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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Your early winter birding guide

Photo by Mike Benkis

Photo by Mike Benkis


Weather helps determine which birds visit this time of year. Once lakes freeze, waterfowl must move farther south to find food in open water. On open lakes, however, look for late waterfowl migrants, such as Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Ducks. Less common waterfowl migrants can include Long-tailed Ducks, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoters, and White-winged Scoters. Often, flocks of Trumpeter Swans—and, occasionally, less common Tundra Swans, linger in open water.

Watch for regular winter residents to arrive now, as well. Count Dark-eyed Juncos, Harris’s Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Red-breasted Nuthatches among their number. If we are lucky, Purple Finch, Crossbills, or a Bohemian Waxwing may swing by. 

A drive through the country should yield several raptor species, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and Rough-legged Hawks. Less common rural winter raptors include Snowy Owls, Merlins, and Prairie Falcons. You may see flocks of Horned Larks gather on gravel roads after snow is cleared, eating grit from the roadside. Sometimes, Lapland Longspurs or Snow Bunting will join the Horned Larks, or form a pure flock. 

Winter is also a great time to support our feathered friends with strategically placed feeders in your yard during the cold months. Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers log a lot of frequent flyer miles visiting their favorite feeders. Please don’t forget to clean your feeders regularly to prevent disease. 

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