Taylor Páez is a Dirtbag Birder

643 bird species, 44 states, two trips across the country and back, one 2002 four-cylinder Ford Ranger  – all Taylor Páez needed to complete her Big Year on the road.

By Amanda Grennell

In 2017, Taylor Paez road-tripped her way across the United States, at times zig-zagging from one rare bird sighting to another. Her goal: complete a Big Year with 700 birds species identified. Photo credit: James Adam Taylor.

After seven months on the road, living out of her truck and tracking down as many bird species as possible in the lower 48 states, Taylor Páez was tired. It was November, and she’d already identified several hundred birds at wildlife refuges, parks, and landfills across the country. Almost all of them were new to her, outside the range of her native California. And now there were just a few rare birds left on Taylor’s list.

Based on a tip from fellow birders she’d met at the dump, Taylor drove to the National Butterfly Refuge in search of one of those rare sightings – the Audubon’s Oriole. She had already visited this popular birding spot earlier in the year, a beautiful swath of the Rio Grande valley nestled at the border of southern Texas and Mexico.

Amidst the butterflies, and the butterfly watchers, Taylor scoured the early morning landscape for her bird, but came up empty.

“By that point I had learned what Altamira Orioles sound like, so I could hear them chattering down the trail a little bit,” Taylor recalled. “I thought, maybe I’m not going to get the Audubon’s, and I guess that’s okay. I did try my best.”

About to leave as the afternoon heat took over, Taylor’s ears pricked up.

 “I heard this really beautiful, kind of sad Oriole call in the distance: a-choo-choo-choo,” Taylor said, “I had never heard an Audubon’s Oriole before in my entire life, but I knew this had to be it!”

Tip-toeing around a corner as quickly as she could, Taylor found the Audobon’s Oriole, a beautiful black and yellow bird, stealing from a basket of rotting fruit that’s technically there for the butterflies.

“I was so delighted. I didn’t expect to see it there, I didn’t know what it was going to sound like, but I was somehow right. It was a reaffirming moment for me,” Taylor said.

That affirmation gave Taylor the motivation to get through the last couple months, ending 2017 with a total of 643 bird species identified. She ended up ranking 8th on eBird, the site where most Big Year “competitors” track their sightings.

Taylor’s sighting of the Audubon’s Oriole at the National Butterfly Center. Taylor kept friends and family updated on her Big Year adventures via Instagram, @needsmorebirds.
Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

Taking on a Big Year

A Big Year is not a formal competition – there are no prizes, no trophies, no money, little fame. Instead, it is a challenge that birders take on to see as many bird species as possible in a certain area during a calendar year.  In February 2017, Taylor hit the road without much thought of the competition – just her own goal of finding 700 species in the lower 48 United States by New Year’s Eve. She was 26.

Before her Big Year, Taylor had what every Millennial craves– a decent job with benefits, a future where she could stay in one place, supportive friends and family, a good, comfortable life. But she also felt discontent brewing.

Taylor worked at a credit union, and between a frustrating work environment and the great big windows in her office, Taylor longed to be outdoors. In a moment of frustration one day, Taylor jokingly dreamed about quitting her job to live out of her truck and watch birds. But her joke stuck.

“I just couldn’t get it out of my head from that moment on. I was like ‘What’s stopping me?'” Taylor recalls.

Taylor started talking about her idea with friends, who she credits with giving her the confidence that she could actually do it. There wasn’t anything to stop her but herself – except the fear of telling her parents. But with the promise of daily phone calls, they were on board with Taylor’s dream.

So Taylor saved money and planned how to live out of her truck – something easy to find online these days due to a surging movement to build out vehicles, like vans and trucks, into livable spaces. Taylor bought a shell, or canopy, so she could sleep in the bed of her truck and store lots of gear. She started looking at blogs about living out of her truck, and was inspired by the lifestyle of “dirtbag” rock climbers, who pioneered the idea of taking time off to do something you love, while also living a low-cost life on the road.

“I met a couple of climbers who were dirtbags,” Taylor said, “And I thought I could do that, but I really like watching birds. So why don’t I just be a dirtbag birder?”

