Winter’s arrival doesn’t put a stop to birding in Manitoba, as this can actually be one of the best times for birdwatching. The variety of birds is, of course, much less, but that makes it easier to identify them. Birds may also be easier to see against the snow than hidden in grass or foliage, plus birds often come closer in winter than in summer for those watching from a window.
Attracting birds is easier if a supply of food is provided. Generally, the best type to offer is black oil sunflower seeds — a favourite of chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, grosbeaks, juncos, and purple and house finches. Smaller birds such as redpolls, pine siskins and goldfinches (which sometimes overwinter here) particularly enjoy black niger seed. Safflower, corn, white millet and peanuts can also be offered. Suet is a real attraction for hairy and downy woodpeckers, as well as nuthatches. A source of drinking water from a heated bird bath may also bring birds to the yard.
Bird enthusiasts can find many interesting activities for winter. Bird Studies Canada has “Project Feeder Watch,” where for two days each week at various times, birders count the birds at the feeding station in their own yard. The program lasts from November to April and participants keep a record of what species of birds, and how many, visit their feeders. Reports are made every week or two. The project is run jointly by Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is part of a continent-wide bird research study on winter bird populations — their numbers and distribution, with particular interest on changes in wintering patterns and irregular influxes of birds. For example, the spread of Eurasian collared doves across the province is becoming more evident every winter, as these doves do not migrate.
This year’s Feeder Watch runs from November 10 to April 5, but participants are welcome to start partway through the season. It is not essential to count every week, if you are absent during some of the period, as data can be valuable even if it covers only a few weeks. Membership in the program is $35 and a charitable tax receipt is issued. Full information can be found at the Bird Studies Canada website or by calling 1-888-448-2473, or writing to Bird Studies Canada, P.O. Box 160, 115 Front Street, Port Rowan, Ont., N0E 1M0.
Birders don’t just watch in their own yards. Many take regular walks in a park or field, and also watch for birds such as snowy owls, which sometimes arrive from the north in considerable numbers. The raven is another bird that has become much more prevalent in winter in rural Manitoba, while crows frequently overwinter in towns and urban centres.
Another program for birders is the annual Christmas Bird Count (held over the Christmas/New Year’s period). New participants are always welcome to monitor birds in 24-kilometre- (15-mile-) diameter circles. See the Bird Studies Canada website for information, or phone 1-888-448-2473 to find the nearest count in your area.
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), also organized through Bird Studies Canada, is held in February, the same weekend as our Louis Riel holiday. Despite the “backyard” name, it is not limited to that location but involves counting birds in all sorts of habitats.
The internet has made it easier for birders to stay in touch and notify others when rare birds are spotted. A “Rare Bird Alert” can sometimes result in enthusiasts driving long distances, just to add that species to their “life list” of birds they have seen.
Check out some websites and consider becoming a member. Don’t let winter weather hamper your birding activities.