With temperatures in the 20s, you may be dreaming about migrating south for the winter. But some feathered friends stick around northwest Ohio all year long, while others plan their visits for especially this time of year.
Jim Witter, a naturalist with the Wood County Park District, helped visitors to the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve on Saturday identify birds flitting and pecking outside the Lookout on Nature Area, or LOONA.
"Look, there's a red-bellied woodpecker," he said, pointing to a small cage of suet hanging from a wire as a half-dozen kids pressed their noses to the glass of the enormous window.
"Oh, I see it!" said Hope Burkin, of Perrysburg, who was visiting the nature center with her mother and two siblings.
Mr. Witter said it was unusual to see the red belly of the woodpecker because it usually is pressed against a tree as the bird taps the wood with its beak and listens for the tell-tale scurry of insects.
TIPS FOR FEEDING BIRDS
Provide fresh water, which is just as important as food.
Keep inside cats that might prey on birds.
Use special feeders to keep bullies like house sparrows and starlings from scarfing all the food.
Hang small branches outside windows to keep birds from flying into them.
Clean feeders and bird baths regularly to prevent the spread of mold and bacteria such as salmonella that can lead to disease.
Source: Wood County Park District
Species that stay in the area include the cedar waxwing, black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, Carolina wren, northern mockingbird, song sparrow, American goldfinch, eastern towhee, and tufted titmouse.
Other species like cardinals and robins may stick around depending on the individual bird, while the dark-eyed junko and tree sparrow come to this area only in the cold seasons in search of food.
Mr. Witter said it was a myth that feeding birds in winter interrupted their natural migratory behavior. He said birds knew when to fly to south based on the length of daylight.
He also said that birds of certain species that do migrate might take the gamble and stay in the local area. The benefit is securing the best nesting territory with the most bountiful berries and seed-producing plants, while the risk is freezing to death in a bad storm.
The window in the LOONA room is specially treated with a film full of tiny holes, which allows humans indoors to see through it but presents a solid white wall to birds outside. Without it, the birds would see the reflection of the trees and crash into the glass as they tried to fly through what they think is another wooded area. Such collision can result in fatal injuries.
The room also has several cozy chairs with attached trays for sketching, as well as pictures that can help visitors identify birds. Five feeders draw dozens of birds - and a few hopeful squirrels from time to time.
A flaming red male and a muted brown female cardinal visited the feeders Saturday.
"The cardinal, they kind of give themselves away because of that pointy head," said Perrysburg resident Jackie Springer, a park volunteer who brought granddaughter Raina Springer to the preserve Saturday.
That pointy head is called a crest, Mr. Witter said, and cardinal mates form long-term relationships.
"They'll stick together year after year," he said.
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A titmouse with blue-tinged feathers hopped around a feeder. Mr. Witter said it often is confused with a bluejay, but that bird is significantly larger.
A goldfinch is a brilliant yellow color in the summer, but in winter it molts its feathers over time and turns a dull yellow or even a drab olive color. The red dot on the back of a downy woodpecker's head indicates its male gender, while it is easier to tell the difference between the white-crested sparrow and the smaller tree sparrow when they are side by side.
Mr. Witter said different bird species sometimes form a mixed flock in winter, acting as a team to find food and stay safe. The woodpecker is good at finding bug larvae, while the chickadee is good at going berserk when a predator is approaching.
Birds can get along in winter, but come spring and summer when it's time to nest, all bets are off, Mr. Witter said. Birds are especially confrontational with members of their own species as they stake out territory with that bird's particular food source.
"That's their most hostile interaction," he said.
While the park district schedules special program times like the one Saturday, the nature center is open during park hours. Also, the naturalists' offices are located at W.W. Knight Nature Preserve, so someone is often nearby to answer a question about a bird or other critter observed at LOONA, Mr. Witter said.
ONLINE: W.W. Knight Nature Preserve
Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at 419-356-8786, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RebeccaConklinK.