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Observing winter birds of Southern Ontario, western NY, and Michigan while hiking with our dog

Updated on February 24, 2016

We are in deep freeze. Are the birds going to die?

On a chilly winter morning of January, I was carrying a heavy backpack with camera, lenses, and hiking paraphernalia. K2, the Great white dog, was wearing his doggy backpack that contained his water, food and other stuff. Our objective: – hike as far as we can go and take pictures of the landscape as much as I can. It got so chilly that in order to take any shots without freezing my fingers, I had to wear inner liners on my hands and then wear over them heavy trekking mittens containing warming gel at the tips (my own technique for winter photography).

Herring seagulls and ring-billed gulls on an island near Horseshoe Fall (Niagara Falls) in December.
Herring seagulls and ring-billed gulls on an island near Horseshoe Fall (Niagara Falls) in December. | Source
I let K2, the Great White Kuvasz, play a little before setting off on a birding trip.
I let K2, the Great White Kuvasz, play a little before setting off on a birding trip. | Source
Visitors to a Conservation Park are putting on a bird feeder.
Visitors to a Conservation Park are putting on a bird feeder. | Source

As the snow covered trail headed toward a forested area, K2 and I stopped in our tracks in utter bewilderment for both of us were hearing loud chirruping of different birds. Birds – and so many of them – and in this bone chilling weather – what a treat. I started looking for birds and observed northern Cardinals, black capped chickadees, American goldfinches, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, house sparrows, fish crows, while a lonely red-tailed hawk patrolled the sky.

While hiking with K2 over last 4 years now, I have found that there are some daredevil birds that are not migrating south anymore and are thriving in frigid winter temperatures. This could be because the winters are not as harsh as they used to be in the past (except for 2013-14 and 2014-15 winters). However, I think it is probably more because of the availability of high nutrition food that people are putting in their backyards that is keeping them here. Birds migrate south to find better sources of food. With ample food available in the cities, towns, hamlets, and villages all year round, there is no need for these birds to migrate.

Some other birds that I was already aware winter in southern Ontario are ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, mallards, and Canada geese. I have recently seen common mergansers (in January 2016) on credit river, but I am not sure if they are regular winter residents.

I am still trying to locate and take pictures of other winter birds that are winter residents - evening grosbeak, white-breasted nuthatch, common redpoll, cedar waxwing, and dark-eyed junco.

Here are some shots that I took of these courageous birds that have decided to give us their delightful company during winters. Please enjoy

The ubiquitous ring-billed gulls, like this one at Niagara Falls, are a constant companion of urban folks throughout the year.
The ubiquitous ring-billed gulls, like this one at Niagara Falls, are a constant companion of urban folks throughout the year. | Source
Mallards (two drakes and two ducks) are quite resilient even resting on icy surfaces.
Mallards (two drakes and two ducks) are quite resilient even resting on icy surfaces. | Source
These Canada gander and goose took to ice covered waters, but will usually stay on meadows eating seeds and vegetation.
These Canada gander and goose took to ice covered waters, but will usually stay on meadows eating seeds and vegetation. | Source
This bully of perching birds, a party pooper, who will scold all approaching humans and predators alike with sharp gull like alarm calls, can easily weather the winters.
This bully of perching birds, a party pooper, who will scold all approaching humans and predators alike with sharp gull like alarm calls, can easily weather the winters. | Source
Northern Cardinal is the symbol of our winters. This shy bird moves in and out of foliage with an alarming short 'peep' call to constantly thwart any efforts of taking their shots.
Northern Cardinal is the symbol of our winters. This shy bird moves in and out of foliage with an alarming short 'peep' call to constantly thwart any efforts of taking their shots. | Source
The striking gold and green plumage of this tiny bird - American Goldfinch - dulls in winters, but the birds stick around in flocks.
The striking gold and green plumage of this tiny bird - American Goldfinch - dulls in winters, but the birds stick around in flocks. | Source
If the meadow voles, squirrels, and chipmunks are around, the red-tailed hawk will stay around too and it does in our winters.
If the meadow voles, squirrels, and chipmunks are around, the red-tailed hawk will stay around too and it does in our winters. | Source
The downy woodpecker will continue to knock on trees all on its own wherever other birds abound.
The downy woodpecker will continue to knock on trees all on its own wherever other birds abound. | Source
The mourning doves look fragile, but with abundance of backyard feeders, they are wintering with us.
The mourning doves look fragile, but with abundance of backyard feeders, they are wintering with us. | Source
Herring gulls are most commonly observed in and around Niagara Falls where they are found in the company of ring-billed gulls.
Herring gulls are most commonly observed in and around Niagara Falls where they are found in the company of ring-billed gulls. | Source
I saw this flock of common mergansers (two males and two females) at Credit River near my home in the last week of January 2016.
I saw this flock of common mergansers (two males and two females) at Credit River near my home in the last week of January 2016. | Source
Black capped chickadees, like this one opening up a seed, can be heard loud and clear in our bush in winters.
Black capped chickadees, like this one opening up a seed, can be heard loud and clear in our bush in winters. | Source
House sparrows - considered pests by most of us - thrive in our winters.
House sparrows - considered pests by most of us - thrive in our winters. | Source
I took this shot of a family of crows in summer and posted it, because these birds are our winter residents. The juvenile is asking for a feed from its mother.
I took this shot of a family of crows in summer and posted it, because these birds are our winter residents. The juvenile is asking for a feed from its mother. | Source
I am yet to get a close shot of these European starlings that flourish in all seasons and are looked down upon.
I am yet to get a close shot of these European starlings that flourish in all seasons and are looked down upon. | Source
House finches (1 male and 2 camouflaged females). I was totally confused as to their identity in -29C. I had to seek help of birding community to identify them for me.
House finches (1 male and 2 camouflaged females). I was totally confused as to their identity in -29C. I had to seek help of birding community to identify them for me. | Source

