By Gabi Morey
San Juan Mountains Association
Birding in winter? Many people think of birding in the spring, when migrants from the south come back to our own little corner of paradise. But birding in the winter can be fun and rewarding, as well.
One easy way to bird is from the comfort of your own home. Winter is a great time to put birdseed in the bird feeder outside your window, sip a warm cup of coffee and watch to see what comes to visit.
Bears are sleeping off the winter in their dens, so their visits arent much of a worry, and the birds that do stick around during this cold season will be grateful for the supplemental food source when others are scarce.
Suet is especially important for birds in winter. Suet typically is rendered animal fat, which provides necessary calories and nutrients for birds. In the winter, this is especially necessary as birds use up much of their energy keeping warm.
Suet also can come in the form of vegetable fat and often includes other sources of energy, such as seeds and even insects and fruit.
Janet Kenna from the local Durango store For the Birds says there are two main suet blends they sell that are great a Southwest blend specific for our area and Mountain Munch, which is popular with larger birds and includes peanuts, sunflower seeds and cracked corn.
Some people also enjoy feeding turkeys this time of year, and they typically feed on cracked corn.
So what birds might you encounter this time of year? Some of the more typical species that stick around include black-capped and mountain chickadees; house finches, English (aka house sparrows), red- and white-breasted nuthatches; dark-eyed juncos; pine siskins; goldfinches; Eurasian collared doves; golden-crowned kinglets; and plain titmice.
Those smaller birds at your feeders may attract bird-eating hawks, such as sharp-shinned and Coopers hawks.
Larger birds that are around include ravens; crows; magpies; Clarks nutcrackers that come down from the mountains; and jays, including piñon jays, scrub jays, gray jays and Stellars jays.
Woodpeckers are another group of birds easily seen this time of year, including Lewis, downy, hairy and flickers.
Near the river you might find dippers, kingfishers and even bald eagles looking for a fishy meal.
Raptors easily can be seen this time of year, including red-tailed, ferruginous and rough-legged hawks, kestrels and northern harriers. In the evenings you might hear great horned owls or pygmy owls.
With leaves being gone from the trees, not only are birds more easily seen, but so are nests.
Orioles flee to warmer areas in the winter, but it is a wonderful time of year to view their awesome hanging nests, usually found in open woodlands and parks in deciduous trees. You may find robins nests and nests of smaller birds maybe even hummingbirds that wouldnt be seen as easily in the spring or summer.
Ducks are fun to look for this time of year, as well, especially along the Animas River. Buffleheads, mergansers, mallards, pintails and green-winged teals are a few water species that can be found, as well as the ubiquitous Canada geese.
Project Feeder Watch is a great place to practice your bird-watching skills, as well as participate in a citizen science program. In this program, people watch their feeders at home, at nature centers, parks and other places throughout the winter and report their findings to scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This assists scientists in keeping track of populations of bird species. Find out more at www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/index.html.
To supplement your winter bird-watching enjoyment, San Juan Mountains Association has many bird-related items, and everything in our bookstores is 20 percent off until Christmas.
To continue your bird-watching enjoyment, you also can put the Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival on your calendar for May 11-15, 2011. The agenda should be online soon at www.utemountainmesa verdebirdingfestival.com.
Gabi Morey is education outreach director with the San Juan Mountains Association.