Birding by Season Winter Ducks

From left: Lesser Scaup, Ring-neck Duck, Hooded Merganser,  Lesser Scaup

The winter months in Bermuda can be very rewarding for birdwatching, as many migrant species remain to spend the winter in Bermuda. It is possible to see more species in a single day than at any other time of the year. The National Audubon Society of the U.S. has held a Christmas Bird Count for over 100 years. Bermuda has taken part in this count since 1974, averaging about 90 species per count, although about 250 species have been recorded in total. So it’s a good time to be out with your binoculars.

As one might expect, water birds tend to be more in evidence in winter, most having arrived from continental America. Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots take up residence in fresh-water and brackish ponds. Double-crested Cormorants fish in inshore waters and often form a roost of up to fifty birds at the west end of the island. Herons and egrets regularly roost at Spittal Pond: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret and Green Heron. The large Great Blue Herons tend to roost separately and are much in evidence during the day in the Great Sound and Hamilton Harbour islands. Much more difficult to see is the American Bittern, nearly always cryptically camouflaged amongst the tall grasses and cattails of the marshes.

Ducks continue to arrive throughout the winter as they are forced out by freezing temperatures on the continent. Of 28 species of ducks recorded in Bermuda, about two-thirds are regular visitors. Small ponds such as Seymour’s Pond and Somerset Long Bay East (both Audubon reserves) can be just as profitable as the larger Spittal Pond to see Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead, amongst others. Geese are few and far between, but when they do occur, they tend to become quite tame and are easily observed on golf courses in particular. Since 1990, five species of geese have all put in an appearance - Canada, Snow, Ross’s, Brant and White-fronted Geese.

Birding by Season Winter Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Apart from the ever-present Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover and wintering Killdeer, shorebirds are conspicuous by their absence. Small numbers of Whimbrel, Snipe, Spotted Sandpipers and Yellowlegs may be seen, and if you are really lucky, a Red Knot, Dunlin or Piping Plover, which is on the Red Data List of endangered world species. Gulls are absent in summer, but by mid-winter there may be several hundred Ring-billed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in particular. They often form large roosts at Dockyard and can be easily viewed during the day along the Hamilton waterfront.

Passerines (perching birds) can be equally exciting during the winter. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (a small woodpecker) are responsible for the numerous rows of holes drilled into casuarinas and West Indian almond trees. They often winter in the Arboretum. Cedar Waxwings are more often seen flying in a tight flock than perched in trees.

The ameliorating influence of the Gulf Stream on our climate means that about 20 warbler species are present in winter. At similar latitudes on the continent, snow and freezing temperatures are frequently experienced. Of the common warblers, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers are often in the company of Eastern Bluebirds.  Black-and-white Warblers act like tree-creepers, while Ovenbirds prefer dense thickets. The Common Yellowthroat and Northern Waterthrush are usually heard, if not seen, along fresh water margins.

Finally, watch for sparrows and buntings. Savannah Sparrows always winter in small numbers, especially at the airport. Indigo Buntings are very common in the winter, often located by their high call note. By late winter many males have already assumed a rich blue colouring. Equally striking, but far less common, is the Snow Bunting, although relatively drab in winter plumage, it reveals bright white wing patches in flight. Garbage dumps and the airport perimeter are popular haunts for these birds.

Material adapted from "A Birdwatching Guide to Bermuda" by Andrew Dobson, Arlequin Press 2002. 

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Acknowledgements:

Photos courtesy of Andrew Dobson, Paul Watson, Chris Burville, Ras Mykkal, Jennifer Gray, Rosalind Wingate, Rick Slaughter and others.

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The Bermuda Audubon Society
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