By Ellen Jakubowski, Communications Specialist, Bird Studies Canada
As the New Year began, I came across this tweet from Cool Green Science (@nature_brains): “Attention new birders: I have news for you. Winter is not the off-season.”
How true! One of the many things I appreciate about birds is how they offer us a lifeline to nature in all seasons. They are available to lift our spirits on even the bleakest days of the year – all we need to do is pay attention.
This has been a particularly fierce winter where I live and work, in Ottawa. The weather has fluctuated between streaks of bone-chilling cold and a precipitation potpourri ranging from snow to hail to freezing rain. In spite of this, I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent outside. It’s led to some powerful moments with birds.
My Christmas Bird Count took me through some of the city’s most iconic scenes along the banks of the Ottawa River, around Parliament Hill, and in the heart of downtown. It was a chilly but fun day of birding with friends. Bird activity was modest, but as the sun began to lower, I spotted something that took my breath away – the unmistakable silhouette of a Great Horned Owl! The species is far from rare, but encountering one in the city during the day made the count special for me.
We had hoped to see Snowy Owls as well, but they eluded us. I decided to investigate some fields on the edge of the city a few days after Christmas to see if I could find one. Cars pulled over on the side of the road were a helpful clue. Keeping an extremely respectful distance (I could just make out the bird preening atop a hydro pole), I marvelled at the creature’s ability to withstand the bitter wind that was stinging my face.
Owls are impressive, of course, but they’re not the only birds that have moved me this winter. Quiet walks on the coldest days brought me to chickadees eager to fight beak and nail for seeds on my mitt, and Common Goldeneyes appearing and disappearing among ice chunks clinking like cubes in a glass. They reminded me that winter – and life – can be difficult at times, but resilience, beauty, and surprise are always within reach.
Back at my desk, I’ve really enjoyed hearing about your exciting and interesting winter bird moments. Here are just a few examples:
“My 1st ever #ChristmasBirdCount and our team spotted a rare Northern Shrike #Stoked #FreezingCold” – @WhatsUpMimi (Twitter)
“We saw a flock of around 100 robins near Kingston on Tuesday.” – Lesley Howes (Facebook)
“Another successful #CBC4Kids held today at the Fisher Branch Grade 4 class. Total of 8 species, 73 birds, 22 students and 3 adults. Seeing a flock of 33 Bohemian Waxwings swooping down was the highlight!” – @JoanneSmithMusi, Fisher Branch, MB (Twitter)
“Finally! On Christmas Day I spotted a Wilson’s Snipe at Brunswick Point for my 150th species recorded at the @PortVancouver in commemoration of Canada’s 150th birthday!” – @Andreabirds (Twitter)
Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the Great Backyard Bird Count, coming up February 16-19; it’s a great opportunity to enjoy winter birds. We also invite you to share your most memorable GBBC experience with us by entering our story contest.