Bird watching in winter weather

Sean HubbardOSU Ag Communications

STILLWATER – Birds of a feather flock together. And, when it is cold out, some species in Oklahoma will bunch together, providing some unique bird-watching opportunities.

“If we get some cold snaps this winter, bird enthusiasts will have a good reason to brave the conditions and get outside,” said Scott Loss, assistant professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. “Cold weather causes waterfowl, like geese, ducks, swans and Bald Eagles, to be bunched together in the few remaining open-water areas, so it’s relatively easy to see high numbers and many species in small areas.”

To catch a glimpse of some birds during cold spells that would not normally be in your area, look around for areas with open water. Some examples of exceptionally rare wanderers seen in Oklahoma this winter include the Iceland Gull, Pacific Loon and Red-throated Loon.

“Reliable places include bodies of water with power plants that have warm water effluent, or the biggest and deepest bodies of water that freeze last,” Loss said. “Also, watch backyard bird feeders during inclement weather because snow and cold brings birds in to reliable food sources.”

Certain species to look for at feeders include Red-breasted Nuthatches, several kinds of wintering sparrows, finches and blackbirds, including Rusty Blackbirds, a species whose population has declined greatly.

“Snowy owls are again making a strong showing across much of the U.S. this year,” Loss said. “There actually was a Snowy Owl near highway 75 in Bartlesville back in November, but it was killed, apparently by colliding with a vehicle.”

Loss also noted a couple of songbirds, Purple Finch and Pine Siskin, which are in the state in good numbers. Neither species made an appearance in Oklahoma all of last year.

“Both can be attracted to bird feeders that have black oil sunflower seeds or Nyjer seed (thistle seed),” he said. “These irruptive species go different distances farther south each winter based on food supplies to the north.”

Birdwatchers can anxiously await a string of cold weather to get out and see what they can find.