The benefits of dirtbag birding: excellent vantage point. Featuring Taylor’s Ford Ranger, the truck she lived out of for 10 months. Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

Dirtbag life

In January 2017, Taylor committed to becoming a dirtbag birder: she put in one month’s notice at work and began final preparations to live on the road in search of birds she’d never seen before, in places she’d never been.

One issue we can’t get around is, of course, safety. Though Taylor met many other young women travelling alone, she fielded lots of questions from concerned strangers about the dangers of a woman doing something completely by herself. But Taylor said her top safety issues were the weather and the prospect of meeting a mountain lion — only rarely did other people make her feel unsafe.

“You should be prepared. You should always be mindful. But we don’t have to live every day in a state of panic that someone is going to attack us,” Taylor said.

Just like anyone else adventuring outdoors alone, Taylor made sure someone else knew her plans. She told her parents where she would be, and for how long, usually checking-in with them every morning and again in the evening. Her mom looked up her location using the “Find my Friends” app, which sometimes lead to confusion when Taylor spent a few days at sea.

Taylor’s route was a road trip of epic proportions. Starting in Northern California, Taylor looped down South through Arizona, Southern Texas, around the Gulf of Mexico, then sped North to New Hampshire and Maine. She then hit New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan and the upper peninsula, and Wisconsin. Next up was back to the West: Colorado, the Great Plains, Washington, and back to home base in California.

Getting a taste of home made it tough for Taylor to get back on the road. It was July, about five months into Taylor’s experiment with dirtbag birding. But after a month-long break Taylor pressed on, into the “zig-zag” phase of her Big Year – Southern California, Montana, Arizona, a boating trip off the coast of Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, Mississippi, Texas, and finally back to California to finish the year.

“Toward the end of the year it gets pretty crazy because it’s less about the common birds and more about the rare ones,” Taylor said, explaining her zig-zag pattern.

A beloved birding spot threatened with destruction

After her sweeping survey of the country, Taylor has a tough time picking just one favorite locale — the country is filled with amazing biodiversity, and she loves it all. But if she has to answer, Taylor picks the subtropical region of Southern Texas.

In one day at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge she identified 35 new birds — the most she ever checked off at once. But plans for a border wall, intended to curb illegal immigration, could destroy the habitat that allows wildlife to flourish.

While funding for construction through Santa Ana, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park has not been passed, conservation leaders are still concerned.

“All bets are off,” says Marianna Treviño-Wright, the Butterfly center’s executive director told Audubon Magazine. “The heavy equipment is literally next door.”

Taylor recalls fondly several birds she saw for the first time in South Texas: Roseate Spoonbills, Green Jays, Kiskadees, and of course, the Audubon’s Oriole.

“It’s such a treasure that I think a lot of Americans don’t know about or don’t understand. It would be just a devastating loss to bulldoze it,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s favorite birds

To bag as many birds as possible, Taylor relied upon sighting reported on eBird, Audubon Society listserves, and local birding groups on Facebook. Sometimes she’d even learn of rare bird sightings on Instagram, or word-of-mouth at popular birding spots.

Here are a few of Taylor’s favorite sightings.

Audubon’s Oriole, National Butterfly Center, Texas
“I probably cried at the Butterfly Center.”

Audubon’s Oriole. Photo credit: David Hollie.

Green Jay, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Texas
“I remember looking at bird books at thinking I’m never going to see this bird. It’s just so beautiful and vibrant, I can’t believe this thing exists,” Taylor said. “But, like Crows and Ravens and Blue Jays are on the East Coast, they are just everywhere and they are obnoxious.”

Green Jay. Photo credit: Dan Tallman.

Roseate Spoonbill, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Roseate Spoonbill. Photo credit: JC Knoll.

Common Greenshank, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
Taylor spent four days on the same 13-mile, one-way loop to spot this rare bird. An update on a birding message board before Taylor entered the refuge on her last morning pinpointed the bird at mile marker 4. “If you see a bunch of birders and they’re all looking in the same direction, that’s a really good sign.”

Common Greenshank. Photo credit: Richard Lowe.

Lessons from a Big Year or birding

After spending a year in the outdoors and nearly reaching her 700-bird goal, Taylor did not go back to a stable office job. Instead, she turned to opportunities in the natural world: working as a park naturalist and then on hummingbird surveys.

