Bird Watching in Winter (Yes, It's Possible!)

Perry County
Amanda Hawkins

Tansky's Marsh
Photo by Amanda Hawkins

On a cold February afternoon, Tansky's Marsh in Perry County looks more like a barren wasteland than an active wetland habitat. Snow swirls in every direction but the trees barely move. What was once an active floodplain marsh for birds, flora, and amphibian and mammal life is now a desolate snowdrift. But to the left something moves. A twig snaps and a dozen small brown birds flock toward the sky. There is life after all.

Bird watching has gained popularity in southeastern Ohio over the years due to the variety of preserved habitats - forests, grassland plains, marshes and croplands - that allow bird species to thrive.

While the bleak winter months make bird watching difficult, it isn’t impossible. Winter birds that frequent the southeastern Ohio area include but are not limited to the feisty Blue Jay, the small brown Carolina Wren and nearly half a dozen types of woodpeckers.

The best way to get started bird watching is to purchase two essential items. “Basically all you need is a pair of binoculars and a good field guide and you can step outside your front door and bird watch,” suggests Lynda Andrews, the Athens Ranger District Wildlife Biologist at Wayne National Forest.

Field guides are books of photos, facts, location markers and tips for identifying birds. The first ornithological guide appeared in 1934, and today there are dozens of books, guides and encyclopedias to assist bird watchers in their visual hunt. The most well-recognized field guides are The Sibley Field Guide to Birds, the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds, the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds, and the sixth edition of Peterson’s guide, all of which can be purchased for less than $15 dollars in major bookstores and online.

Binoculars are invaluable tools in the birding community. Because of their light-gathering capabilities, binoculars allow for more dimension and a larger range of vision than the naked eye. Each pair varies slightly, so researching so make sure to tailor your purchase around the activities for which the binoculars will be used. suggests a value pair of Nikon, Bushnell, or Celestron binoculars, which cost $70 or less. More advanced birders can front over $500 for fancy binoculars or the more advanced spotting scope.

Birding is an inexpensive, accessible hobby. As March arrives, the frozen wetlands and the arid, wintery fields of southeastern Ohio are no longer dormant. Migratory birds are beginning their long treks north and soon the rare and elusive Cerulean Warbler will return to its home in The Wayne. The frozen waters of Tansky’s Marsh are melting and the secluded area off Route 93 is becoming an active birding site once again.

For more about bird watching culture in Southeast Ohio, check out "Bird's the Word" in the Spring 2011 issue of the magazine. Subscribe now!

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