Winter birds add a sparkle to Georgia winters

Except for a few lingerers, Georgia’s neo-tropical songbirds — including tanagers, thrushes, buntings, swallows and most species of warblers and vireos — are now ensconced in, or well on their way to, winter homes in Central and South America.

These long-distance migrants instinctively make the grueling and dangerous journeys southward each year as the days grow shorter and the seasons chill. Escaping the bitter cold of northern winters and finding sufficient food probably are the main reasons for their long treks.

Another group of migratory birds, however, forgo the effort and danger of making a long-distance trip and fly only as far as Georgia and other southern states for the winter.

They are our “winter birds,“ or songbirds that nest up north during spring and summer and spend the winter in southern states. They include the tiny kinglets; palm, yellow-rumped and orange-crowned warblers; yellow-bellied sapsucker; several sparrow species; hermit thrush, cedar waxwing and others.

They’re flocking into Georgia now and will stay all winter until they return to northern breeding grounds in spring. Most of them will be able to find sufficient food — berries, seeds, small insects — here to survive the cold season.

Their presence adds a sparkle to our winters. The cedar waxwing, for instance, is called North America‘s most “elegant bird“ because of its striking brown and yellow plumage and bright red wing tips that look as if they were dipped in red wax.

But the songbirds we can count on most for brightening up a dreary day in fall and winter will be Georgia’s year-round birds — cardinals, bluebirds, blue jays and others whose vivid colors bring joy throughout the year.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The North Taurid meteor shower reaches a peak of about 15 meteors per hour this weekend — in the east from about midnight until dawn.

The moon is in last quarter. Mercury is low in the west at dusk. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are low in the east just before dawn. Venus and Jupiter will appear close together just before dawn Monday and will appear near the moon before dawn Friday. Mars will appear near the moon just before dawn Wednesday. Saturn sets in the west shortly after dark.

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