“I realized I not only wanted to be outside, but I wanted to make a positive impact on people. I want to bring accessibility to nature and the outdoors. We need it now more than ever,” Taylor said. “I never thought I would do what I did. Before that I played everything safe. I didn’t take risks, ever.”

The view from Taylor’s truck-bed and home for ten months. Slab City, California.
Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

Northern Spotted Owl Population Continues to Decline

A northern spotted owl peers down from an old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy of Charles Yackulic/U.S. Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) was first listed as a federally threatened species in the late 20th century. The species found itself on the Endangered Species List after decades of overlogging and forest mismanagement in the Pacific Northwest severely degraded and restricted its available habitat. In 1994, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management adopted the Northwest Forest Plan, a controversial management plan that was intended to protect spotted owl habitat by preserving old growth forests.

Yet 25 years after the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, northern spotted owl populations continue to decline, according to a new study in the journal Ecological Applications. In fact, the species’ population is decreasing faster than expected.

According to the study, the reason for the continued decline is not logging or recreation, but rather competition with barred owls (Strix varia), a forest competitor that began to invade the northern spotted owl’s range 50 years ago.

A barred owl photographed in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Skip Russell via BirdsEye.photo.

“We have known for some time that northern spotted owls are reliant on older forest as habitat, that recovering northern spotted owls would require recovering this habitat, and that this process of recovery would take many decades,” says lead author Charles Yackulic of the U.S. Geological Survey. “Twenty-five years ago, however, we did not anticipate the increases in barred owl abundances would lead to a second major threat to northern spotted owl recovery.”

Barred owls challenge northern spotted owls for prime nesting spots and hunting areas in old growth forests. However, because barred owls are considered invasive species, they do not play the same role in the ecosystem and are causing ripples throughout the food web.

In response to these findings, the authors of the study recommend removing barred owls from the forest, which they identify as a viable forest management strategy. Combined with continued habitat protection and restoration, the authors hope the northern spotted owl population trend will turn around soon. Without any action to remove barred owls, the northern spotted owl could go extinct within decades.

Journal Citation: Yackulic, Charles, et al. 2019. “The past and future roles of competition and habitat in the rangewide occupancy dynamics of Northern Spotted Owls.” Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1861.


Who Shot it Best?

We are happy to announce the winners of our Who Shot it Best photo contest. Congratulations to Kristy Leigh Baker whose photograph of an American Goldfinch garnered the most votes from over 3,000 entries!

Congratulations are also in store for Pia Niewoonder, the new owner of a free pair of Zeiss binoculars! Pia was selected at random from over 2,400 entrants, winning a pair of TERRA ED 8×32 Zeiss binoculars. Upon winning, Pia remarked, “Wow—these are so awesome!! Thank you, I’m really enjoying them!”

Stay tuned for more photo contests like this—you too could win a free pair of binoculars or other cool swag.

BirdsEye would like to thank Zeiss for sponsoring our contest.

Zeiss Sports Optics

Best Bird Photos From March

Every day, BirdsEye users submit beautiful bird photos from around the world. The images are verified and incorporated into our apps to help our users better identify species as they birdwatch. The following images are a collection of our staff’s favorite pics submitted to our BirdsEye.photo site in 2019.

Have a favorite image in our apps that you’d like to see featured? Email us at info@birdsinthehand.com.


Photo Contest Winners

Birding With Children in the Amazon

(Part of our mission at BirdsEye is to support grass-roots, conservation efforts like the Amazon Binocular Project)

by Phil Kahler, Tualatin Valley Academy

Kris Pflaging with Maijuna children.

Five Many-banded Aracari (a type of toucan) are feeding in some trees and have attracted the attention of two Maijuna children.  Walking across the field the children sit down in the grass near the edge of their village to get a closer look.  They are using binoculars and are quick to fully immerse themselves into the joys of bird watching.  I and the other educators in our group look at each other and smile.  The Amazon Binocular Project is working; children in small village schools dotted along the Amazon and Napo Rivers in Northeastern Peru are falling in love with birds.

