What to Watch for in Winter

January is a relatively slow time for bird movement. Even thru December, birds may be wandering around looking for the best place to dig in for the next month or two. By early January they seem to have settled on their spot.

But by mid-February birds start moving again, and some of the earliest spring migrants begin to show up in our area. One of the earliest is not very exciting, but I always find myself waiting with anticipation for the first fish crows to arrive. I have said before that fish crows are my least favorite bird but at least in February I am listening for their characteristic calls. They all seem to arrive at once. One day not here, next day everywhere.

Fish Crow
 Photo by John Ennis

More exciting is the return of ospreys to their nesting areas at Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, and other large area reservoirs around the state. They can be seen soaring overhead anywhere in the area as they move through and often will even stop in briefly at small farm ponds. 

 Photo by Lee Weber

The first purple martin scouts may arrive in February. I have seen them as early as February 20th

Purple Martin
 Photo by John Ennis

Some birds even begin nesting in February. American woodcocks have been doing their courtship displays for over a month. I have found a nest as early as February 6th. Great horned owls may be well along in their nesting by the first of February. Pairs have been aggressively hooting to each other for a few weeks now. Red-shouldered hawks will not lay eggs for a while but they are refurbishing last year’s nests now, if not constructing a brand new one for the season.

American Woodcock
 Photo by Jeff Lewis

A local pair of bald eagles has been tidying up their nest too. This well-known pair has been a familiar sight soaring over Piper Glen and Four-Mile Creek Greenway for some years now.

Songbirds will not begin nesting until insects become abundant, usually by April first. In the meantime, they will be checking out prospective nest sites, singing will increase, and territory wars will break out.