Signs of Fall Mean Winter Visitors


Notice the visitors flocking to our area for winter? They are sure to delight during the bleak, cold months.
American Wigeon duck floating in the water
American Wigeons can be identified by their white buffy heads and green stripes. Photo by Tom George.

The days are getting shorter. The temperatures are becoming cooler. The leaves are falling. These are sure signs of fall. However, another indicator of the new season is making its presence known. Take a look at the birds. You may notice we have some visitors. Birds are flocking from the northern part of the country to Texas to take advantage of the milder winters and readier access to food.

What winter visitors may frequent our area?

Around ponds and rivers, a number of ducks will be found paddling in the water. Even though the water is cold, they are able to swim despite not having feathers on their legs to keep them warm. By the time blood circulates to their feet, it is cool, much like the water. As a result, there is a limited amount of heat loss. Dabbling ducks can be found searching through aquatic vegetation for larvae to eat, are readily available in the Lotus Marsh. Visit the Marty Leonard Lotus Marsh Boardwalk, and you will find ducks such as Gadwall, American Wigeon, and Lesser Scaup.

The prairie is home to many prairie birds seeking shelter and looking for food. The prairie grasses help them avoid cold temperatures, but the birds themselves must take some precautions as well. Sparrows have the ability to lower their core temperatures. Much like the ducks, limited heat loss allows the sparrows to get through cold nights. When hiking along the Prairie Trail, you will see these little brown birds hopping on the ground. Popular sparrows spotted in the prairie are Harris’ Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Brown Harris' sparrow
After a cool night, this Harris’ Sparrow is looking for the sun to help it warm up. Photo by Tom George.

Woodpeckers can be found in the colder months undulating among towering trees searching for food. Throughout the forest are trees that produce nuts, house wood-boring insects, and make savory sap. You will see the woodpeckers drumming the trees, which may evict insects but is mostly used for communicating and establishing territories. Common woodpecker species that can be found in the woods are Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker.

Black, red, and white Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
Red-bellied Woodpeckers use their chisel-like bills to find food. Photo by Tom George.

Take advantage of the cooler temps and check out the new birds in the area. The Nature Center has many opportunities for you to learn how to identify these cold-natured birds. Early Birds is a monthly guided hike led by a staff naturalist who helps visitors learn how to identify birds by sight and sound. Guided nature hikes are another way to see our feathered guests.

Check out Phenology to find dates and times for the next birding program.

By Michael Perez, Natural Scientist Supervisor, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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