Snow Birds

11/29/2018
By Gabrielle L. Wheeler

At the health center I work at, we call folks that go south during the winter and return to the area in the summer “snow birds.” But when speaking of actual birds, I would consider species that stay year-round in the north “snow birds.” There are a few common birds across the northeast that form mixed flocks and love to visit stocked feeders, including during the snowy months.

One of our local birds that over-winters in the north is the ever-familiar black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), the likes of which grace many a Christmas card. Sexes are similar in this species which sports a black cap and chin. Black-capped chickadees are fairly inquisitive, meaning that if you are out wandering in the woods, they will come check you out. If they don’t come on their own, you can often pique their curiosity by “pshing,” or saying “pshhhhh” loud and long, and they will quickly drop into a nearby tree, hopping closer and closer to inspect you.

Often found hanging out with the black-capped chickadee, is the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), a small blue-gray bird with a point on its head liken to that which a cardinal sports. According to the Cornell Lab or Ornithology, tufted titmice remain in pairs throughout the winter, sometimes with a young from the previous summer’s brood. These common songbirds frequent backyard feeders and will often hoard seeds nearby. The tufted titmouse can be caught singing year-round, bursting out with “peter-peter-peter” even during the winter months.

Another common but less conspicuous bird that is also often found when chickadees are present is the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). Also sporting a black head, this song bird has a clean white breast and belly, and a gray back. What will set this one apart for easy identification is that nuthatches are very often seen going nimbly up and down the trunk of a tree side-ways or face-first, as opposed to the way a woodpecker is always upright. One of two nuthatch species found locally, the white-breasted nuthatch is a common feeder species and especially loves sunflower seeds. It gets its name from the way it jams a seed into the bark of a tree, then hammers it with its beak to remove the seed from the hull, aka “hatch it out.”

Viewing birds that visit backyard feeders can be an enjoyable way to observe nature. While summer visitors are exciting, winter is a great time of the year to get to know our local, non-migratory “snow birds.”


Gabrielle Wheeler is a freelance writer from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region. On her parenting blog, aplaceforlittlesproutstogrow.com, she writes about tending to the whole child and parent. She also works in a local health center as an interpreter/patient navigator.