A chance on winter

This song sparrow, which should normally be in the southern U.S. or Mexico, hides in willows near its winter home found along the Millennium Trail

Birds are all over the news these days. There was that rare Hawfinch from Asia that landed in Haines Junction. And that blue, blue Steller’s Jay invasion that happened last fall. For these rarities and Yukon’s 40 resident species, the challenge is now to stay warm and keep eating!

For new and experienced birders, winter is when you can get closer to many resident (and some visiting) species.
“Winter gives us a chance to see birds a little close to home. They come into our yards and feeders and we can view and study them,” says Cameron Eckert, expert birder and biologist.

Resident birds eat local year-round, like forest cone seeds. Warblers on the other hand, need summer bugs so they migrate south.
“Diversity isn’t as high now, but it’s a chance to get closer that makes winter special,” Eckert says.

When temperatures fall, feeders with black-oil sunflower seeds will attract forest birds such as chatty black-capped chickadees, common redpolls, bright pine grosbeaks and red crossbills. Venture further to find other birds. Dress warmly, and take a pair of binoculars and a guidebook . A Yukon Bird Checklist will help identify them. Other helpful aids include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s allaboutbirds.com, An Introduction to Yukon Birds, published by the Yukon government’s wildlife viewing program, and the Merlin Bird ID App.

The Millennium Trail is one of the best winter spots in the Yukon for birding (and my favourite year-round).
You’re almost sure to see American dippers near the open water below the Rotary Centennial Bridge (the blue bridge). This dark grey chubby songbird packs a loud call and an even more beautiful song. In mid-winter, they seem happy to jump in and out of the river’s current from icy or rocky perches.


“It’s one of the premier species to see here in winter,” Eckert says.
Common mergansers, a diving duck, also like fishing here.

The American robin has become a frequent winter visitor, too, finding food in the muddy shoreline.
Robins may be part of a vanguard of changing populations testing to see if they can make it through our warming winters, noted Eckert. Most don’t survive a real cold snap.

Walking a favourite trail or route daily, or even weekly, can alert you to its birdlife.
Since November, I’ve been observing on my walks the survival of a wary song sparrow (normally a winter resident of the southern U.S. and Mexico) which has found food and shelter near a busy trail. Amazing!

The process of watching, listening and trying to identify a bird will help you remember that species, and perhaps that particular bird, forever. Learn more. The Yukon Bird Club moderates the popular Yukon Birds Facebook group and recently posted Ten Birds To Learn This Winter on its Facebook page. Join and check out YBC at yukonbirds.ca. Its AGM is Feb. 24.

Tired of winter? Watch for upcoming YBC birding events and tips this spring, for everyone!
Happy birding!

Christmas bird counts are fun for kids too


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