5 Reasons Winter is the best Season for Birding

Winter can sometimes feel like a desolate time for birding. Gone are most of the fall migrants and in comes the cold weather; but that doesn’t mean that the most frigid months of the year are all bad. In reality, winter is an amazing season for birding, and my personal favorite. Here are 5 reasons birding is actually the best season for birding.

Exciting New Migratory Birds

Evening Grosbeak

As sad as it is for spring and fall migration to be in the rear view mirror, a whole new set of birds are on the move in winter. In the continental United States, species like Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows are regular visitors along with predatory birds such as Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls. Along with these typical migratory species, winter also brings irruptive species. These birds move in accordance with the supply of food available in the north. If food is scarce, they move south, sometimes in large numbers creating a spectacle for people lucky enough to encounter them in the field or see them at their bird feeders.Many of these birds are quite beautiful and unique such as Evening Grosbeaks and whitewinged crossbills just to name a few. These irruptions can be quite fun and exciting to experience and definitely set the winter apart from other seasons.

Birds Are More Congregated

Numerous gulls loafing on a frozen lake

Unlike other times of the year when insects, seeds, and fruits are readily available, during winter, the pickings are much more slim. When a layer of snow and ice covers the ground, food ends up being much more limited and in fewer places. The result of this change is that birds have to flock to the remaining sources of food that haven’t been covered, making them show up in larger quantities where there are resources. In particular, bird feeders end up being amazing places to not only see high quantities of birds but also a wide variety of species (some of which may be regional rarities). Other places to keep an eye out for birds are roadsides, berry trees, and open water. In general, in winter, it’s not necessary to cover hundreds of miles to find birds, but rather hit the hotspots where they gather together during this time of the year.

Visibility is the best

American Kestral

One thing that can make birding in spring and summer difficult is the amount of leaves on the trees and bushes. All of this greenery can conceal birds and make them almost impossible to get a look at. While this isn’t universally true, in most parts of North America, the trees lose most of their leaves during the winter, making visibility significantly better than in other seasons. Birds that would often be hidden from view become visible and often even give unobstructed views, making actually seeing birds and photographing them a top notch experience in winter compared to other seasons. Sure some places like conifer forests will remain unchanged, but if you ever wanted to get a clear photo of that cardinal that’s been lurking around your yard, now might be the time.

Easier to focus

Snowy Owl

Spring can be overwhelming with how many different birds are moving through. Sometimes there are days when rarities are reported in many different directions, during work hours, or at other inconvenient times and it can feel next to impossible to see everything. Fortunately, this isn’t nearly as much of a problem in winter. Migration is slowed down during this time of the year and that makes it much easier to focus on any rare birds that make their way into the area. Additionally, there are many rare but regular visitors that show up in the winter time. These species provide fun opportunities to plan out trips without having to rush to see them. In all, the winter feels like it moves at a slower pace for birding than other seasons, and that can be a good thing.

No biting insects

American Three-toed Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker

Personally, one of my least favorite things about birding during late spring and summer are the biting insects. Both mosquitos and ticks can make any experience outside an unpleasant one.  Fortunately, at least in the northern parts of the country and in places where temperatures get below freezing, this is no longer a concern by the time winter rolls around. Being able to go out without having to slap away mosquitos buzzing in your ear is a great feeling, and I for one would take the cold any day over the bugs.

While winter can sometimes be a drag and the cold can be unpleasant, it can still be an incredible time for birding and in my opinion, the best time. In spite of the difficult weather, it’s the season I look forward to most every year. What’s your favorite season to go birding? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time on Badgerland Birding.

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