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Winter Birding

winter birding bald eagle

By Filip Tkaczyk

Who would think that winter birding would be a good idea? Seems like a better time to stay indoors, warm and dry, rather than be out in the cool moist weather. Winter, however, is an amazing time to be out observing birds. With the leaves down, birds are easier to view. It is also a time when different species show up, our winter resident birds.

Why winter birding?

You might be thinking that there is not much to see in winter. Many of the summer resident birds have flown south, the weather is more extreme, and many birds are much quieter overall. Believe it or not, there is a great deal to see and learn from birding during this season. Here are some of the many reasons to observe birds in the winter time in the Pacific Northwest:

  • Species from north of the US/Canada border fly down into the areas where winter is milder. Some of those species include: snowy owl, gyrfalcon, golden-crown sparrow, Lapland longspur, red-throated loon, Pacific loon, trumpeter swan, and rough-legged hawk.
  • Species that we have in lower numbers throughout the year become more abundant during winter, such as: peregrine falcon, bald eagle, common loon, and merlin.
  • Many mountain dwelling species of birds will come down into the valleys and even into cities in the winter. Species include: northern goshawk, fox sparrow, varied thrush, hermit thrush, mountain chickadee, and ruby-crowned kinglet.
  • Many species, including a variety of waterfowl, a few species of owls, and birds of prey over-winter on or near the coast.

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What to do for winter birding?

Birding in winter can be enjoyed, whether you are out tromping around in the outdoors or sitting indoors next to a window. Here are some ideas for winter birding:

  • Purchase or make some bird feeders. In wintertime, suet feeders are especially valuable to birds. Hang one outside near a good viewing window, where you can sit comfortably. Keep them filled often if possible.
  • Invite fellow nature enthusiasts to watch birds at your feeder, or visit their feeders.
  • Go out to local Audubon Sanctuaries, National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, or National Parks with an experienced birder or with a birding class.

If you are a beginning birder, winter time is also the best time to practice and sharpen your bird identification skills. Birds are easier to observe and the variety of species is more manageable than the overwhelming diversity present in spring.

By the way, birders can gain the confidence to explore further off-trail by learning wilderness survival skills. We make it easy to do so through our online course, Essential Wilderness Survival Skills. Don't become the next lost hiker statistic - get the skills to stay alive in the outdoors!


For more information on birding during the winter visit

Birding skills are taught in several Alderleaf Courses.

About the Author: Filip Tkaczyk is a periodic guest teacher at Alderleaf. He also wrote the field guide Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians. Learn more about Filip Tkaczyk.

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