It’s wintertime and many Ohioans are stocking their feeding stations and patiently watching to see what shows up. Many of the birds around us in the cold months are year-round residents, but a few newcomers on the scene are here for a respite from severe winter weather on their breeding grounds far to the north.
The most common winter visitor – the Dark-eyed junco – can be seen right outside your window at your feeder, but you will have to bundle up and go in search of most of these elusive winter guests.
|The dark-eyed junco is common at backyard feeders in the winter.
Dark-eyed juncos, also called “snowbirds,” are often the most common visitor at backyard feeders, traveling in flocks of 10 to 30. Their coloring mimics a winter scene—dark gray above and white below. These sparrow-sized ground-feeders are fun to observe, as they scratch the ground beneath feeders, then flit off to nearby cover with a flash of white from their white outer tail feathers. A ground feeding platform can be a good way to attract these friendly winter birds.
Often referred to as the “snowflake,” the snow bunting lives and breeds on the Arctic tundra, but large flocks move to the northern U.S. states in winter. This sparrow-sized bird prefers barren places, such as grasslands, farm fields, and beaches.
Best viewing opportunities in the late fall are along Lake Erie, especially in the northwest. Some good winter viewing areas include farm fields south of State Route 2 near Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (Ottawa and Lucas counties), State Route 294 between Little Sandusky and Harpster (Wyandot County), along roads in snow covered fields just northeast of Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area (Wyandot County), and along the rock riprap at the Findlay Reservoirs (Hancock County).
|The snowy owl is a rare treat for Ohio birders.
A rare treat for Ohio residents is to see a snowy owl, also known as the Arctic, great white, and ghost owl. A shortage of lemmings and voles in the owl’s arctic home can drive these nomad hunters as far south as Ohio in search of food. Snowy owls can be seen in the dead of winter mostly along the Lake Erie shorelines such as Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Bayshore Power Plant near Toledo (Lucas County), and Headlands State Park (Cuyahoga County).
The crow-sized long-eared owl has prominent ear tufts that sit near the middle of its head. It tends to roost “frozen” next to the trunk of a tree, blending in well with its heavily mottled brown plumage. These nocturnal predators hunt in grasslands and fields feeding primarily on voles or deer mice. Other common names include brush owl, cat owl, lesser horned owl, and cedar owl.
Good viewing locales during the winter months include Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, (Wyandot County), old fields with red cedars in southwestern, Ohio, Cedar Bog State Memorial, (Champaign County), and Caesar Creek State Park (Warren County). Viewing opportunities exist during the spring migration in thickly overgrown woodlots near Lake Erie, including Maumee Bay State Park (Lucas County).
Northern Saw-whet owl
|Though found each winter, the Northern saw-whet owl is rarely seen due to its nocturnal nature.
North America’s smallest owl, the Northern saw-whet owl, is a winter visitor, but rarely seen because it is strictly nocturnal and hides in dense cover during the day.
Best places to observe these tiny owls in the winter include Caesar Creek State Park(Warren County) and in southwestern Ohio in old fields overgrown with red cedars.
They are also observed in the fall and early spring at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (Ottawa County) along the boardwalk and walking trails, the pines near the Gordon Park Impoundment in Cleveland, and Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
Rough-legged hawks migrate far from their arctic breeding grounds to winter across southern Canada and the United States. These large hawks have feathered legs and come in two color morphs – light and dark. They prey on rodents either from a perch or hovering in the air. These hawks are trusting of humans, allowing for close-up observation.
Look for rough-legged hawks during fall, winter, and early spring in large, open farm fields or marshes, at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, or below State Route 2 near Oak Harbor (Ottawa County), The Wilds (Muskingum County), Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area (Wyandot County), and Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area (Wayne and Ashland counties).
These large, all-white waterfowl of the tundra winter in large flocks along the U.S. seaboards, as well as the Great Lakes. They were previously called whistling swans, not because of their call, but because of the sound made by their slow, powerful wing beat in flight. Best observation locations include agricultural fields along the southwestern Lake Erie shore in Ottawa and Lucas counties and adjacent marshes, and Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area (Wyandot County).
Log on for Bird Sightings
One way to view some of these winter migrants is to visit Ohio birding websites that list current bird sightings. Once a bird is listed on the server, you can travel to the given location. Some birding sites to check out include:
www.rarebird.org (Ohio Rare Bird Alerts)
www.ohiobirds.org (Ohio Ornithological Society website)