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Birds to look for when winter winds kick up

winter winds
A Herring Gull flying in calm wind (upper row) and in high wind (lower row). Art by David Sibley

Across much of the world, winter is a season for studying waterbirds, and if you have access to a large body of water (ocean, large lake, or river), then it’s worth looking for waterbirds during storms. This has the potential for some of the most exciting birding.

Birds sense the lower pressure of a storm and respond by searching for food. Strong winds make it difficult or impossible for birds to rest on the water, so they gather on beaches, open fields, or parking lots where they can rest, or they simply fly. Ocean birds have adapted to wind, so windy conditions (to a point) might be preferable, as the wind allows them to travel faster with less effort. And strong waves along the shoreline can stir up the sand and mud there and create a bonanza of food for gulls and other birds. All of this means that storms make waterbirds more active and more visible.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016), and What It’s Like to Be a Bird (2020). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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