Winter Birding from the Comfort of Home

Brooklyn Birding

It turns out that despite its many, many hardships, winter can be a great time for bird watching.  One reason is that birds who normally spend their time breeding in the Arctic consider our climate perfect from November through March.  So this is the only time you will find a Snowy Owl, or many ducks like the Bufflehead in our area.  The second reason is because birds have a harder time finding food in the winter, they rely on our bird feeders to keep them fed during these months.  This post will focus on the latter and show you the birds we find at our feeder in Brooklyn.

Many bird lovers (the Bird Nerds included) look forward to filling up the feeder and tossing peanuts outside each day, anxiously awaiting the first Blue Jay to sound the breakfast alarm.  Especially when the ground and trees are covered with snow, dozens of birds will stop by our roof deck for a bite to eat.  Here are some of the birds we’ve seen from home throughout this snowy winter.

Pigeons in Brooklyn

Pigeons in Brooklyn

The Pigeon!  Most people are not a fan of this urban bird, often describing the Rock Pigeon as a “rat with wings.”  However, we have more in common with this underrated bird than most people realize.  It takes a highly adaptable, opportunistic bird to thrive in a city environment.  The Rock Pigeon is an immigrant to our country (just like most of us), originally domesticated from the feral Rock Doves who lived on sea-cliffs in Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.  The bird is prized for its homing ability, it can be released hundreds of miles from its home and still find its way back.  For this reason the US army used many pigeons in WWI and WWII to send strategic information, and they are credited with saving many lives.

The Rock Pigeon also has a softer side.  This is a bird who mates for life and retains family bonds.  For the past few years, Sarah has watched a pair of pigeons on her work fire escape defend each other and teach their young the art of living in a alley in midtown Manhattan.


Sarah's favorite pigeon

Sarah’s favorite pigeon

Another immigrant bird that is also this blog’s namesake is the House Sparrow.  Some people have questioned why we would name our blog after this invasive species and promote them.  This was not our intention, it just refers to the fact that if you are in a city like Brooklyn and see a small brown bird, it is most likely a House Sparrow (and “Bird Nerds” was taken already).

House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

These common birds are not related to any of the other North American sparrow species, and were introduced to Brooklyn in the 1850s.  From there they spread quickly throughout the continent. Although they live in large flocks, there is a hierarchy within the males.  The males have a black patch of feathers on their throats, and the larger and darker this patch, the higher in the pecking order the bird is.


Male House Sparrow with female peeking in the background



The Blue Jay is always first to arrive when the fresh seed is put out.  While Blue Jays are residents in the east year round, it wasn’t until winter that we saw them from our apartment, where they are now they are daily visitors.

Blue Jay crest blowing in the wind

Blue Jay crest blowing in the wind

The Blue Jay is a large, noisy songbird, that lives in dynamic family groups.  They come across a little bossy because of their loud calls to each other, but they are very intelligent and beautiful birds.  The males and females share the same plumage year round.

Blue Jay showing off its lovely plummage

Blue Jay showing off its lovely plumage

A treat this winter has been frequent visits from Dark-eyed Juncos to our roof.

Dark-eyed Junco in the snow

Dark-eyed Junco in the snow

These are ground feeders who eat the seeds scattered about by the House Sparrows. In fact, the Junco is a type of sparrow, and there is a great difference in color variation throughout the species.  In the east our Juncos are the Slate-colored variety, but Tim has also seen the Oregon variation our west, who has a black head and brown body.

Dark-eyed Junco, Slate-colored

Dark-eyed Junco, Slate-colored

The bird our cat would most like to eat is the Mourning Dove, a year-round visitor who hunkers down on the roof deck when the trees get to snowy.  Their gentle calls and slow waddling is irresistible to a cat, who can only cackle at them through the window.

Hunkered down Morning Dove

Hunkered down Mourning Dove



Mourning Dove braving the storm

Mourning Dove braving the storm

While this special bird didn’t visit the roof deck, it did perch in the surrounding trees which was a special winter sight.  The Monk Parakeet is actually a subtropical South American bird, the story goes that a shipment of pet birds was accidentally released at JFK airport in the 1960s, and from there they colonized areas in Brooklyn.  A large flock lives close to us in Green-Wood Cemetery, where they built a large nest on top of the entryway, and another flock lives at a Con-Ed power substation one block away.  We often hear them flying by in groups, but they are less common to see in the winter when they are hunkering down for warmth.

Monk parakeet perched outside our apartment

Monk parakeet perched outside our apartment

While we look forward to Spring Migration and the return of the Warblers, at least we can enjoy winter birding, when the daily activities of our feathered friends occur closer to us than usual.