Winter birds in the yard and the beach

Christmas morning, Victoria woke up to a white Christmas. It had snowed the evening before as the sun fell, muffling the world in a crisp silence, the only sound the crunching beneath my feet when I went outside for a walk. When I first got up and looked out the window, a Barred Owl had landed in the trees in the backyard. I’ve seen this owl around a couple of times (presuming he is the same one) before and heard it call at night, but never managed to have my camera nearby at the right moment! I watched him in this different, snow-covered landscape until he flew away. What a wonderful way to start the day!

Barred Owl in the backyard Christmas morning

Later that day, after playing in the snow (a rare sight here), I went for a walk down to one of my favourite spots to bird and enjoy nature. There were quite a few ducks about: Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, American Wigeons and Common Mergansers. A lone Common Goldeneye swam unexpectedly close to shore not far from a pair of Western Grebes.

Bird prints in the snow
Hooded Mergansers
Western Grebes

Today, I went back again in a different atmosphere. The snow had melted and the sun was out, but the wind was up from the northeast. Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers crossed the water close together. I wondered if these diving and dabbling ducks had decided to group together for safety like a wintering flock of songbirds.

A Brandt’s Cormorant also passed nearby them, and I watched as he dove into the cold water and came back up more than once with a tasty morsel in his beak. A second cormorant had been nearby at first, but had taken flight straight from the water’s surface. Its pretty incredible if you stop and think about it, but then again, they are made for this.


I cut through the woods on my way back to the sound of woodpeckers knocking on trees and chickadees tsee-ing and deedee-ing. I stopped in a muddy clearing to watch a flock of American Robins traipsing from tree to tree and eating berries and House Finches doing the same in the lower branches. House Finches are common backyard birds, but somehow, I have never seen one in my yard. I guess I mustn’t have the right habitat. So, I stop to enjoy them and watch as their bright pink feathers shine in the sunlight. These two types of birds bring a smile to my face; both have such cheerful songs and colouring.

The bird feeder has gone back out again for winter and just in time for the snow, too. The birds and myself have been enjoying the feeder. After foraging the fallen seeds on the ground last year (my first year with a feeder), the Dark-eyed Juncos have now found their way onto the tray itself for better pickings! It’s certainly been a hopping place to be; with Chestnut-backed Chickadees perched in the nearby trees waiting in line and Red-breasted Nuthatches brazenly bossing the others around. I worry about disease and fighting, but I’m sure as long as I follow the bird feeder rules, all will be okay!

 Dark-eyed Juncos have found their way to the feeder tray this year.

Why you should start winter birding (especially if you are a beginner)

You might think winter is a barren season with little life thriving, but if you take a look around, you will begin to see life everywhere. Despite the shorter days and cold weather, winter birding is becoming a favourite time of mine. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it is a great time for beginners like me. I only started seriously bird-watching this past summer, and I am finding the winter easier. Here’s why:

  • There are fewer species out and about, so it is easier to both spot and identify local birds.
  • One of the best things is the birds are much easier to see perched in the trees on bare branches rather than flowering, green ones in the spring or summertime.
  • Many migrating birds and birds of prey show up in the winter depending on where you live.
  • Its got to be good for your health to get out and about in the fresh air from time to time in the winter!
Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Just start out in the backyard and take it from there. Local parks, along streams or ponds and nature sanctuaries are all great places to get started. Birds can be found in even the biggest of cities. Look at the Painted Bunting that recently created a huge stir appearing in New York City earlier this month! You’ll never know what you might find until you open your eyes and start looking around.

Many people choose to bring out the bird feeders over the winter. This is especially important if you live in an area where bears will be attracted to the food so it is safer for both them and you if you limit your bird-feeding to the winter. This is very important as bears who successfully get bird food will continue to come back to a reliable food source and this often ends badly for the bear. Besides, food is less plentiful during this time anyway. (Read some useful tips on feeding birds in bear country from the Five Valleys Audubon Society. WildSafeBC also has other great information on tips for limiting bear attractants and more bear safety information.)

Personally, I choose not to feed birds as I prefer watching them in natural habitat rather than drawing them in with food. However, if you do wish to put out bird food (I can understand the appeal), I’d recommend these tips from the Audubon Society. Its important to remember that birds congregating at feeders can sometimes spread disease, so its important to feed right!

American Robin

I am lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest where temperatures don’t plummet very far compared to much of the rest of North America at my latitude or further north. Birds I have been seeing frequently this winter around my backyard or neighbourhood so far include Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees (pictured top), Stellar’s Jay, American Robins (pictured above), Spotted Towhees, various sparrows and Anna’s Hummingbirds.