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Winter

Birds on a Cold Night

During December, birds spend the long, cold nights in a protected place, sheltered from rain and safe from nighttime predators. Small forest birds, such as nuthatches and creepers, may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities. Birds like this male Mallard fluff up their feathers for... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

Ptarmigan in Winter

Both the Willow Ptarmigan and these White-tailed Ptarmigan, feathered mostly brown in summer, are utterly transfigured by an autumn molt. As snow begins to mantle their world, both species, now all white, blend in superbly. But the ptarmigan pulls another trick. It adds dense white feathering on... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Why Birds Stand on One Leg

Birds' legs have an adaptation called "rete mirabile" that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs lie in contact with the veins that return colder blood to the bird's heart. The arteries warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

Winter Field Notes - Reflections by Heather Murphy

Heather Murphy, a naturalist, watches for birds with the trained eye of a wildlife biologist, then makes a few field notes. From her journal: "I hear tzeet-tzeet-tzeet. Fast movement. Ah, a tiny kinglet. Which kinglet? Hm.m.m. No leaves anymore, so I easily see an olive-green back. And through my... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  reflection

Bird of the Year, From Lyanda Haupt

Many birders play a New Year's game called "Bird of the Year." The first bird you see on January 1st becomes your theme bird for that year—one to bless your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. Author Lyanda Haupt was at first disappointed with her "bird of the year," a European Starling.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, reflection

Morning in Oaxaca

A winter morning in Oaxaca, Mexico—a great time to visit old friends who spent the summer in the United States. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Western Tanagers—northern summer-nesters that winter in western Mexico—mingle with resident Berylline Hummingbirds, Gray Silky-Flycatchers, and this Crescent... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration

A Swirl of Snow Geese

Snow Geese nest from far northeastern Russia to Greenland, in the arctic and subarctic. They winter in large flocks on the deltas of rivers in northwestern Washington, areas along the Eastern Seaboard, and throughout the Mississippi Flyway. Watching Snow Geese in flight, Barry Lopez described... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  reflection

Great Horned Owls Nest

High in a leafless cottonwood, a female Great Horned Owl incubates two eggs. As light snow falls on her back, her mate roosts nearby. Since December, this pair has been hooting back and forth regularly at night. Great Horned Owls nest in winter, because the owlets, which hatch after a month of... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, nesting

Winter Brings Falcons

A Merlin — like this one — hunts boldly from a high perch. A Peregrine Falcon dives on a hapless pigeon, with an air speed approaching 200 miles per hour. The Gyrfalcon can fly down even the fastest waterfowl in a direct sprint. A Prairie Falcon blends in with its background. And the smallest... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching

More Eyes and Ears

A family of dapper Black-capped Chickadees call as they hang upside down, pecking at alder seeds. A wren skulks and buzzes through the underbrush. A petite Downy Woodpecker whinnies nearby. Mixed-species flocks may include a dozen species and more than fifty individuals. More ears and eyes mean... read more »

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