Percy Reyna and Cesar Sevillano with the new curriculum.

We asked children at the village school in Saint Martha if they had any favorite animals.  To our amazement nearly half of the children responded with specific bird names!  Their teacher had recently attended a workshop where she and one hundred other local instructors received environmental science training.  While at the workshop the student’s teacher obtained a copy of Celebra las Aves en La Amazonia Peruana, a new environmental education curriculum designed specifically to teach them about their local birds.  The teaching guide was designed by Karen Purcell and her Celebrate Urban Birds team at Cornell Lab of Ornithology along with the help of Peruvian teachers and Percy Reyna and Cesar Sevillano, the two bird guides who have been leading our efforts in Amazon schools.

Brian Landever, director of CONAPAC, a local NGO, organized this professional development event for the teachers, and together with Pam Bucur, general manager of Explorama Lodges, created a check-out system for schools to use our binoculars.  Both Pam and Brian have noted a huge increase in birds featured in student artwork at remote schools CONAPAC serves.

Cesar helping student focus on a bird.

Teacher participants of the Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest, an annual teacher workshop attended by U.S. educators,assisted Percy and Cesar as they introduced proper binocular use to the students of Saint Martha.  This was the first time the students had used binoculars and they were thrilled to practice focusing on distant objects.  Percy and Cesar’s patient mentoring soon resulted in students spotting birds in a nearby tree.  As our time at the school ended, it was obvious the children were hungry for more time with the binoculars.

Sierra High School students from Colorado visited the small school at Canal Pinto for a community service day with CONAPAC officials.  They worked with community members to paint the school and plant a garden.  Several of the high school students worked side by side with local students to paint a Great Kiskadee and a Ringed Kingfisher on the wall outside the kindergarten classroom.  Sierra High School students also brought some binoculars to Peru for the Amazon Binocular Project and took the opportunity to introduce the young Canal Pinto students to their first lesson on how to use binoculars.

Canal Pinto students paint “Victor Diaz”, a Great Kiskadee on school.

The Amazon Binocular Project was officially launched in November 2016 when Christa Dillabaugh, director of Amazon Workshops set up the webpage and coordinated with the EcoTeach Foundation to receive donations.  In two years’ time my students at Tualatin Valley Academy have inspected and cleaned over forty pairs of used binoculars for bird conservation education.  Last winter our friends at Eagle Optics provided a deep discount during their “going out of business sale” resulting in donations of fifty pairs of new binoculars.  Additional binoculars have been dropped off at the CONAPAC office in Iquitos by educators and visitors to the rainforest.  We now have nearly one hundred pairs of binoculars in classroom sets of five being checked out by teachers each month.

Teacher and student demand for binoculars in the Amazon has never been greater.  To reach all the CONAPAC schools requesting binoculars we have set our goal at four hundred pairs.  These additional binoculars would make it possible to distribute sets of ten to each of the area CONAPAC schools for loan periods of three months instead of our current one-month rotation per school.  This summer we were excited to receive a $1000 donation that will help us buy twenty new binoculars from Vortex, who has kindly offered to continue the donor discount originally offered to us by Eagle Optics.  News about our success with the Amazon Binocular Project is spreading!

Five years ago, I had a pivotal conversation with an extraordinary local guide, Lucio Pando, about his dream of teaching children in the Peruvian Amazon about birds.  Lucio knew the key to fostering children’s appreciation for birds was in helping them to see the intricacies of their plumage and behavior.  Lucio’s students needed binoculars!  While Lucio, our beloved bird guide, is sorely missed, I’m sure he would be very proud of his friends working to make bird conservation education in the Amazon a reality.  Please visit our webpage or contact us to learn how to donate funds and/or binoculars to the Amazon Binocular Project.

Lucio Pando teaching a group of students.

Learn more on the Amazon Binocular Project website:


Or contact them through their email:


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In the Eye of the Storm:  How Birds Survive Hurricanes

By Juliana Smith

Hurricane season strikes the Eastern seaboard of the United States every summer and, guess what? We’re in it right now! The season begins in June and runs through November, but as we here on the East Coast know, storms can arrive as early as April. While hurricanes often conjure images of wind-torn towns and flooded highways, their impacts on wildlife are less impressed upon human minds. However, wildlife also experience the forces we humans contend with, and birds are no strangers to hurricane season.

