Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

A duck, seabird, and songbird to look for this winter

In every issue of BirdWatching, eBird project leaders Chris Wood, Brian Sullivan, and Marshall Iliff describe three birds that are migrating. Here are the species they wrote about in our December 2013 issue.


Canvasback by Lois Manowitz
Canvasback by Lois Manowitz

This handsome duck begins to fly south from central Canada, the Great Plains, and western states in the second half of October and continues migrating in November and early December. In winter the species is quite localized. Some areas host hundreds or thousands; others have just a few scattered among other ducks. Texas and nearby areas get the lion’s share of the population. Tens of thousands used to winter on Chesapeake Bay, but counts are much lower now. Look for the birds on estuaries, lakes, bays, and shallow ponds with lots of submerged aquatic vegetation.

See eBird’s real-time distribution map for Canvasback.

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet by Matt MacGillivray (Creative Commons)
Northern Gannet by Matt MacGillivray (Creative Commons)

It’s always a thrill to see the gleaming white body and black wingtips of a Northern Gannet off the Atlantic coast. Even more unforgettable is the occasional feeding frenzy: thousands of gannets, hundreds of feet up, plunge-diving in unison at schools of fish like a barrage of missiles. After breeding in dense colonies on islands in eastern Canada, gannets are easy to see from October to May from almost any Atlantic beach; just scan offshore with a scope or binocular. At the southern reaches of their range — Florida and the Gulf coast — their occurrence is more compressed (November to March) and more erratic.

See eBird’s real-time distribution map for Northern Gannet.

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur by Nigel (Creative Commons)
Lapland Longspur by Nigel (Creative Commons)

After nesting in the high arctic, Lapland Longspur molts from its striking breeding colors into a more subtle sparrow-like plumage for fall migration and winter. Migration peaks in late October and early November. From October to March, the bird is found across southern Canada and most of the lower 48 states. Like many field birds, it is often detected by its flight call, a dry rattle. Finding a lone “Lap” foraging on a beach or an overgrown parking lot or mixed in with Horned Larks is exciting enough, but on the Great Plains, thousands may occur in huge flocks, often alongside Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, or other longspurs.

See eBird’s real-time distribution map for Lapland Longspur.


eBird is the real-time online checklist operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. Marshall Iliff, Brian Sullivan, and Chris Wood are eBird project leaders. Submit your bird sightings at

Read Chris, Brian, and Marshall’s tips for finding Sora, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Pink-footed Shearwater.

Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free