From the Winter 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

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Bird watching in January and February can bring tears to birders’ eyes—literally, as birders battle bracing winds and snow-blinding sun while wincing resolutely into scopes. Eyebrows may begin to crust over with ice and extremities may lose sensation, but it’s all worth it for the chance to see massive flocks of waterfowl out on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

Winter is the time when ducks and geese are prone to communal behavior. Open water—which many waterfowl need to feed, and which offers safety from land predators—is in short supply, so prime areas attract birds by the thousands and occasionally the millions.

“These birds are getting together for protection first and foremost,” says waterfowl field guide author Kevin McGowan. “There’s safety in numbers.” The result is abundant congregations of open-water-loving species from teal to Tundra Swans.

Thanks to thousands of dedicated birders who turn their observations into citizen science through eBird, it’s easier than ever to decide where and when to brave the elements in search of a winter waterfowl wonderland. The eBird Hotspot Explorer lets birders zero in on the best birding locales, and the High Count tool allows birders to see the largest number of birds recorded in a single eBird checklist. Here are just a few of the eBird Hotspots for waterfowl that have produced legendary concentrations of birds on the water in winter.

eBird Tip: Use Hotspot Explorer to find winter waterfowl hotspots

Looking for eBird Hotspots in Ithaca, New York, reveals a handful around the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (cluster in the upper right of the map). Find these eBirding tools and more under the “Explore” tab at eBird.orgLooking for eBird Hotspots in Ithaca, New York, reveals a handful around the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (cluster in the upper right of the map). Find these eBirding tools and more in eBird Explore.
  • Explore Hotspots allows you to zoom in on a data map and see color-coded pins for popular birding locations. Filter by month to see what spots are the hottest during winter, and click on the pins to see a list of all the birds seen at that location, with the most recent sightings at the top.
  • High Counts show the highest count of a species submitted on a single eBird checklist. Searching high counts for Michigan between the months of January and March led us to discover the amazing Long-tailed Duck observation featured in the above slideshow.