Our Winter Feathered Friends

A walk in the woods can feel a bit muted this time of year. A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday scene, I do miss the call of the red-winged blackbird in the cattails, the barn swallows zipping across the field and the bluebirds stealthily bringing food back to their nests.


I do appreciate our year-round residents. Cardinals, woodpeckers, and blue jays brighten up my backyard around the feeders. While not as brilliantly colorful I still enjoy seeing the goldfinches perched on the thistle feeder. Nuthatches, chickadees, and tufted titmouse are entertaining as they flitter around filling their bellies with seeds.

Collecting food to build up enough energy to survive the cold nights is a full-time job for our winter birds. The rapid exodus from the yard when our resident red-tailed hawk flies by reminds me of the survival struggle faced by creatures who stay behind to face winter.

Birds that rely on nectar or flying insects must fly south to find food during the winter months. Those that stick around survive on seeds, insects that live under the bark of trees or hardy winter berries.

While many of our favorite birds have gone south, winter bird-watching can still bring surprises. The lack of foliage on trees makes spotting birds much easier. A bald eagle sitting high in a tree along the Mississinewa River was easy to spot recently from my car window. Nest of all sizes, previously hidden, are now visible in tree branches and bushes.

To the birds of the far northern Canadian Tundra, Indiana is a tropical paradise. Snowy owls have been spotted in increasing numbers this month due to a cyclical interruption in their food supply that occurs every 3-5 years. The large increase last spring in lemmings, an important rodent food source for snowy owls, resulted in much larger broods being born.

Other arctic visitors include dark eyed juncos, snow buntings, pine siskins, redpolls, and evening grosbeaks. Saw whet and long eared owls may be spotted roosting in pine trees in our area during winter months.

Providing a variety of bird feeders in your yard including a tube with thistle seed, platform feeders with sunflowers seed, and suet feeders will help provide the needed energy for our winter residents and visitors. A thawed water source will also help birds survive and provide great entertainment.

Most bird nests are used for breeding and raising the young. They are usually only used for one season. To stay warm many birds will group together in tree cavities, tree branches, and upturned roots. Nest boxes can be turned into roost boxes by cleaning them out, turning them away from the prevailing winds, and providing a place for the birds to perch.

The best way to see what types of birds are being seen in our area is to visit the Facebook page of our local birding group, the Robert Cooper Audubon Society or the Cornell on-line bird site, e-bird. Keep your binoculars handy, you might be surprised by what you can find outdoors this time of year, in the trees or in the sky.

Julie Borgmann

Julie Borgmann

Interim Director
Julie Borgmann is the Interim Director for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her passion is connecting people to nature for conservation and wellbeing.