How to Spot Migration

Male American Goldfinch in winter plumage

When the temperature cools off, there’s often a sudden influx of bird activity. This is what fall migration looks like to the trained eye. While many birds flock toward the equator to spend the winter months in warmer temperatures, there are a handful of hardy species that stick around the Northern Hemisphere. You may feel surprised to learn some of your favorite birds are of the “hardy variety.” Even goldfinches choose to live among the colder temperatures. Even though habits change by the season, ground-feeding birds are still ground-feeding birds. Birds found living among the treetops, if they overwinter, can still be found in the treetops.

When identifying your favorite birds in their winter plumage, look for identifying characteristics. The bird featured in the photo above is a male American Goldfinch in its winter plumage. The bright yellow patch below the bill indicates this goldfinch is still changing into its winter plumage. In time, the bright gold color will change into a greenish-gold color for increased survival during the dull winter months. When you see those distinct black and white wing bars, you know you’re looking at a goldfinch!

You can enjoy many of your favorite birds all year round. Including goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays, titmiceand even cardinals with their red and reddish brown coloring. Even though juncos spend most of the summer throughout Canada and Alaska, they travel south to the U.S. for warmer temperatures in winter. Juncos can also be found year-round along the Eastern and Western coasts. You can see these “snow birds” on both U.S. coasts all winter long.

For more information on identifying birds in their various plumage, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, and click the search box in the upper left-hand corner. Cornell makes it easy to identify the birds in your backyard. If you want to identify birds on the go and you have a smart phone or tablet, then download the Merlin Bird ID app. Merlin prompts you with five easy questions about the bird you saw. Then you can choose the bird you saw out of several included possibilities. Merlin even lets you know if a particular bird is rare in your neighborhood, which makes bird identification even more exciting. Enjoy your birds this winter and year-round. Happy Birding!

Written by Dawn Coutu

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