Birding in Winter Offers Great Reward
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
During the chilly months of winter, many of the creatures we’re used to seeing around us make themselves scarce. Small mammals hunker down in nests and burrows, and insects, amphibians, and aquatic life hideout in different ways, patiently waiting for the climate to warm up. In a seemingly barren landscape, some of the best winter wildlife watching opportunities can happen right in your own backyard! Feathered friends of all shapes and sizes flock to feeders during the winter months more than ever, and they’re easier to spot this time of year thanks to trees’ leaf-less limbs.
In addition to allowing families to learn about local species’ connections to the wintry landscape, winter bird-watching provides a way to participate in important citizen science projects! Through Mass Audubon, families can learn about and report data on numerous bird species found in New England.
Of particular interest to families during the winter are the many owl species that they can spot locally. Sightings of barred, screech, great horned, barn, or other owls can all be reported to Mass Audubon, allowing the organization to keep tabs on each species’ population and habitat range. Long-eared owls, for example, have rarely been sighted in Massachusetts during the past few decades, and citizen scientist spottings are essential to reporting! Additionally, families should keep an eye out for snowy owls, which breed in the Arctic but can be spotted in Massachusetts during its migratory periods.
Sightings of other birds – either at home feeders or on outdoor adventures – can be reported to Mass Audubon, too, through an online program called eBird. Created in collaboration with Cornell University’s ornithology lab, eBird includes checklists of commonly seen birds, information on species identification, and maps of sightings locally and across the country. In addition to using eBird to share citizen scientist data, families can explore the online resources that eBird offers to learn more about the species in which they share their environment. A look at a map of local sightings can help families learn what species they’re most likely to spot while reading about the many species that might be seen can help families learn about diversity amongst bird species.
Great Backyard Bird Count
“Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.
“Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.”
Find out more here: http://gbbc.birdcount.org
[Photo credit: (cc) Keith Carver]