It’s common for backyard birdwatchers to experience winter doldrums due to seeing less birds around their feeders. For those who can brave the cold, winter is a great time to get out and look for waterfowl. If you’re looking to break up the monotony of backyard birding, consider heading to a source of water, whether that be a park, reserve, or sanctuary, to enjoy a variety of waterfowl.
Watching Ducks, Geese, and Swan – The Anatidae Family
Ducks, geese, and swans are all wetland birds that are classified in the Anatidae family. Many species of birds are long gone in winter, having migrated to warmer climates until their spring return. However, waterfowl are especially enjoyable to watch during late winter. They can be seen sporting bright, colorful plumages in preparation for the early spring breeding season.
Depending on your location, you may be able to spot any of the following waterfowl on the water:
- Tundra swan
- Canada geese
- Snow geese
- Ruddy duck
- Common loon
- Harlequin ducks
- Long-tailed duck
- Pacific loon
- Snow geese
- American coot
- Wood duck
Ready for an Adventure
If you’re feeling restless and ready for a winter birdwatching adventure, you can plan a trip to any of the following locations to add a variety of waterfowl to your lists. Once you’ve selected your destination, it’s a good idea to call the refuge to find out what they recommend you bring in preparation for the cold. You can also find tips for bird watching in winter online. Remember to keep your extremities warm, in particular your feet which will be encountering frozen grounds, cold water, and ice.
Head Northeast to Montauk Point State Park in New York
If a trip to the Northeast coast is what you’re looking for, consider Montauk Point State Park. Montauk Point State Park is the northeastern most point in New York state. Long Island is marked by two forks, the North fork and the South fork. Montauk Point State Park is located on the eastern tip of the South fork. A long time favorite of fishermen, it’s also a great location to spot large gatherings of sea ducks.
If a black scoter is on your life list, this is one location you’re bound to spot it. Montauk Point is known for its rare bird sightings as well. Visit from December to February to add harlequin ducks and Pacific loons to your list. A favorite of fishermen, this seaside town is ideal for watching birds in winter.
Head up North to Pine Grove Park in Michigan
If you’re heading North and ready to outfit yourself for some eye tearing cold, consider a visit to Pine Grove Park, Michigan. Known for long cold winters and cold snaps, it’s not uncommon for Lake Huron to freeze over. This results in flocks of ducks heading out in search of open water. In the past, hundreds of ducks were spotted leaving Port Huron in search of open water only to awe birdwatchers with a storm of long-tailed ducks heading to St. Clair River. Pine Grove Park is a small city park in Huron that proves to be the ideal position to witness these amazing waterfowl searching for water.
Head Southeast to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Pennsylvania
If the cold Michigan temps aren’t for you, you may want to consider planning a trip to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania. It’s a birding hot spot for birdwatchers looking to add snow geese and tundra swan to their list. Despite most freshwater being frozen over during late January to mid-February, waterfowl in this preserve are usually able to find open water in the Middle Creek Reservoir. In the past three years, thousands of snow geese and tundra swan have been observed here. In 2010, the site was designated as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area because of the amount of these two species passing through.
Head Northwest to Loess Buff National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri
Besides Tennessee, Missouri is the only other state that is bordered by eight states. It’s also home to a major stopover site for waterfowl in late winter, the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. If your life list includes geese, a visit to Loess Buff NWR will add snow geese, Ross’ geese and the greater white-fronted geese all in one visit. During late winter it’s not unheard of to spot over one million snow geese. Records through eBird have documented 1,350,00 snow geese in 2016 and 6,250 Ross’ geese during an eBird project in 2012. These counts are the highest ever recorded for these species in Missouri.
See also: How to Accurately Count Flocks of Birds
Head Southwest to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
For the birdwatcher interested in spotting waterfowl and escaping the bitter cold, consider heading to the Southwest. You won’t have to worry about layers and winter gear if you plan a trip to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Texas. Most known for the redhead duck, which the refuge was created to specifically protect in 1946, Laguna Atascosa has the highest count of the redhead duck in the United States. In addition to seeing the redhead, birdwatchers will be able to spot American coots and ruddy ducks. It’s common for thousands of these species of ducks to show up annually in winter.
For Homebodies Interested in Watching Water Birds in Winter
If traveling during the cold late winter months of summer, isn’t for you, you can still spend time watching water birds in winter. Whether you live on a coast or inland, there’s bound to be a wildlife refuge in your own state. Doing a little research about the wildlife refuges in your area will help you find a spot with a body of water to spot some waterfowl to watch them in winter.
If you’re ready to brave the cold, watching waterfowl in winter adds a whole new dimension to birdwatching. Bundle up and head to the water’s edge to break the winter doldrums!