When most people think of winter birds, they usually picture common species such as cardinals, American finches and wrens. While these birds certainly bring joy and beauty to the winter landscape, there are many other rarely known species that are just equally fascinating. In today’s blog, we will introduce eight winter birds that you’ve probably heard of, so let the journey begin!
One of the most iconic winter birds is the snowy owl. These majestic birds are native to the Arctic regions but are known to migrate to other parts of North America during the winter months. With their striking white plumage and piercing yellow eyes, snowy owls are a real treat to spot. They’re able to survive in cold temperatures and can be found in open fields or along coastlines. During the breeding season, females will store food that males have brought to the nest, so these caches can provide food during times when hunting is scarce.
If you’re looking for a bird with a touch of elegance, the Bohemian waxwing fits the bill. This medium-sized songbird is known for its sleek gray plumage, yellow-tipped tail, and striking red waxy wingtips. As the species flies south for winter, the birds wander in search of their favorite berries, especially rowan berries. According to scientists, the Bohemian waxwing can eat 600-1,000 cotoneaster berries in 6 hours! While birds are better at metabolizing the alcohol produced by fermented fruits than humans, they can still get drunk. Some waxwings have been reported to have been “drunk” to death and died from ruptured livers or bumping into buildings or fences.
3.Northern Hawk Owl
With its unique appearance and hunting style, the Northern hawk owl is a winter bird worth getting to know. Unlike most owls, this species is diurnal, meaning it hunts during the day. With its long tail and fierce yellow eyes, the Northern hawk owl is often mistaken for a hawk. Northern Hawk Owls are usually solitary, but can also be found in pairs. What I found really fascinating about these birds is that they have different calls that are used by different sexes in different situations. When attracting a mate, males often emit a rolling whistle like “ulululululululul”, while the female’s call is usually less persistent and higher pitched. Moreover, when an intruder approaches the nest, they emit a high-pitched yelp to warn fledglings of impending danger.
If you’re a big fan of cute and quirky birds, the red-breasted nuthatch will surely steal your heart. The tiny birds are known for their upside-down acrobatics and distinctive “yank yank” call. With their reddish-orange breast and gray-blue back, they add a vibrant splash of color to winter trees. Red-breasted nuthatches are both insect eaters and herbivores, and they’re often found foraging on the trunks of coniferous trees, searching for insects and seeds. In summer they feed mainly on insects, while in winter they switch to conifer seeds. They often stuff pieces of food into cracks in the bark of trees so they can chop them up with their beaks.
The snow bunting, also known as Plectrophenax nivalis, embodies the spirit of winter. These small songbirds are native to the Arctic and are well-adapted to survive in harsh winter conditions. Their white plumage allows them to blend seamlessly with the snow, making them almost invisible. Snow buntings are highly social and can be found in flocks, often taking flight in synchronized patterns across open fields. During the breeding season, male snow buntings will go to high-altitude Arctic breeding areas when temperatures can drop to -30 °C, while females arrive later. The nest is built in a rock crevice and protected from the cold with feathers and fur. To keep the eggs warm, the female snow bunting rarely leaves the nest during the breeding season, while the male does all the foraging work.
Featuring vibrant colors and a conical beak, the evening grosbeak is a real standout among winter birds. The males have bright yellow plumage, accented with contrasting black and white markings, while females have a more subdued olive-brown coloration. These finch-like birds are known for their distinctive call and can be found feasting on seeds and fruits in winter gardens. Evening grosbeaks mainly feed on a variety of seeds as well as some berries and maple sap. In summer, their diet also includes a variety of insects, invertebrates, and spruce budworm larvae. It might sound shocking but sometimes they swallow fine gravel.
Another stunning winter bird is the pine grosbeak. With its rosy-red plumage and chunky body, this bird is a real eye-catcher. Pine grosbeaks are known for their strong beaks, which they use to crack open pinecones and eat the seeds within. They are often found in coniferous forests, bringing a splash of color to the winter landscape. Also, pine grosbeaks are well-known as messy eaters. Almost the entire diet of the pine grosbeak consists of buds, seeds and fruits. In winter, pine grosbeaks eat dirt and grit on the side of the road in addition to their normal food.
Last but not least on our list is the boreal chickadee. This small songbird is closely related to the more common black-capped chickadee but has a distinct appearance. With its gray-brown plumage, buffy underparts, and black cap, the boreal chickadee is a subtle beauty. They are typically found in mature spruce and fir forests, feeding on insects and seeds. Boreal chickadees usually breed from early May to late August and remain in their breeding areas year-round, but sometimes migrate south during the winter. The couple stays together year-round and can mate for life.
These are just a few examples of the coolest winter birds that often go unnoticed. So, the next time you find yourself exploring the winter landscape, keep an eye out for these remarkable avian creatures.