Map of southern Ontario, Western NY, Michigan

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    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      17 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Mary,

      Perhaps your next article sometimes in October could be how to hike in the winters :-)

      I used to be very scared of winters early in my life, but then I decided to make the season my friend ha-ha.

      Btw, thank you very much for reading my graphical report and leaving a very nice comment.

      Regards,

      Suhail and my dog K2

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      17 months ago from Brazil

      I felt cold just reading this. I am surprised by the number of birds which don't migrate.

      It is rewarding when you go hiking to see the unexpected.

      You know, I have never seen a cardinal (only in pictures), it is on my bucket list of things to do.

      We get such a variety of birds here on our farm in Brazil, and thoroughly enjoy watching them and their behaviors.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Stella,

      Thank you very much for reading my hub and seeing the pictures. My family and I were in Orlando some years ago and that trip was the best ever for observing wildlife. But I didn't have a good quality digital SLR camera at that time.

      Btw, a very Happy Easter to you and your loved ones.

      Regards,

      Suhail and my dog

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Wonderful photos of birds. I have so many Cardinal in my woods, they are so beautiful. I never really saw them up close till I moved here. Another month and the Kites will be coming, we love watching. Great Hub, Stella

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Mel,

      Yes I was surprised to see a picture of humming birds with nestlings inside and snow covering the edges of the nest. Someone had posted it in a FB group that I follow. On a sad note, I recall from about 12 years ago a pair of doves had frozen to their death at a time when bird feeders weren't in vogue. It is great to see people putting them now. Also, there is generally more awareness of growing local seeding plants.

      Regards,

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      2 years ago from San Diego California

      Great photos. Although Northern Cardinals are noted for being hardy in cold places, the overwintering of these other birds is probably due to the increased popularity of bird feeders, as you have said. Even hummingbirds are now lingering in cold places because of the availability of sugar water. Great hub, and great photos!

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Discordzrocks,

      I appreciate your checking out this hub.

      Regards,

    • Discordzrocks profile image

      Gavin Heinz 

      2 years ago from Austin TX

      Ah good, your finally back with another inspiring nature hub. What a nice thing to read. Signed, Zoidberg.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Deb,

      Thank you very much. This is a great honor for me that a bird photographer of your caliber is appreciating my work. And about trekking with K2, I hope that we could do it. K2 will be jumping with joy in your company, which means not many opportunities for any wildlife photography though.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Nice trip! Great pictures, and I wish that I could trek with you and K2.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi FlourishAnyway,

      That's the way to go. I am glad that we have people like you showing love for nature. Thanks for dropping by.

      Regards,

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 years ago from USA

      Beautiful photos and description of what you experienced. I go through massive amounts of bird food, about 80 pounds every 2 to 3 weeks depending on temperature. They get the premium stuff too.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi peachpurple:

      Thank you so very much.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thank you, Linda.

      I am sure that you have lot more birds in BC at this time of the year :-)

      Best regards,

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wow, beautiful pictures taken from nature, good shots

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the interesting information and photos, Suhail. How wonderful to see such a wide variety of birds in winter!

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thank you, Sammy, for reading my article and watching the pictures. You are doing a great job by putting food in your backyard.

      Food is one of the major reasons. If it were the only reason than red winged blackbirds, common grackles, cowbirds, cat birds, etc. may also have stuck around.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      You are most welcome, Bill.

      I am still trying to get some additional birds in my collection.

    • Suhail and my dog profile imageAUTHOR

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thank you, Ifrah., for reading the story and watching my shots.

    • profile image

      Sammy F 

      2 years ago

      With breathtaking pcitures of birds and all the informative captions ... its a really nice read. BTW I'm also guilty of putting healthy feed for birds in my backyard. Is food the only reason why these birds fly south?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There is so much to see if we are willing to actually look...beautiful photos, my friend. Thanks for taking me along with you.

    • profile image

      Ifrah 

      2 years ago

      Very beautiful pictures of some very beautiful birds. Nice story as well, which I enjoyed reading. Thank you for sharing.

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