Wildlife Watch: Winter bird watching – WCAX

ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) – At the Dead Creek Wildlife Center in Addison, Toni Mikula, a wildlife specialist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, is keeping an eye out for birds.
“Out in the field, you can look for snow buntings. They are very pretty, little, white and black, kind of like the size of a songbird,” Mikula said.
On this day, we see a short-eared owl flying in the field.
“Short-eared owls and snowy owls are the two Arctic owls that we get here. And they– contrary to most owls– hunt during the daytime. When you think about it, in the summer in the Arctic it’s daylight all the time. So, they really don’t have much choice. They seem to prefer to hunt in the daytime,” Mikula said.
Mikula says that although many people go bird watching in the warmer months, in the winter it gives different opportunities to get outside and watch wildlife.
Reporter Ike Bendavid: Why go birding in the winter?
Toni Mikula: Just because it’s a chance to see birds that we don’t normally see, especially if you spend a lot indoors in the wintertime. These are species of birds that you’re not really going to get a chance to see unless you are going out in the wintertime looking for them.
“In the wintertime, we get a whole different kind of set of birds than what you would see in the summertime. We get migrants from the north. So, we usually think of birds migrating from here going south, but for birds that live up on the Canadian Arctic tundra, this is their south. So, we get a cool set of winter migrants that come here and spend the winter here,” Mikula explained.
In different parts of the state, you get a chance to see different birds.
“Here we are in the Champlain Valley, we have some wide-open agricultural fields and here you will see the snowy owl, birds that are coming off the Arctic tundra. It reminds them of home, no trees on the tundra; there are no trees here. So, they feel like home in places like this. So, this is where you find the real tundra natives come to spend the winter. However, if you go into the mountains and the forest, there are other birds there that you can find in the wintertime,” Mikula said.
Ike Bendavid: Do the birds overlap at all with migration coming up again?
Toni Mikula: So right now we are starting to get our very earliest migrants like bald eagles are starting to come back. So, yeah, they might overlap with some of the other winter migrants that we have. A lot of time the winter birds will come back before most of our spring migrants come.
Mikula says the change in weather doesn’t impact the change in migration, it’s the amount of sun we see before they migrate.
“They actually time it on the length of daytime, that’s how they tell the time of year, not based on the weather. But as long as conditions here remind them of home, it’s relatively cold and some snow on the ground, they will stick around. The daytime starts to get longer and the snow will melt, then they will get that feeling that it’s time to go back north,” Mikula said.
Time to get outside and notice some birds before they head back home! Click here for more on bird watching from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
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