Favorite winter organisms?

Feeding birds in winter can be rewarding and enjoyable in the midst of chilly weather. Because natural food sources are scarce in the winter, therefore more birds may be attracted to backyard feeders. I usually chose the feeder has a large overhang that provides shelter and shade for birds.

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Winter here is cold and snowy (and long… there is snow on the ground now and it could last until early May). There are some straggling migrants still moving through but once they’re done, bird-wise, it will be the regular residents and an occasional winter visitor (Snowy Owls, Northern Shrike, and other birds experiencing an irruption).

But I think the seed heads on plants and grasses are fascinating and I think iNat’s computer vision isn’t great on identifying plants from their dry, wintery seed heads (nor are there lots of photos of them to reference). I always notice the lichen and fungi but they’re hard to id most of the time.

If I can roll over a log, I might find something under it. And I love galls and they tend to stand out when everything else is minimized.

Otherwise, it’s kind of slim pickings for observations. I seek to get better at identifying trees from their bark and structure. I’m not very good with that right now.

As to what I just enjoy… it’s our backyard regulars: Eastern Cottontails, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, Hairy and Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees. There’s a Merlin that likes to perch nearby and I look for him when I step to the window. We get occasional visits from Hawks (Red-tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned), and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and rare visits from Virginia Opossums and Raccoons.

One of my life goals is to visit the Sax-Zim Bog (upper Minnesota) in the winter to view birds we never see in the southern half of the state.


I really enjoyed learning tree bud identification when I lived in Maine, and am excited to try it with some of the warmer climate hardwoods here in New York state this winter. I’ll have to find myself a bark field guide as well.


Welcome to the Forum ;)


Birds are my biggest winter targets but I notice raccoons too hanging in trees or in holes in old trees when it is cold and the trees have lost their leaves.


There is an attractive little parasitic wasp, Chrysocharis gemma, worth looking for in winter. It is a parasite of leaf-mining flies and micro-moths, and as in the cold months this mainly means species in evergreen trees, look for it on holly. Portuguese laurel and holm oak. It isn’t restricted to these plants, but they are the most likely habitats in winter. Widespread in Europe, also known from Nearctic and possibly Hawaii and new Zealand (Hansson 1985 Taxonomy and biology of the Palaearctic species of Chrysocharis, Entomological Scandinavica Supplement no. 26). Look for a little metallic green wasp with a dark patch in the wing (though there are one or two others with this combination so best to take the specimen).


One thing you could do is, if you know that there is someone in your area who always makes a lot of observations, check their Calendar pages, and click on some of the days where they made a lot of observations during last winter.

You will be able to see what they found, and you can also work out where they went by looking on the observation map. That might give you some ideas.


Growing up we’d get more elk and bighorn in the winter as they came out of the high country to lower (like 8,000 feet) elevations. They were a treat.

Here in Dallas it’s mostly winter birds. Herps aren’t as active and I haven’t noticed any mammals that are more active in winter here. But we get cool finches and harriers come back and there’s neat ducks and the kinglets are here so that’s something.

My favorite are Isopods in general.

I would recommend searching under logs for isopods.

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I’ve just been reading about the fungus Exidiopsis effusa, which apparently produces ice hair. When the air temperature drops below freezing but the ground remains above zero, the mycelium reacts by expelling water from the dead wood they are growing in, producing a ‘fur’ of ice. (Herefordshire Fungus Survey Group, news sheet no. 31, downloadable as pdf)


Probably winter-flowering proteas and aloes. Very eye-catching.

Raptors, in my opinion, are best observed in winter. I feel that they are more active in the winter, and there is absolutely nothing cooler than seeing an Osprey dive into an icy river or a Golden Eagle catching a songbird in a leafless tree. Plus, who doesn’t like seeing Raptor nests? See you out there!

I went on a birding trip to Sax-Zim Bog for the first time recently, and I have to say seeing Pine and Evening Grosbeaks against the snow was amazing. Great Gray Owl was a nice sighting, too.

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Ugh that’s invasive for us in CA. Funny to hear it is among your favorites.



I found several newts in a pond a few weeks ago. It is still too dry :frowning: for them to be out and about much though.


Our property is lakefront but the lake (reservoir) is silting in and has lots of islands and marshy areas. At some point before we moved in they dredged a channel around the perimeter so residents could still access the water. So we have maybe 20 feet of lake viewed from our house before there is an island. The house is up on a hill though so you can see the rest of the lake in the distance. We often get Wood Ducks and Pied-billed Grebes in the channel but never before have the Ring-necked Ducks that spend the winter on the lake ventured into the channel, until this winter. I love watching them dive. It’s so cute. :heart:

I love all the sparrows that spend the winter here too. At the beginning of January we had a lot of rain and the lake level went way up and flooded the island. I was out on our dock and a Swamp Sparrow was lurking in the bushes next to the dock which were on dry land. Usually we have White-throated Sparrows enjoying the brush piles we made closer to the house (popular with the Carolina Wrens year round) but I haven’t seen any yet this winter. We usually get short visits from Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos too but haven’t seen them yet either. I saw a couple Song Sparrows when I visited a small nature preserve nearby a couple week ago.

As for plants… I love violets which usually bloom in early spring but the white flowered Primrose-leaved violets bloom in winter too. There are so many down by the edge of the lake that you can’t avoid stepping on them, but they don’t seem to mind too much. Also this time of year we have chickweed and bittercress growing in the yard. It’s not the tiny white flowers that appeal to me; I like to eat these plants. The bittercress is not bitter at all, but has a mild mustard flavor.

PS I live in east Texas

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I see them year-round, but they are a much more common sight during winter.

Bullfinches! Beautiful little critters. During one winter a few years ago, I frequently saw a male that was completely round. Bullfinches in general are very round animals, but that little guy was a sphere with a beak and a tail. Could somehow still fly. Beautiful. Never seen one quite as round and he was since then.


FYI, there is some great information on this phenomenon that has been compiled here:

Thanks very much. John

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