Winter Birding: More Exciting Than It Sounds

Lindell Haggin, an avid birder and Spokane Audubon Society treasurer, narrows the scope of her bird-watching to her North Spokane backyard during the cold months. “A lot of people don’t realize how many birds are around. I’ll get up to 10 species, even in the winter,” she says. A feeder, heated bird bath, and specially selected plants help attract a variety of birds. “If it weren’t for my bird feeder, I wouldn’t see many birds in my yard. Right now, I have a ring-neck pheasant out there and the chickadees are swarming the feeders,” Haggin says. “I’ve got the chickadees so they’ll eat out of my hand. The one is getting sort-of greedy — instead of taking just one seed, he’ll take two.”

Haggin stocks her feeder with black sunflower seeds, adding suet (animal fat) during the winter. Birds that usually eat insects can substitute suet during the winter as a source for quick energy and heat. “Once it gets really cold, they need that fat to keep them warm in the cold winter nights,” Haggin says. “The birds that typically come to the feeders are the chickadees, finches, nuthatches. If you put up suet in addition to the seed, you’ll get woodpeckers. I’ve had juncos and song sparrows eating the suet sometimes, too.” In rural areas, putting out suet and seeds might attract magpies as well, she says — perhaps more than desired. “When the magpies notice, they’ll clean you out in no time.”

Citizens interested in helping collect data on birds in the area can join the annual Great Backyard Bird Count in February. The National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology — national leaders for bird research (and treasure troves of interesting bird facts) — team up to assess the state of birds in the U.S. using data submitted by citizens. Visit for details on how to participate.

Those brave enough to venture into nature areas for winter birding may be rewarded with birds not seen in this area during the warmer months. “There are some birds that will move down from the colder climates in Alaska and Canada, including snowy owls and sometimes a northern hawk owl,” Haggin says. Some types of finches and buntings also land in Eastern Washington after their southern migration. “They like big open spaces, so if you drive around Lincoln County or Davenport, you might run across a snowy owl.”

A variety of waterfowl stick around the Spokane area, too. The confluence of the Little Spokane River and Spokane River, Manito Park, and Riverfront Park all tend to attract a variety of ducks. Red-tailed hawks and some smaller hawks and falcons also remain in the area during winter.

Bald eagles gather each year at Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho to feast on spawning kokanee salmon. This year’s gathering promises to be larger than usual due to a large fish run, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department. The majestic birds also congregate at Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille to get their fill of spawning kokanee. //

20th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as few as 15 minutes on one or more days from February 17 through 20 and report their sightings online at Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts. Find more information on local birding field trips and citizen science projects at 

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