With steamy summer days behind us, you may have noticed that your neighborhood birds have changed. Some species have migrated south to warmer climes, and other new faces have appeared to enjoy our relatively mild southwestern winters.
Who are these winter arrivals, and which one are YOU most like?
Take our short quiz to find out!
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Even on the coldest, most inhospitable day, you are almost sure to spot a Common Raven. Tough, versatile, and wickedly smart, these large birds are typically found in pairs or small groups unlike American Crows that can form large flocks. For more clues on telling these two cousins apart, check out How to tell a Raven from a Crow An opportunistic feeder and found in a variety of habitats, Common Ravens come closer to town in winter to take advantage of holiday leftovers. Crows are typically more common near town year-round than Ravens.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Dwelling primarily in high elevation conifer forests, the pixie-like Mountain Chickadee appears at feeders in winter to take advantage of energy-rich seeds and suet. They do not like millet, so to attract them, avoid seed mixes dominated by this inexpensive filler. Typically found in flocks, Mountain Chickadees forage actively in trees, and during insect outbreaks, are credited with removing unwanted pests. One pint-sized bird was observed to eat over 200 pine-destroying caterpillars!
Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
A stunning and substantial bird, the appearance of this forest-dweller at feeders truly heralds winter. Males sport kingly yellow eyebrows and are unmistakable. Females, although less flashy, are demurely beautiful, making flocks interesting to watch. As their large bill suggests, they are primarily a seed-eating species but will eat fruit, berries, and budding leaves. In courtship, the male will dance with the female with tail raised, and both male and female bow to each other.
There are plenty more winter birds, and now is the perfect time to discover them! Each winter, Audubon organizes a hemispheric bird surveying effort from December 14 to January 5, called the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), and this will be our 124th year! You can participate in any of the 2100 locations, in 20 countries. Each bird surveying effort is centered on a 15-mile diameter circle and lasts just one day within the count period. Beginners and experts alike are welcome, and there are areas requiring arduous hikes as well as more leisurely, “sit and bird” experiences. In other words, there is something for everyone! Learn more about Christmas Bird Counts here.
Back in the 1900s, the Christmas “side hunt” tradition involved participants going afield and shooting every bird they saw. Today, we count every bird instead, and this information contributes to the most robust bird-related community science effort on the planet. These data enable population trend analysis, provide a snap shot of climate related distribution changes, and documents periodic “irruptions” (when many individuals of a species occur at once in an unusual location, such as Snowy Owls in the mid-Atlantic) across a wide landscape. Check out all the CBC circles
Join us for the Christmas Bird Counts:
Step 2: Contact the “compiler” or coordinator for the area.
This individual builds teams that will strategically cover the count circle, and they will assign you to a team or to a location. Be sure to mention your preferences for hiking versus driving, any physical limitations, and the length of time you are available to count. All help is appreciated, and new birders are welcome! Newbies will be partnered with experienced folks. This is a great way to learn and meet friends! The day often ends at a local restaurant with a no-host compilation dinner at which the entire team convenes to recap the day and share stories.
Step 3: Grab some holiday cookies and a thermos of your favorite hot beverage and take it to the field.
Wherever you find yourself this December, chances are you can experience an exciting morning in the field hiking around and looking at birds, meeting new friends, and getting a break from the holiday hubbub. The birds can’t thank you, but we can.
Happy owlidays from Audubon Southwest !