This past winter, a lot of people I've spoken with have expressed surprise that I continue birding through the winter. Despite dropping temperatures, grey days, and snow, a good amount of birds can be seen during the colder months of the year. (I have seen 83 species since January 1st). Though some birds in our area do fly south for the winter, many that spend the summer further north have their winter homes in the Philadelphia area.
Many species of waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) are only here this time of year. One of my favorite winter ducks is the Northern Pintail. Like most ducks, the male and female look different. The male is an elegant bird with a grey back, white underparts, rich brown head and a long tail, hence their name. The female is mottled brown, like many other female ducks. However, she has a warm brown, unmarked face, and grey bill. Both sexes have long necks and are slender overall. Pintails are freshwater ducks, and can be seen on local ponds and sometimes rivers.
Also, many sparrows are either in Philadelphia year-round or winter visitors. They eat seeds, which they can still find in winter, giving them no need to travel far like insect-eating birds. This also means that many are regulars at bird feeders. Some of the more distinctive ones are the White-throated Sparrow (which does have a white throat), Fox Sparrow (a lovely reddish-brown), and Dark-eyed Junco (a grey bird that is colloquially known as a Snowbird).
I was birding at The Woodlands in the snow on January 13th, and at first found it difficult to spot anything. Then I saw a wide, low, bush that seemed like it might have kept some snow off the ground underneath it, making it easier for sparrows to get to the earth to forage. Turns out I was right, and there were a lot of birds in that bush. I now actually think that birding in the snow might be easier than birding in the...um...not-snow? because the birds are concentrated in places that offer shelter and easy food, not spread out as in better weather.
On January third, we held the Winter Solstice Birdwalk, rescheduled from December when rain seemed inevitable. Glad we did! The evening of the third was clear and calm, if chilly. The event began with a 45-minute birdwalk. We saw robins, a Northern Cardinal and some sparrows, but the star of the show was undoubtedly a Red-tailed Hawk which was in a tree near Center Circle. Everyone got a great look, and we could see the namesake rusty-red tail. Red-tails are relatively common at The Woodlands, as in many urban areas, so it felt like a very appropriate capstone to the walk.
The group then returned to the Hamilton mansion for s'mores and bird-themed crafts. The “Guide to Birding at The Woodlands” zine was sold at the event. Around 60 people attended, of all ages. Among them was a couple from Australia who had their very first s'more at the event! I had a good time at the event, and I'm guessing all our visitors did too!
Written by Toribird