Birding on the winter solstice

2008 December 31
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO. — It was a chickadee, that first bird of solstice. The air temperature was 8° F (-13° C), and I wondered how such minuscule bodies could survive at all. But they do, and by all appearances even thrive. They are one of the birds I associate most closely with winter; their striking head patterns and jingling calls make me feel cold on the outside and warm on the inside.


By noon, the sun was bright, but the temperature still hovered around 15° F (-9° C). Mourning Doves found a sunny spot in the flower bed to puff and preen, allowing the solar radiation to warm their bodies.


A goldfinch showed black flecks in its crown. A harbinger of warmer days to come? Or just a fading memory of a splendid summer? Either could be true, according to sources I consulted about goldfinch molt.

I met up with Charley and Lisa in the afternoon; we wandered around the Springfield area to see what we could find for solstice.

The most surprising discovery (to me) was about 60 Great-tailed Grackles feeding in a corn field with other blackbird species. Great-tailed Grackles started showing up very sporadically in the 1980s and more regularly in the late ’90s. They’ve been recorded on the Springfield Christmas Bird Count several times (including this year’s), but they certainly aren’t a bird I associate with Missouri winters. Apparently that’s changing.

They and their family members flashed brilliant hues in the late afternoon sun — royal blues on the male great-tails, green-blue on the male cowbirds, purples and bronzes on the smaller grackles, and glimpses of velvety red on the red-wings’ shoulders.


Raptors also showed well, including several harriers and this young Red-tailed Hawk.


Lake Springfield held an assortment of waterfowl, including Gadwall, shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and a male Canvasback.

We ended the day well — with three Short-eared Owls at dusk as a bitter wind swept over pastureland.


Sunset on the shortest day of the year.

Related posts:

  1. Solstice
  2. Solstice dawn
  3. Birding at 70
  4. Solstice means beginnings
  5. Birding the world from home

Comments are closed.