Remarkable avian guests visit West Virginia in winter

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A Snowy Owl crouches in grass in northern West Virginia. Photo courtesy Randy Bodkins.

Winter is the only season in which several remarkable species are present in West Virginia, and nearly every storm brings new avian visitors. One thing is certain: you’ll never see these rarities if you’re not out there looking. Get out, search a little, and you could be greatly rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.

Snowy Owls

Few encounters may be as exciting for birders and non-birders alike as the first sighting of a Snowy Owl. The winter of 2017-2018 has been a great for observing these stunning birds. So far there have been three confirmed sightings in West Virginia. They have been spread out, too — in , , and .

Snowy Owls are residents of the Arctic tundra, though every so often an irruption occurs to the south, giving others a chance to witness these wonders. They have been seen as far south as Florida and Texas during irruption years. Airports, shopping malls, and large farm fields are places to lookout for these denizens of the tundra.


Greater White-Fronted Geese gather near a pond. Photo courtesy Randy Bodkins.

Greater White-fronted Geese

Greater White-fronted Geese have been visiting waterways in West Virginia over the last couple years. I think these are the prettiest geese out there, and they have quickly become one of my favorite birds. I really like to hear them talk. They’re normally found during migration in the western half of the U.S. , though they seem to be shifting East. They’re grazers, so don’t assume when you look at a flock in a field that they are all Canada Geese. Observe more carefully, and you may be rewarded.


Cackling Geese gather in a meadow in northern West Virginia. Photo courtesy Randy Bodkins.

Ross’s Geese and Cackling Geese

Ross’s Geese and Cackling Geese are mini-versions of Snow Geese and Canada Geese. They are both found in West Virginia in winter. Look for a short stubby bill on geese of smaller stature. When something gets your attention as not being normal, it is often something special. Again, don’t just assume that all geese in a flock are all the same. There are rarities out there, and they are here now.

A white Ross’s Goose (at right) stands out in a crowd of Canada Geese. Photo courtesy Randy Bodkins.

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