Bird watchers and conservationists rejoice! The Great Backyard Bird Count helps ornithologists keep tabs on bird populations around the globe. Here are some of our favorite birds to get you in the right frame of mind.
The common redpoll pictured above is a wonderful example of one of winter's most beautiful birds. These beautiful finches thrive in snowy climates in the northern half of the United States. They spend their winters as far south as Colorado and Illinois, and you can find them in fields and conifer forests. Just listen for a "Zap!" or a "Dreee!" and you'll know one is near.
One of the most majestic species, snowy owls have been spotted more frequently in more places over the years, even as far south as Florida. To get to the bottom of this mysterious irruption, researchers tagged snowy owls and tracked their locations as part of Project SNOWstorm. They found that snowy owls are healthy and well-fed, and that their population may simply be growing and spreading naturally. Look for them across the northern United States (and perhaps this year in the South as well!) near large bodies of water and agricultural fields.
There's nothing like the rich pinkish-red color of a purple finch, especially on a dreary gray day. Purple finches are common throughout the eastern half of the United State and along the West Coast. They can pop up pretty much anywhere in the wintertime, from deep in the forests to the bird feeder in your backyard.
Photo: Nazhiyath Vijayan/flickr
Sandhill cranes are more commonly seen during their migration, which takes place in early spring. But in the wintertime they can be spotted in parts of the Southwest, from parts of California to eastern Texas — and Florida has a sandhill crane population all its own.
Winter is the perfect time to look out for these striking birds. They spend most of their time up in the forests of the eastern United States, only quickly flashing by on the hunt for flying insects. But in the dead of winter, when trees are bare, they're much easier to spot. Just listen for the telltale tap-tap-tap. They may even venture out to feeders if you put out some winter suet for them to snack on!
A common sight in oak trees in central and eastern United States, blue jays are aggressive visitors to the bird feeder. Still, there's no denying the pretty plumage of these jays, which are known to venture into well-populated areas. (If you live in the western United States, read on for another beautiful jay to look out for.)
One of the most beautiful hummingbird species, Anna's hummingbird frequents the Pacific Coast and parts of the southwestern United States. Those lucky enough to live within their range can search for them in shrubs and trees (especially Eucalyptus trees) and, of course, near the feeder. Remember, when stocking your hummingbird feeder, do not add red food coloring.
There's nothing quite so picturesque as a vivid male cardinal resting among snow-covered branches. Another frequenter of feeders, the northern cardinal ranges from the Midwest to the East Coast and is one of the most vocal birds on this list.
Photo: Tim Lenz/flickr
The sharp-shinned hawk spends most of its winter in the southern United States, but it can also be found throughout the country year-round. One of the smallest hawk species, this little guy sometimes ventures into backyards for a shot at the regulars at bird feeders (though their chances of catching a songbird are slim). Look for sharp-shinned hawks near the edge of the trees and flying high in the sky — and remember to keep an eye out for commotion at the feeder!
One of the most adorable birds on the list, chickadees are small and puffy and full of character. Most regions of the United States have their own year-round species, from the Carolina chickadee (pictured above) of the Southeast to the chestnut-backed chickadee of the coastal Northwest. These birds are easy to spot with their dark crowns and white cheeks, and they sound like little squeaky toys around the feeder.
Photo: Manjith Kainickara/flickr
These pretty golden birds live throughout the United States, and if you live in the southwestern part of the country, winter is the time to look for them. Though they are much brighter in spring and summer, the yellow coloration of the goldfinch is still a warm welcome in the gray days of February. You'll know one is nearby because they call out a humorous "Po-ta-to-chip!" as they fly, and they are common visitors to the bird feeder.
Photo: Jason Crotty/flickr
Another cutie, the snowy plover lives along the Pacific and Gulf coasts of the United States, so keep an eye out for this little guy along the beach.
Photo: Anita Ritenour/flickr
A cousin of the aforementioned blue jay, Steller's jay is a stunner of iridescent blue and black. These jays are much like their eastern counterparts, boldly frequenting bird feeders and parks. They live in high-altitude pine forests and along the Pacific Coast.
Photo: Kevin Cole/flickr
Townsend's warbler winters along the forests and parks of the California coast. Their bright coloration makes them easy to spot!
Great blue heron
One of the most common waterbirds across the country, the great blue heron is easy to spot with its large, gray body and long skinny legs. Look for them in shallow water or even in open fields. They can appear in backyards if there is a water source — even a tiny goldfish pond!
Photo: Kathy & sam/flickr
This is a funny little bird that ranges throughout the United States, wintering in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. They usually live on the ground in fields, so you're more likely to spot them in the countryside than in the suburbs.
Photo: Ron Knight/flickr
Spending its winters across the northern United States, these gorgeous songbirds brave the snow in cold habitats. Though they are a rare and special sight, pine grosbeaks will visit bird feeders occasionally.
Bright white and not quite as large as the great blue heron, great egrets winter along the Southwest and can be found year-round along the Gulf Coast. They live in both freshwater and saltwater habitats, so look for them slowly stalking prey along the shore.
Photo: David Restivo/NPS
With their impressive coiffes, fabulous masks and neon accents along their wings and tail feathers, bohemian waxwings are simply stunning. They spend their winters in the northern United States, as far south as south-central California.
A large, fashionable woodpecker, northern flickers range throughout the United States year-round. While they don't usually visit the bird feeder, they do frequent backyards that have wooded areas. The yellow-shafted northern flicker (pictured above) is an eastern race that is particularly pretty. They flit from the trees to the ground and have a very loud call.
Great horned owl
The wise great horned owl ranges year-round throughout North America and can be seen perched near open areas at dusk. The largest of all owls commonly seen in the United States, the great horned owl should be easy to spot if you can track its common vocalization: four or five "who" sounds at a time.
Photo: Tim Lenz/flickr
An Arctic animal, the snow bunting ventures south to the northern United States during winter to lake shores and open fields. Look for this small songbird walking along the ground.
The golden-crowned kinglet winters throughout the United States and is a year-round resident of the Pacific Northwest. A cute, chickadee-like bird almost as small as a hummingbird, this kinglet lives in coniferous forests and ventures into the suburbs in the winter time. This bird has a fluttering, high-pitched call, and mostly sticks to the treetops, so you'll need to be patient to look for it. Its cousin, the ruby-crowned kinglet, is similar in size and shape but has a bright red tuft of hair. Ruby-crowned kinglets are most commonly seen throughout the southern half of the United States in the winter, and are more likely to venture to the feeder.
A small but bright blue critter, bluebirds range throughout the United States but each region has its own. Bluebirds sometimes visit feeders but are easy to spot even if they're in a nearby tree. The eastern bluebird (shown above) perches near meadows and lives in the Southeast year-round, venturing slightly west of Texas during the winter. The mountain bluebird is a lighter blue, a resident of the western plains. The western bluebird has a more specific range, from California to parts of the Southwest, in open woodlands and farmlands.
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/flickr
The list wouldn't be complete without including the American icon, the bald eagle. Winter is the time to spot this raptor, as its range increases to most of the United States with the exception of the Southeast. Look upwards for this bird, or head towards a lake, where it's likely to swoop down to grab fish.