Bird watching has become one of the most popular recreational activities in North America, and certainly Prince George offers good bird viewing throughout the year. Birds are often seen as symbols of freedom, joy and inspiration for reaching our own dreams. Close to 300 species of birds have been observed in our general region throughout the year, and over the past decade the annual Christmas Bird Count in Prince George has produced an average of 49 species. Many good sources of information about birds can easily be found; there are numerous good guidebooks, and the All About Birds website and the Merlin app are two examples of great online resources. Of course, don’t forget your local naturalists club or community experts. Here are some commonly seen winter birds in Prince George.
About the size of a small chicken, Ruffed Grouse strut and stalk about in forested areas, and often across rural roads, where upon the approach of a vehicle they seemingly stop to ponder “Is that great, hulking, speeding thing really going to hit me, or if I pretend I’m not here will it just go away?” Ruffed Grouse are common around Prince George. If you’re looking for one, try the trails on the west side of the Forests for the World parking lot. Just be prepared for a sudden explosion of feathers and commotion when the grouse you hadn’t noticed flees from your presence at the last possible moment.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are small, cute birds that can usually be seen around Prince George, often in the company of their more populous buddies, the Black-capped Chickadees, which they are often pleased to chase off from a promising meal. If you see a small bird busily crawling up or down the trunk of a tree looking for food, chances are you’re looking at a Red-breasted Nuthatch (that, or a Brown Creeper – which is a rather plain brown color, while the nuthatches have that nice rusty breast, with black, bluish-grey and white markings too). Listen for the “yank, yank” call of these nuthatches.
Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers
Prince George is home to about 10 species of woodpeckers, some common, and some you’re very lucky indeed to see. Two of the commonest can easily be confused with only a quick, casual glance. While similarly patterned to the Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker is notably smaller in size, and has a shorter, stubbier bill than the Hairy. The females of both species are easy to differentiate from the males, as they do not have the bright, red-feathered crown that the males sport. Both species are common visitors to suet feeders and can be quite approachable.
Other winter birds
Other common winter birds include the American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Raven, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, Mallard, Northern Flicker, Pine Siskin, and Song Sparrow. The gregarious Black-capped Chickadee can be seen almost without fail at Cottonwood Island Park and is probably the most frequent and numerous visitor to birdfeeders around the City. Some birds are harder to see – they may be few in number, or wary of human presence and therefore elusive, or well-camouflaged, or mainly nocturnal in their movements (as some of the owls are), or they may congregate in locations that are harder to access. For example, the Great Grey Owl is a large, charismatic owl that can be seen around the more rural areas of the City, but not very often. Still, it’s worth looking – because whereas you may not find your owl, you are very likely to be rewarded with other bird sightings, and happy surprises come along quite often.
Article contributed by Dave Leman.