Birding in PA - Seasonality


In Winter, while our black bear population slumbers (Note: bear can be active year round), observant hikers might find tracks of fox or coyote in the snow. The largest numbers of waterfowl pass through the state in November, but Red-breasted Mergansers and various diving ducks may be found in deep water bodies. Bald Eagles can be seen along unfrozen stretches of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Lingering puddle ducks continue across the state until surface water freezes. Local sites with waterfowl activity include Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Land birds, particularly sparrows, are still moving into or through the state with the increasing cold weather.

December is the primary month of National Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the largest volunteer bird-monitoring program in the world. Backyard birding can be enhanced by providing food chickadees, titmice, juncos, finches, cardinals and sparrows.

The Great Horned Owl, our largest resident owl, may be heard hooting and begins its nesting cycle during December. Birders eagerly seek winter residents not found during other times of the year, including Rough-legged Hawks, and Snow Buntings, in the open fields. Watch for the occasional winter visitor such as Snowy Owl. In late-February, large flocks of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese sometimes congregate along the lower Susquehanna River or at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster and Lebanon County.

Remarkably, Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles may already be hatching eggs during March! The flight song of American Woodcock is in full swing in March. Huge flocks of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds blacken the trees and fields by mid-month. A few raptors that migrate early, such as Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, drift north. Eastern Phoebe and perhaps an early Tree Swallow arrive by mid-March. Waterfowl migration peaks by mid-March, and by early April the majority of Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler pass by. Spring hawk migration is well under way by this time.

Pennsylvania's diverse habitats, seasonal fluctuation, and geography combine to provide a diversity of life throughout the year!

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