Winter Bird Watching

1 February 2023

In the Finger Lakes area there are a number of bird species that do not fly south during the winter. Some smaller birds like chickadees move into a short-term hybernation called torpor. Their bodies adjust to the temperature through reduced heart rates and slower metabolism.

New York State Parks in conjunction with Audubon New York are diligent about conservation efforts to provide viable habitats. These parks provide activities like bird walks and restoration projects. Volunteers help with identification, education, and improvements.

This is a class of birds are similar that they have three toes facing forward and another one backward so they can hold onto branches or almost any vertical surface. The most important thing is that they are song birds that you can enjoy through the colder months.

Fun Fact: Their ability to control syrinx muscles is what gives them the ability to make sounds, not all of which are musical.
Black-capped Chcadee (poecile attricapilla) are usually found in wooded areas in both deciduous and conifers. They eat seeds, insects, and berries. You will recognize them by their black cap and throat with a white face.
Northern Cardinal (cardinalis cardinalis) males are easily identified by their bright red feathers and black bills that stand out against the snow or other winter drab. Females are more subdued in reddish-brown color and red-orange bills. They eat seeds, fruit, and insect larvae and live in brushy areas usually near woody areas.
Tufted Titmouse (baeolophus bicolor) has been the butt of jokes over the years but are still enjoyable to watch. You will recognize them by their orange flanks over pale gray. They have a pointy gray crest, black forehead, and broad tail. They eat seeds and insects and live around mature trees that lose their leaves during the winter.
American Tree Sparrow (spizella arborea) have white bands on their wings and a dark spot in the center of their chest. They live near brushes on the edges of open fields but near trees.
Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) eats insects and seeds and is often seen foraging the ground beneath feeders. They are grayish with a white underbelly and outer tail feathers and a pale off white bill.

All varieties of woodpeckers have stiff tails that help them balance on the sides of trees while their chisel shaped bills bore for insects. Around here we find both the largest and smallest species in North America. They both favor wooded areas, as expected.

Fun Fact: Their brain is cushioned against all the rat-a-tat-tatting to prevent injury. Also, their tongues are sticky or barbed to hold onto the insects they find.
Downy (picoides pubescens) males have a red patch on the back of their heads. Both males and females have a white patch on the back and white spots on wings. This is the smaller of the two. They dine on beetles, ants, caterpillars, as well as seeds and berries.
Pileated (dryocopus pileatus) are the larger of the two with black wings, chest and back with a red crest (think of Woody Woodpecker cartoons). They have long necks and white patches on the underside of the wings. They tend toward dead trees and logs for carpenter ants, termites and larvae.

Like other birds of prey they come equipped with talons; a sharp-edged, hooked beak, and remarkable eyesight. They all like small mammals like rabbits, moles, and rodents.

Fun fact: Many species of owls have ears that are positioned at different heights to better locate and identify sounds around them.
Snowy Owl (bubo scandiacus) are often sighted on fence posts or even the ground during daylight. This is the heaviest in the owl family and have been known to feed on geese. They are mostly white and very large.
Barred Owl (strix varia) will hunt mainly at night but can be seen during the day as well. They prefer mature forests or hardwood areas near water. They get their name because of the brown and white bars on the wings and tail. Generally brown but with some lighter spots.
Barn Owl (tyto alba) are prone to live in old barns or shacks, like their name implies, near groves, farmland, and cliffs. They are night hunters with long legs, pale and white plumage. Their dark eyes are surrounded by a white heart shape.

You can attract many birds to your yard by feeding them. Use suet cakes, seeds, or other foods that are part of their regular diet. Place them relatively near trees or bushes so the avians have a quick means of escape from predators. Remember to include fresh water in heated bird baths.

For more information check out Audubon New York ( and Cornell Lab of Ornithology (

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