Being a lightweight, feathered animal has its perks (ahem, the ability to fly), but can also be incredibly debilitating when faced with extreme winds. Unfortunately, hurricane season coincides with Fall migration, so many birds are forced to face these powerful storms head-on. Yet, despite the odds, bird populations largely succeed at weathering the season. Of course, not every avian individual or community survives hurricanes, but in general, it appears birds have developed four tactics to help ease them through the stormy spells.

When a storm is on the rise and headed our way, we have weather forecasters and doppler radars to warn us of impending natural disaster. Birds, while not equipped with our high-tech gadgets, can sense that trouble is nigh when they pick up on the drops in air pressure that precede storms. Some birds take their cue and surf the headwinds of the hurricane, using them to get them out of dodge as quickly as possible. If conditions are right, migrating birds can even use the storm’s headwinds to get a wing up on their migratory journey.

Other birds, though, might use the eye of the storm as a refuge during a hurricane. This tactic seems to be especially popular with seafaring birds, though there’s no way to confirm their intent. Birds caught up in the storm might chance upon or follow winds to the eye where things are calm. Once there, they are effectively trapped, or “entrenched”, at the center of the hurricane and will follow it until the outer spiraling winds weaken, much to the delight of birders. Entrenched birds often wind up hundreds of miles from their home habitat, creating a fallout of rare sightings in inland habitats. Groups like Team Birdcast hope to utilize these events paired with eBird reports to better understand the relationship between hurricanes and birds.

Hurricane Hermine (2016) doppler radar imaging. The red blotching in the right image is a flock.

It’s important to understand that displaced birds shouldn’t be disturbed. While it is definitely better to be within the eye of the hurricane than be in the spiral, eye riding, as it’s sometimes called, isn’t exactly relaxing. It not only forces birds hundreds of miles from their home habitat, but can deprive them of food and rest for many days at a time. Those that survive until the storm dissipates then have to make a long return journey home. Even with the risks, though, it certainly seems safer to seek refuge in the eye than fight the storm.

And yet, some birds have done just that, flying directly through storms. We’ve only recently stumbled upon this behavior thanks to satellite transmitters and some spunky whimbrel . In 2011, researchers were astonished to find that one of their tracked subjects, a tagged whimbrel, had actually forced her way through Hurricane Irene. Since then, other members of the same species have been recorded using a similar tactic to survive hurricanes. Interestingly, researchers believe that migration is one of the factors allowing these whimbrels, and unknown others, to push through. Before migrating, birds will beef-up and pack on as many fat stores as possible to help supply them much-needed energy through their long migration routes. Researches believe it’s these fat stores that give some birds the power to fly straight through nature’s most wicked storms.

While some birds are skirting, riding, or cutting through hurricanes, others are hunkering down at home. Equipped with a clamping back toe, passerines are capable of weathering hurricanes by clinging to tree branches or seeking refuge in tree cavities. This author has even witnessed a small flock of house finches huddled under stowed kayaks to hide from Tropical Storm Irma in 2017. Tree clamping through a hurricane has its obvious risks, especially if your chosen branch is knocked from the tree (or your kayaks get flooded), but it also preserves fat stores and reduces risk of getting blown hundreds of miles from home.

In the end, different birds take different measures to survive hurricanes, but all of the methods showcase avian tenacity and perseverance. They truly are remarkable animals capable of seemingly impossible feats.


Bird’s Eye: Best Canadian Birding Destinations

By Avery T Phillips

As the second largest country in the world and home to more than 680 species of birds, Canada is a bird lover’s paradise.

Canada’s varied landscape has vast swaths of wilderness, rich with natural beauty. It also consists of forests, the Rocky Mountains, glaciers, swamps, rolling plains, and more lakes than any other country. It’s no wonder birds have made the Great White North their home.

Let’s take a look at five bird-watching sites that are perfect for avian enthusiasts and photographers alike. It’s time to go birding!

Point Pelee National Park

This national park is located in southwestern Ontario in Essex County where it extends 15 kilometers into Lake Eerie. Around 370 species have been spotted here. Pelee is French for “bald.”

