Birding during the harsh winter months can be difficult. Songbirds are not as active in the cold weather, and will stay hunkered down in cover during extreme weather. Birds of prey are less likely to be flying about during snowy or windy conditions, and spotting Snowy Owls is nearly impossible not to mention dangerous on county roads in adverse weather. The easiest birds to find during the toughest winter conditions are waterfowl. Find open water, and you will find waterfowl. A flowing current prevents water from freezing, so the best place to search for ducks, geese and other types of fowl is at your local river. As lakes and ponds freeze waterfowl species will congregate by the hundreds in small areas of open water. Many species that spend the summer months further north will migrate south to areas of open water as a food source. This makes winter the only time of year to view such species.
Mallards are a very common species of duck, but I have watched their numbers increase on the local river as the temperatures drop. You can tell the majority of these birds are migrants from the north by their wariness of humans. In the summer months local mallards swim over to the bank hoping to be fed when walking by, but in winter the migrant birds fly out into the middle of the river, a sure sign they are not accustomed to humans. Notable species that winter on my local river are: hooded merganser, common merganser, common goldeneye, and bufflehead. I observed an American coot on the coldest day of the year, and other highlights have been a female northern pintail and male redhead.
As the temperatures plummet in January finding waterfowl becomes easier. Slower moving sections of rivers will freeze, or become jammed up with ice. This makes the areas of open water smaller and the concentration of waterfowl greater. Sections of my local river have frozen about 3/4 of the way across during this extreme cold snap and therefore has presented some very close looks of these beautiful birds. Search areas of your local river for open water and you too will find large quantities of waterfowl.
Remember that rivers can be extremely dangerous anytime of year, but especially in winter. Stay away from the edges as the snow and ice there are not always as firm as they appear. Keep children and pets away too, and under no circumstance walk out onto the ice. No look of a bird is worth jeopardizing your safety over.
Bundle up and head out to your local river this winter in search of waterfowl. It is a great way to get out and find large quantities of birds during the winter months. Chances are, you may just cross a new species or two off your life list.