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Wyoming Winter Doesn’t Daunt These Fearless Feathered Friends
Did you know that about 84 different species of birds can be found overwintering in Wyoming?
Even more amazing, 13 of those species choose to be here just for the winter! Those are the birds that typically hail from the arctic tundra. So for them, the Wyoming winter is positively balmy.
Here are seven birds you just might be able to spot in your backyard this winter:
Found throughout the year across our state, the Black-Capped Chickadee is almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its over-sized round head, tiny body, and curiosity about everything, including humans.
This chickadee’s black cap and bib, white cheeks, and whitish fluffy underside make it distinctive. It’s one of the first birds most people learn about, due to its habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory.
The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later. It stores each in a different spot, and the chickadee can remember thousands of these hiding places.
The American Goldfinch generally prefers weedy fields and floodplains to higher elevations. But it’s also commonly found at bird feeders, especially during the winter.
The adult males are bright yellow when breeding in spring and summer, with a black forehead and black wings. But the yellow is much less vivid in the winter. In fact, it’s more of a drab brown. So you’ll need to look for the black on its wings for a positive identification.
Here a non-breeding goldfinch let’s us get up close and personal, giving us a good idea of how these birds look in winter. As you can see, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish male from female at this time of year…
The American Goldfinch is the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. The brightening yellow of male goldfinches each spring is one welcome mark of approaching warm months.
During the summer, these flashy little sparrows flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada. But in the winter, you’ll see them in fields or backyards.
Dark-Eyed Juncos have dark gray or brown plumage, which is brightened by a pink bill and white underbelly. But they’re most easily recognized by their bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight.
These juncos are one of the most abundant forest birds of North America — estimated at 630 million. You’ll see them in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them.
The oldest recorded Dark-Eyed Junco was at least 11 years and 4 months old when it was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in West Virginia in 2001. It had been banded in the same state in 1991.
While the Pine Siskin often breeds in Wyoming during the summer, it will also fly north to breed. They’re commonly found here throughout the winter, although they’re known to be somewhat nomadic. (Flocks of the tiny birds may monopolize your thistle feeder one winter and be absent the next.)
You can identify the Pine Siskin by its streaked brown feathers and yellow wing markings, which it flashes as it flutters about the feeder or explodes into flight. Flocks are highly sociable; you may hear their insistent twitters before you see them.
A Pine Siskin gets through the Wyoming winter by ramping up its metabolic rate. When temperatures plunge as low as –94°F, these amazing little creatures can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They also put on half again as much winter fat as their relatives the Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch.
The Lapland Longspur is one of our Wyoming winter “visitors.” It arrives in the fall and leaves by summer. It spends the rest of the year in the high northern arctic. (As its name implies, this bird originates from northernmost Finland.) In the winter, you’ll find them along roadsides, especially if a seedy field is nearby.
The Lapland longspur is a robust little bird, with a thick yellow seed-eater’s bill. You can identify it by its streaked sides, black face and chest and yellowish eye stripe. It breeds in the wet meadows of the arctic tundra. Its song is a series of loud, squeak jingly notes.
A group of Lapland Longspurs is collectively known as a “drive” of longspurs. They travel in huge parties. Some winter flocks have been estimated to contain as many as four million birds.
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You’ll often spot the rough-legged hawk by the side of the highway in the winter. Another wintertime visitor, it breeds in the northern forests of Canada and Alaska in the summers and only comes down to Wyoming to feed during the cold months.
With its five-foot wingspan and black spot under each wing, it’s easy to identify in flight. The name refers to the hawk’s feathered legs; it’s one of only three American raptors that sport feathers all the way down to the toes. It’s also one of the few birds of prey that hover in place while hunting.
Adult Red-Legged Hawks eat about five small mammals a day. In fact, nestlings start swallowing lemmings whole when they’re about 16 days old. A brood of two nestlings consumes about 26 pounds of food during the first 40 days after hatching.
An intense bundle of energy at your winter feeder, the Red-Breasted Nuthatch is a tiny, active bird that inhabits our Wyoming woods and mountains all year log. (Although it will migrate if food sources are scarce.)
The sharp expression of this compact creature is accentuated by its long, pointed bill. Its back and tail are bluish and its underparts rust-colored. Its markings are distinctive, with a black cap and black eye line against a white eyebrow.
Red-Breasted Nuthatches have very short tails and almost no neck; their bodies are plump or barrel-chested, and their short wings are very broad.
Their sometimes referred to as “the upside down birds,” because of their tendency to walk down tree trunks head-first. And as you can see, they’re also very tame around humans:
The Red-Breasted Nuthatch hoards excess food by wedging nuts into bark and then hammering them in with its bill. Whatever gets you through the winter, little guy!