“[Point Pelee National Park] is one of the most important bird watching locations in North America, playing host to songbirds during its annual northward migration during the spring and hawks during the fall,” says To Do Canada.

Because it’s the most well-known and frequented birding locations in Canada, expect Point Pelee National Park to be a busy place, especially during the Festival of Birds in May when people from all over come to watch the spring bird migrations.

The national park was named one of the top 15 birding spots in North America by Birder’s World magazine and is often known as the “Warbler capital of Canada.” It is a protected ecological region.

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve is the most easily accessible seabird colony in North America and is located about 2 hours southwest of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“This captivating area is one of seven protected seabird ecological reserves,” according to Newfoundland Labrador. “Its natural beauty makes it perfect for nature walks and family adventures.

Some of the seabird colonies include:

• Black-legged kittiwakes

• Northern gannets

• Thick-billed murres

• Lesser golden plovers

Long-tailed ducks

• Harlequins

• Razorbills

• Double-crested and great cormorants

Top tip from David M. Bird, emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University: Visit the nearby bogs and fens that are home to willow ptarmigan and watch whales below the seaside cliffs. Bird is also the consulting editor for the best-selling books “Birds of Canada” and “Pocket Birds of Canada.”

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

In the Calgary area, there are many different bird-watching areas. The 36-hectare wildlife reserve has more than 2 kilometers of walking trails and over 1 kilometer of nature trails throughout the forest, plus a nature center to learn more about the sanctuary.

Within the city there are two major rivers: the Bow and the Elbow. There are three large creeks, Fish Creek, Nose Creek and West Nose Creek, and a large man-made lake called the Glenmore Reservoir.

While there are natural settings for birds within the city, each year the migration of birds is hindered by metropolitan areas, as we’ve discussed in a previous blog post about the effects of light pollution on urban birds. Urban areas can cause migrating birds to circle and investigate lit areas, which forces them to expend unnecessary energy en route to their destination.

Machias Seal Island

Machias Seal Island is a tiny, 18-acre island between New Brunswick and Maine. It’s a flat, treeless rock about 19 kilometers south of Grand Manan Island and 16 kilometers east of the Maine coast.

It’s a popular and unique sanctuary for many kinds of seabirds, including the Atlantic puffin and draws visitors from around the world to observe them in the summer. Access to the island is very limited, so plan in advance.

Machias Seal Island is home to a lighthouse, which during non-nesting season, the only occupants on the island are two lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse has been maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard for over 100 years.

Sheffield Mills, Nova Scotia

Eagles abound in the rural farming community of Sheffield Mills, located about 100 kilometers northwest of Halifax. For about three months during the winter, area farmers leave chickens and other agricultural carrion for the birds of prey in some of the surrounding fields while birders flock to the area for the event.

“The feedings — of which there are two or three per day — are one reason the eagles are drawn to the region, as well as the Annapolis Valley’s slightly milder climate, which motivates birds from places like windswept Cape Breton to migrate there during the winter months,” according to an article on Toronto Metro.

Chucking chicken scraps to the eagles in Sheffield Mills is a tradition that goes back decades and is celebrated each year with a festival.

Hopefully some of these destinations have inspired you to add some Canadian bird-watching sites to your list. Canada’s beautiful landscapes and large expanses of wilderness are wonderful enough. If you’re a birder, it’s even better. And one thing is for sure: One of Canada’s greatest treasures is its birds.

The Top 5 Birds to Watch for This Winter

The Top 5 Birds to Watch for This Winter


By Avery T Phillips

Winter bird watching is always a treat for birders due to predictable migration patterns. Gregarious bird species migrate in flocks, creating beautiful and easily identifiable displays during the colder months. Winter bird watching can be chilly but well worth bearing the lower temperatures. Grab your phone and BirdsEye, and ensure that car is ready for the travels — put your all-weather tires on, check your spare has air, get an oil change and hit the road.

Local wildlife and bird reserves are spectacular places to visit with a thermos full of coffee and a day of birding. The following are the top five birds worth traveling for to see this winter.

