Birds are tough little creatures, enduring harsh conditions that we tend to avoid at all costs. Many birds build up fat stores before winter, which can serve dual purposes. For birds that migrate south, this acts primarily as an energy source, while birds that maintain their territory use the fat as insulation. Some birds, such as grouse, grow an extra coat of downy feathers, and still others seek shelter from the elements.
Participating in the Great Parks’ annual bird count gives you a new appreciation for just how amazing these cold hardy birds are. Last year’s count was held during freezing temperatures, snow and rain! Of course when the weather gets bad, bird activity decreases, but volunteers still show up to participate. Similarly, many volunteers participate in winter bird counts every year across the country.
So what compels people to brave the elements when most birds have migrated south for the season? Winter is actually a great time to look for birds that are normally farther north. In this area, that group includes cranes, gulls and mergansers as well as golden-crowned kinglets, short-eared owls, dark-eyed juncos and yellow-bellied sapsuckers to name a few. Another advantage to winter birding is the lack of foliage on trees and shrubs, providing better visibility. Also, sightings of flocks with mixed species are not uncommon and challenge birders to look more closely.
If you are interested in winter birding, there are a few things to remember before heading out. Prepare by dressing warmly and packing binoculars, a field guide, water and snacks. When you are traveling to remote locations, it is best to tell a friend where you will be then take an extra blanket in case of car trouble and drastic changes in weather. Or, if you would like some company this winter, the Great Parks Annual Winter Bird Count will be held on Saturday December 13. You can register and find more information at greatparks.org.
Our count last year recorded 73 species and a total of 53,202 birds during the course of a day. With any luck, we will have better weather, more species and more bird activity this year. What birds will you find this winter?
Jessica Spencer, Natural Resource Manager