Waking up to the sound of a lovely melody usually signals a sign of spring, and for most, this melody is likely not a family member in the shower! But we do love sitting in the backyard throughout spring and summer, watching and hearing the lovely varieties of birds as they snack on our feeders, play amongst the trees, and tirelessly gather twigs and grass to build their family homes.
But did you know that Ontario plays refuge to plenty of birds throughout the cold winter months, and they are just as beautiful and vibrant as the species we often see in the warmer seasons.
Listed here are just some of those sweet feathered friends you can enjoy watching throughout the cold, snowy season:
The Gray Jay, aka “Whiskey Jack”, is one of the most robust birds when it comes to the cold Canadian winters. This deceptively cute Jay is one of the most intrepid birds in North America, living in northern forests year-round and rearing chicks in the dark of winter. Highly curious and always on the lookout for food, Gray Jays eat just about anything, from berries to small animals. They may even land on your hand to grab a raisin or peanut! During summer they will hoard their food in trees to sustain themselves through the bleak winters.
The Northern Shrike. A beautiful soft grey, black, and white, this bird is a serious hunter. They love to hunt in the early morning hours, because their prey (mainly insects), are generally quite docile at that low-temperature time of day.
The Black-capped Chickadee. A sweet bird, and almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its oversized round head, tiny body, and curiosity about everything, including humans. The Chickadee’s black cap and bib, white cheeks, gray back, wings, and tail, and whitish underside (with its buffy sides) are distinctive. Its habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory, and quickness to discover bird feeders, make it one of the first winter birds most people see and learn.
The Dark-eyed Junco. This sweet brown and gray bird is one you have to watch out for. They are ground feeders, and can often be found hopping around tree bottoms eating leaves, so watch your step! They will also fly to visit backyard feeders and eat from those as well.
Snow Bunting. Also called snowflakes, Snow Buntings travel in large packs. The feathers on their bellies are stark white, and when flying in a pack they can tend to resemble snow flurries! When most warm weather birds are flying south, these guys are happy to stay right here with us in the cold.
The Downy Woodpecker. Downy Woodpeckers, with their black and white striped heads are foragers, which is why you will see them pecking away at trees searching for grubs. Their flight strategies are unique as they rise and fall, working their way up and down the trees. The male has a distinctive red cap on its striped head, so they can be easier to spot than most.
The Common Redpoll. A small brownish-gray finch with a bright red patch on its forehead is a very busy bird. These tiny birds of the Arctic Tundra and Boreal Forest migrate in abnormal cycles, occasionally showing up in large flocks. In winter, they enjoy flocking from backyard to backyard, feasting on whatever they find inside bird feeders.
The Snowy Owl. Now this one is a beauty! The majestic yellow-eyed, black-beaked, all-white Snowy Owl is one of the largest and heaviest owls. While they have excellent eyesight, they obviously can't see their prey when it's underneath snow or a thick layer of foliage. To capture those meals, this owl relies on its other keen sense: its superb hearing.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, should you want to attract some of these beautiful creatures to your backyard when snow covered and cold. Believe it or not, birds require very little to survive the Canadian winter months, they simply need the basics; food, water, and shelter.
For shelter, the trees birds tend to choose most are of course evergreens, as they provide excellent reprieve from the cold wind and snow. If you choose to place a birdhouse into an evergreen, be sure to tuck it into the middle of the branches, and keep the food flowing!
Providing water can be a bit trickier. While birds will often obtain water from the snow and rain, you can also maintain a birdbath throughout the cold months with a purpose-made birdbath heater. It’s a small gadget that most hardware stores sell, and can be battery operated. Birds depend on water to help them digest after they’ve eaten, and it is just as crucial in the winter as it is in the summer.
For feeders, the most basic version is the ground itself. Many birds, such as Juncos and Grouse, prefer ground feeding. However, throwing seeds on the ground in the winter can be wasteful as the food can get buried under the snow. As an alternative, seed can be placed under evergreens sheltered from snow, or you could just let the birds on the feeders scatter the seed onto the ground. Just be mindful of other neighbourhood critters that are also looking to keep their bellies full! Pole feeders are the easiest to install, and keep the birds at a safe distance from prey and other species.
What a lucky thing it is to live here in a geography that supplies us with the constant beauty and song of birds all throughout the year. As such, and in return for that beauty and song, I think it’s only fair that we provide them with some of those basic necessities of life, to help them make their way through another cold Canadian winter!
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