1.   Snow Bunting

photo of snow buntingThe Snow Bunting calls the arctic tundra home during the summer months but travels to the northern United States during the winter. These sparrow-sized birds build their nests in rock crevices that they line with the grasses, fur, moss and feathers they find. They travel and forage in large numbers, making them highly visible in large open fields.

Females camouflage easily with the winter snow with their white chest and light brown wings. In the fall, you will see the males molting to achieve their striking black and white breeding colors. They will rub their wing tips against the snow to shed their brown tips to become completely black on their back and wings, keeping their pure white chest intact.

2. Evening Grosbeak

This finch can typically be seen as a flash of yellow against green conifer forests of the north throughout the summer. As the weather starts to turn colder they move to the southern states in search of food and warmer temperatures.

These big-chested finches can often be spotted at your bird feeder for those that live in the southern half of the states. The males are strikingly colored with a bright yellow eyebrow streak and body. The females’ coloring is more subtle, but they do have a flamboyant green beak to marvel at. Enjoy the sightings of these birds when you can because they have become increasingly rare as their numbers have been steadily dropping for years.

3. Snowy Owl

Large irruptions of this majestic bird occur every 3 to 5 years — the last big irruption was in 2013-2014, where they came down from the arctic to areas as far south as Florida. What makes the sighting of this owl noteworthy is that they are the largest of the owl family (by weight). They have catlike eyes and have been made popular with children through the Harry Potter films.

They travel south from their remote breeding grounds of the arctic to hunt in the northern half of the states. It can be difficult to spot an older male in a snowy landscape as they become paler and almost entirely white as they mature. The females tend to have a more salt-and-pepper coloring that makes them more available to the birding eye.

4. Northern Goshawk

At the top of the food chain and an indicator species, these birds can be seen year round in the Rockies but tend to be more active in the winter as food becomes scarce. They frequent the mid to northern portion of the Rocky Mountains. This predatory bird is one of the larger species of hawks and feeds on rabbits, squirrels and other birds found in the Rockies.

If you are wanting to catch a sight of a Norther Goshawk, look up. You will typically find them in the canopy of conifer and boreal forests searching for prey. Up there you will find these steel-grey winged birds with gleaming red eyes. Due to their speed and maneuverability, watching them hunt is an impressive show of skill and precision.

5. Snow Geese

These geese will likely be found congregating in the same places as their more common relative, the Canadian Goose. You can find this abundant species in colonies in many different areas throughout North America. They are most often found in western California, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, the coast from New Jersey to North Carolina, Iowa, Nebraska and throughout the southwest.

When these high-flying birds fill the sky, they look like large snowflakes about to come raining down upon the earth. This species is dimorphic and comes in two different colors: blue and white. The dark allele (blue) is dominant to the light (white). Once you catch sight of a flock, you can sit and enjoy them for quite some time. They are a foraging species and will spend an enduring length of time in a single area before moving on.

Staying at Home

If you don’t feel like traveling for this year’s fall and winter bird watching, simply travel to your backyard. Wild birds appreciate the feeders that you set up in your yard and will likely visit them to stockpile on energy reserves before making their migration south. You may be lucky enough to live in an area that you can see one of the five birds listed above from your kitchen window.

Backyard feeders are also helpful to migratory birds passing through when food sources start to become scarce and provide a readily available, nutrient-dense meal. If you create a continuous supply, birds will imprint on the location and return in the fall or keep around winter species all season long.

Some of the best items to include in your backyard feeder during the fall and winter are:

  • Nuts
  • Nyjer
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Suet

Until Next Year

You can plan out your route to move across the northern United States using BirdsEye to catch a sight of all five of the wintering birds that come to spend their time there. When you return from your trip in the late fall and early winter, make sure to winterize your RV, car or truck so that you are ready to hit the road in time to catch the spring migration. Happy winter trails and bird watching!


BirdsEye Sound Files & Audio Collections

Some of the more frequent questions coming into our Help Desk (support@getbirdseye.com) are about the audio collections and sound files in BirdsEye.  Bird sound files are included for almost all species of North American birds, but generally if you are interested in calls and songs for birds outside of North America the additional purchase of an audio collection is required.

