enough territory in the spring to ensure they have an area that can support winter feeding, unlike shallow waters that will freeze. Kingfishers pair off for breeding as early as February and this can spark from neighbouring wintering territories. 

Belted Kingfisher. Photo by Leanne Leblanc. 

Due to the fact that these three species are largely known for diets of either insects or fish, it seems impossible that they could make it through a harsh Ontario winter. However, birds are immensely resourceful and pragmatic, by shifting their behaviours during this time they can weather the storm that is Ontario winter and avoid migrating. As the weather cools, try to spot some of our "spring favourites", it always lends a little boost to see one of these birds during colder months. 



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