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How to Begin Birding This Winter

Although you may not think of winter as the most hospitable of seasons for outdoor activities, it is a hot time for birdwatching. Many people across the country enjoy observing and identifying birds – or “birding” – in winter, when unique birds visit different areas during migration.

The Chesapeake Bay region is host to hundreds of species of birds throughout the year. Some are year-long residents that remain active in winter, while others migrate to the area to escape harsh northern winters or as a stopover on their journey farther south. The mix of common species and temporary visitors makes for exciting birding opportunities for beginners and experts alike.

Anyone can become a birder. With the help of easy-to-use field guides, novice birdwatchers can begin observing and identifying species on their own, and group birdwalks can be a great resource to learn from more veteran birders. During the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which runs from mid-December to early January each year, both newcomers and experienced birders are encouraged to join in on birdwalks. You can also begin birding from home by using birdbaths and feeders to attract a variety of birds to your backyard. By keeping track of the species that visit your birdfeeder, you can participate in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count, held annually in February. Participation in these bird counts contributes to a long record of citizen science data used to monitor the health of bird populations.

So how does a rookie birdwatcher jump into backyard birding? Here are some tips on how to start bird watching and enjoy the region’s winter wildlife.

Supplies for backyard birding:

  • Field guide 
  • Note pad 
  • Binoculars (optional) 
  • Camera (optional) 
  • Bird feeder (optional) 
  • Bird bath (optional)

Attracting Birds

If your backyard isn’t already attracting birds, try providing a food or water source. Both birdseed and feeders can be either purchased or crafted at home. Bird supply stores offer a variety of birdseed, or you can make your own “birdseed” by mixing peanut butter and corn meal. If your space prevents hanging a feeder in a tree or from a pole, you can place seed in a shallow dish slightly elevated from the ground. Window-mounted birdfeeders are also available for ultimate space saving and an up-close view. To attract just as many birds as a feeder, keep a birdbath or elevated dish full of clean, liquid water.

Observing Birds

Birds can easily be startled and fly away – to get a good look, stay quiet and still. This is particularly true if you are observing with a naked eye and are a short distance from the bird. Binoculars or cameras with a zoom feature allow you to see birds that are farther away, look more closely at details and take photos to reference each bird at a later date. In lieu of photography, you can embrace your artistic side and sketch the birds you see in a notepad.

Identifying Birds

Binoculars, cameras and notepads can be useful when identifying birds, but the most valuable tool is an identification or field guide. Because so many species of birds live in and visit the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding lands, a guide helps to make sense of what you see. Field guides and identification guides—geared toward both beginners and advanced birdwatchers— can be found in print, online and as free apps.

Below are some common birds that you might be able to spot at your birdfeeder or birdbath this winter:

The northern cardinal, a yearlong resident of the Chesapeake region, is particularly striking in winter's landscape.

The dark-eyed junco visits the area in the winter from the colder regions of Canada. (Image courtesy eugene beckes/Flickr)

The Carolina chickadee - like its close relative, the black-capped chickadee - has a unique song. This chickadee is found in the southern regions of the watershed. (Image courtesy Henry T. McLin/Flickr)

The black-capped chickadee is common in the northern portion of the watershed and can be distinguished from the Carolina chickadee by its brighter, more contrasting white markings.

The tufted titmouse has a booming voice for such a small bird and can be found in the region year-long.

The blue jay is a large, bright colored songbird that has a fondness for acorns. (Image courtesy Dawn/Flickr)

The small, agile downy woodpecker can often be found at birdfeeders but is commonly mistaken for the hairy woodpecker by new birders. (Image courtesy Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr)






Keywords: birds, winter

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