Key Points about BirdsEye Audio Collections

  • Audio collections are a one-time purchase that includes the sound files for the area, plus access to eBird sightings, images and text for the species that are covered in the sound package. An additional membership for the region is not needed.
  • Audio collections are available for the following countries and regions:
  • Rather than a separate app these are collections of sound files that are accessed and played using BirdsEye by tapping the sound icon.
  • When purchasing on our website (BirdsEyeBirding.com) there is also an option to buy sound package with mp3 format as well as the BirdsEye extension. This option is for users who want to use sound files with third party sound management applications that can be played on a PC or mobile device outside of BirdsEye.

Costa Rica

Peninsular Malaysia

Belgium and Holland
Northern Siberia

Audio Collections

The North America bird library in BirdsEye includes bird sounds provided through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. BirdsEye pays royalties to the Library in order to offer these sounds to you. Unfortunately the royalties for bird sounds outside of North America would put the price of a BirdsEye membership out of reach for many of our customers. In order to keep these memberships affordable we decided to not include sounds with them. However, audio collections are available as an additional purchase for many regions

We are excited to work with the fantastic bird recordists at BirdSounds.nl to offer their extensive audio collections through the BirdsEye app. The sounds are accessed within BirdsEye, which you can download for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. They are available to you when you login BirdsEye with your username (your email address) and password. Just tap the speaker icon next to the bird and all the songs and calls for that bird will be shown.

Purchasing sound collections also gives you access to eBird sightings, images and text for the species that are included in the sound package at no additional cost. If you aren’t already using BirdsEye, simply download the free version of BirdsEye from the App Store or Google play and purchase the sound files as an in-app purchase. or at a discount through our website. **register with the same email address you used to make this purchase. Your purchased sound package will be at your fingertips. No additional purchase is necessary.

How Audio Collections Work In BirdsEye

Purchasing an audio collection gives you access to a large library of bird sounds, all within BirdsEye. It also gives you access to the BirdsEye images and text, as well as the eBird data available for the species that are included in the package.

You can download a collection to your mobile device for offline use and remove it to free up space as often as you wish. You can access this package on your Apple or Android mobile device, so long as they are all registered to your BirdsEye account.

To download all of the sounds for offline use, just go to “Settings” and then choose “Download for Offline”. Enjoy!

How to Purchase one of the Audio Collections

There are two ways:

1) Purchase an audio collection as an in-app purchase within BirdsEye

From the BirdsEye home screen, choose the “Memberships and Audio Guides” (Apple) or “Store – Field Guides and Audio” (Android) option. Scroll to the audio collection for the region you are interested in, select it and follow the prompts to purchase through your iTunes or Google Play accounts.

2) Purchase an audio collection from our website BirdsEyeBirding.com

You can also purchase audio collections at a discount from our website: choose the BirdsEye Bird Guide option form the main menu and then select “Audio Collections” from the menu.  Next, choose the collection you would like to purchase. After selecting the audio collection, there is a dialog box labeled “How would you like to download and access this sound collection?”. You can choose to access the sound files “through BirdsEye on your phone”, or “As an MP3 download (also includes access through BirdsEye app). The second option includes the audio collection in an mp3 format as well as the BirdsEye extension. This option is for users who want to use sound files with third party sound management applications that can be played on a PC or mobile device outside of BirdsEye.

How to Access an Audio Collection

Once you have purchased a audio collection on the site, here is how to access it on your device:

1) If you don’t already have BirdsEye, download it to your mobile device (for free) from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
2) Register or login to BirdsEye using the same email address you used for your purchase and your sound collections will be immediately available within BirdsEye, just tap the speaker icon for any of the listed species.
3) You can download the sound collection for offline use, or access it via the internet as you need it to save space. It’s up to you. You can clear the sounds from your device and download as many times as you want.

Just contact the BirdsEye Help Desk if you have any questions or trouble getting set up. We are happy to help!

Remember, you can focus in on just the birds in a specific sound package or membership group. In the Search by Name section, select the “funnel” icon in the upper right, scroll to the “Bird Sounds of Mexico” or whatever the region, and tap it. That should put you back on the “Search” page with just those birds listed.