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Birding Through the Seasons - December

The end of the calendar year marks the typical beginning of winter weather and winter birds. Successive blasts of cold weather and the resulting ice-up begins to cull weaker individuals. Those that remain here by the end of the month are the winter-hardy residents, such as the junco, chickadee, cardinal, crow, and titmouse, among others. Bird feeding is a widespread and satisfying recreational activity. A variety of foods and presentations provide the greatest enjoyment. Juncos and chickadees are among the most frequent visitors to bird feeders.

Although the majority of resident breeding birds have moved south for the winter to warmer climates, there are many birds still on the move into Pennsylvania. Some landbirds, particularly sparrows, are still moving into or through the state. Various water birds pass through the state during this month, such as ducks, gulls and herons. Gulls, notably ring-billed and herring, begin to occupy area lakes and rivers, especially those near area landfills.

Waterfowl in the state during this month are most likely to be found in larger bodies of open water. Although the largest movement of waterfowl passed through the state in November, various diving ducks (Common Goldeneyes, Redheads and Canvasbacks) and Red-breasted Merganser may be found in deep water bodies. These species are not likely to appear in smaller ponds, but often are seen in larger rivers, like the Susquehanna, Allegheny and Delaware. Lingering dabbling ducks also may be found across the state until surface water freezes.

From December 14 to January 5 the National Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the largest and longest-running volunteer bird-monitoring program in the world, takes place. Each bird count takes place on a specific day and in a certain area. These counts have turned up some interesting birds throughout the state in years past. Christmas Bird Counts offer a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the local birds and also the local birding network with many beginners learning the basics from more experienced birders during this event. To view information and instructions on how to search for and sign-up for an open count, National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count website.

Dan Brauning
Pennsylvania Game Commission