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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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