Photo by Julie Covey
Wildlife of all types have a few essential needs during the cold winter months. Each individual requires adequate food to keep their internal energy-driven heat system burning, so the fur or feather body stays warm. Habitats that provide good thick cover to break chill winter winds benefit many species that use forest and shrub lands during at least part of the year. Many larger mammals, including white tailed deer, concentrate on lands containing thick evergreen cover during the winter months. Many birds are also found in thick cover that are less common or absent in leaf-bare deciduous woods.
In our region, areas of red cedar, often mixed with some white cedar, are prime winter bird habitat. In years when these cedars put forth excellent berry crops, many fruit-eating species are present. Providing the survival essentials of food, shelter and protection from predators, such areas are Valhalla if you’re a wintering bird. American Robin, Cedar Waxwing and other often-uncommon wintering species throng to such sites. Usually rare in winter, Yellow-rumped Warbler can sometimes be fairly common in good fruit years. Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird also often occur among flocks of American Robins.
Much of northwestern Jefferson County has extensive cedarscapes. Stony Point and Point Peninsula are excellent wintering areas in good fruit years. The drought year of 2016 stressed much of this area’s vegetation resulting in banner fruit crops in 2017. These large natural food crops have provided an abundance of fodder for fruit eating birds. This has resulted in a dearth of many species at bird feeders during the fall and winter of 2017-2018. Why travel any distance to a feeder when you can just hop to the cedar next door for a good meal?
Searching these areas for birds during this winter and early spring will likely prove productive. Listen and look for flocks of Black-capped Chickadee, since many other less vocal and more secretive species associate with them. One of the best ways to locate feeding flocks of wintering birds is to park along a back road in suitable habitat and watch and listen. Sitting on a portable chair in an opening in these woods can also be very productive. Since these areas do have ticks, you should take precautions even in winter (don’t sit on the ground). A visit to a cedar woods this winter can be fun and productive.