Waiting for Spring? This would be indeed a pity.

True, birdwatching in winter is just for hardened nature and bird lovers.

A perfect day in summer means getting up at four in the morning for being in the woods or at a lake directly with sunrise. When bird life wakes up, nature observation brings the most joy. The concert, the many bird views and the mood are unique. If a Golden Oriole intones its song, which sounds like tropics, you forget that you are in the Middle of Europe. This nature and birdwatching experience bears one through a week full of work. It relaxes and frees your mind like hardly any other recreational activity.

In fall it is enough to sit on a hill which is in the bird migration route to observe the birds on their way to the South. Now in December many songbirds, geese, ducks and even the cranes on their late migration passed through and it gets uncomfortably cold. And now? Waiting for spring? This would be in deed a pity.

True, birdwatching in winter is just for hardened nature and bird lovers. While we freeze on the northern hemisphere and only the resident birds like robin, blackcap, blackbird, thrush, tit, starling or Golcrest stay, most bird species are in Africa, Latin America or in South East Asia. It is tempting to just follow them or directly travel to the north to watch Gyrfalcons or Whiskered Auklet in Alaska, a Snow Goose or a Tow-barred Crossbill on Iceland or a Ross’ Gull and a Siberian Rubythroat in Siberia. Unfortunately, we do not travel as climate-friendly and cost neutral like migrating birds. So, we have to put two layers of outdoor clothing on, take our optics around our neck, the spotting scope on the back and then set out for the next lake or woods. Everywhere in the northern world there are many interesting species to find with enough patience, which we only in winter get in front of our optics.

  • By Ron Knight from Seaford, East Sussex, United Kingdom

  • By Jean-Jacques Boujot - https://www.flickr.com/photos/jean-jacquesboujot/8606143580, CC BY-SA 2.0

  • By Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography.co.uk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Randen Pederson - originally posted to Flickr as Cedar Wax Wing, CC BY-SA 2.0


In Central Europe there is less and less snow, in Great Britain it has been rare anyhow, but the wet coldness penetrates up to the bones. We make take comfort in the winter that we may sleep rather longer without missing something important out in nature. As soon as the sun shows up a little bit, the temperature gets a little more tolerable. Rather probable is to discover Bohemian Waxwings already in settlement areas. The breeding birds from the holartic taiga zone high up north of Scandinavia prefer tall spruce trees. In winter they like to stay in open wood areas or parks and orchards. While the beautifully colored Bohemian Waxwings feed themselves mainly on insects during the breeding season, their winter diet preferably consists of juniper berries, hawthorn, mistletoe and slightly frozen apples and pears.

In the woods the Blackcap greets in summer like in winter – depending on the region with a little different dialect version, the northern blackcaps sound a little different than the ones in the south at the end of their song. If you are lucky you will meet one of the winter guests: a Brambling. The species actually prefers mixed and deciduous woods, but in winter it is en route to beech forests and settlement areas.

If we go further into open terrain with only few trees the chances for rarer hawk species increase, which are only in Central Europe during the winter months.

Another winter guest makes a quite similar choice of habitat – the redwing. The smallest species of thrushes in Central Europe you recognize not only by the light stripe above the eye but also by the nearly rusty red dye at the flanks.

One of the smallest hawk species with the beautiful name Merlin searches for singing birds up to the size of thrushes or for mice in its agile haunting flight. Much bigger is the Peregrine Falcon, a rather infrequent winter guest. Nevertheless, we meet the species regularly in Central Europe and Great Britain. The bird throws itself on its prey at more than 200 kilometers per hour and during breeding time it even delivers this while flying to the partner. Also the Rough-legged Buzzard focuses on open terrain, we watch him mainly in the Netherlands, the North of Germany, Poland, Czech, Slovakia and Hungary during winter.

Another interesting wintering guest in Central Europe is the Great Grey Shrike, although it is getting rarer as its population declines. The species needs mainly extensively used landscapes like meadow orchards or moor and grassy heath land. The Hen Harrier as traditional winter guest fares quite similar experiences as it requires areas with a high groundwater level and it looks for sleeping places in straw meadows and reed areas during winter.

  • By Ron Knight from Seaford, East Sussex, United Kingdom - Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus), CC BY 2.0

  • By Kate Perez - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the USA the pure size of the country with the different climate zones lets everyone decide according to the personal preferences how winter birding should look like.

By Charles Skip Martin - Imported from 500px (archived version) by the Archive Team. (detail page), CC BY 3.0


The pure size of the country with the different climate zones lets everyone in the USA decide according to the personal preferences how winter birding should look like. In Texas and Florida the diversity of birds is now thanks to the comfortable temperature and many winter guests high. Wood storks, Limpkins and Snail Kites are the attraction in Florida at this time of the year. Texas outdoes Florida with the variety of Green Jays, Roseate Spoonbills, Whooping Cranes, Plain Chachalacas and Piping Plovers.

If raind doesn’t bother you, visit Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. There Black Oystercatchers, Pacific Wrens, Steller’s Jays, Black Turnstones and Chestnut-backed Chickadees fly around in winter. For those who even stand colder temperatures observes in the north of the USA like in Europe Bohemian Waxwings, which in summer breed in Canada down to the south west coast of the Hudson Bay and in winter migrate to the northern USA territories. Even Merlins are typical winter guests in the north.

If snow and ice do not frighten birdwatchers Minnesota rewards them with Snowy Owls, the Great Grey Owl, Boreal Chickadees or Pine Grosbeaks. Snowy Owls migrate depending on the food sources farer south than usual. Their main prey are lemmings. If winters are rather hard in Canada or Scandinavia they fly quite far to the south. Birdwatchers in New York or New England regularly discover them there in winter time.


Where the sun rises first, there is also in winter a lot to see. The dream destination for many bird watchers in winter is Japan. You must consider snow and minus temperatures in the single-digit range if you visit the north of Japan in winter, like Hokkaido. But it is worth it. In winter the tall Ural Owl and the hugest owl species, the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, as well as Manchurian Cranes, Japanese White-Naped Cranes and Hooded Cranes are good to observe.

Where ever we on the Northern Hemisphere watch birds in winter, it is worth in any case not to permit our optics a hibernation. Even if it costs as more energy and endurance in this season, nature and bird life reciprocate so persuasively that we will benefit a long time and already look forward to the next winter.

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Michaela Sulz

Michaela Sulz is a passionate birder and blogger for ZEISS Nature Blog.