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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

Getting to Know Winter Birding

Male_Northern_Cardinal_At_FeederCanadian birds have been flying south for the past few weeks now with the impending cold closing in as each day passes. Oddly enough, now is a great time to get out and observe the birds around you.


A good many of the birds you see will be stopping over briefly as they travel from more northern summer habitats to their warmer southern habitats. You will, however, likely see the few birds that stick around all winter. With fewer birds to choose from, you will have an easier time identifying what you’re seeing as the winter selection is but a fraction of the spring and summer ones.


You’re going to need a few things to begin, chiefly a good bird identification book and a pair of binoculars. If you’re just getting started, head to the library and borrow a book. Search through and find one you like. Most importantly, you want a book that has a good selection of photographs and description of Ontario birds.


If you don’t have binoculars, don’t fret – these aren’t hard to come by. Orillia has its own Bird House Nature Company downtown – definitely a great place to start for any novice birder. Any hardware store will also have what you need.


As we move into winter this next point will become much more important: dress appropriately. You won’t have a good time if you’re cold or wet and you would be surprised just how much one bad experience can deter you from trying again. In terms of colour, choose neutral colours, nothing too flashy.


So you’ve picked up the essentials and now you’re ready to begin…but where? Go for a walk through any forested area. Orillia has quite a few – perhaps more than you realized. While you’re there, don’t move too quickly and be observant: bird watching isn’t just about watching – so much of it is listening.


At this time of year you’re likely to see blue jays, white-crowned and other sparrows, chickadees, hawks, and the downy woodpecker. This list is far from complete and are just a few that I have seen in the past couple weeks.


If you decide that birding is something you want to do more of, there are many options. For example, you can become a member of the Ontario Field Ornithologists where you will benefit with field trips, an annual convention, newsletters, information, bird checklists, and more for $35 per household.


If you’re looking to travel a bit, Ontario Parks offers birding sessions lead by an experienced birder. Check out for more information including where these sessions take place and what to bring. Birding festivals are another great way to get involved, learn from experts, and meet like-minded people who are just as interested in birds as you are.


If you’re content to observe birds from your own home, that’s very doable: you just need to attract them and keep them coming back. Set up a few bird feeders and keep them filled. If your house is plagued with the grey and black squirrels as mine is, place your feeders on poles away from hanging limbs (turns out squirrels will jump pretty far for some free seed). Make sure to lubricate the pole – I use petroleum jelly or Vaseline for the job but you can use any kind of oil. You can also create baffles that run up the pole.


If you don’t have room for a pole, look into getting a “squirrel-proof” feeder. While I have never found anything that is completely squirrel-proof, I have noticed that they do make it difficult for the rodents to get their pesky hands on the birds’ seed. You’ll find a fairly wide selection to choose from at most any store that sells bird feeders.


Your first season may be a little quiet: the birds don’t know what’s there yet. As the seasons progress, they will learn that food is available and they will return. Putting out a few feeders of different styles with different seed will entice the appetites of a greater variety of birds.


To attract cardinals, try safflower seeds. Safflower is also an attractive meal for chickadees and sparrows. Black sunflower seed is a popular choice attracting blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, various woodpecker species, cardinals, finches, and many more. Peanuts, unsalted, are good for attracting jays, woodpeckers, titmice, and others. In the shell or out of the shell, peanuts can be offered in various feeders but be sure that the nut can be removed from the feeder without too much trouble.


Be aware of the ingredients in the food you’re offering to the birds. Anything with red dye should not be offered as it can be dangerous. Also, remember that any seed is going to attract other animal species: bears, deer, raccoons, skunks, and squirrels. Put out only enough food to be eaten in a day as seed that sits for too long can harbour bacteria and be harmful to the birds you’re trying to feed.


Overall, enjoy yourself. Whether you’re travelling down to Long Point, up to the Sleeping Giant, or simply looking out your kitchen window, take it all in and learn something new.



Written by: Marette Sharp, a volunteer with Kids for Turtles. Kids for Turtles Environmental Education is an educational and outreach organization working to bring a better understanding of and stewardship to the environment around us.