As Arkansas braces for another round of snowfall and temperatures dip below 0 degrees, the age-old past time of bird watching is bringing joy to river valley residents. Dr. Ragupathy Kannan, professor of ornithology at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, shared some insight into the kinds of birds residents can expect to see in the snow and how to help these feathered friends stay fed during this unusual weather.
Most notable in the winter landscape are the slate-colored Dark Eyed Juncos. These small, peppy birds can be seen hopping in flocks under bushes, Kannan explained. “Juncos are sometimes called snowbirds since they show up with the first snow.”
Snowbirds, along with local staples like American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice enjoy black-oil sunflower seeds, Kannan said, especially when heavy snowfall makes it more difficult to find food. “These sunflower seeds are full of fats and carbs that keep the birds warm, and Blue Jays are always attracted to shelled peanuts - unsalted, please!” To lend an extra hand, be sure birdseed is spread on hard surfaces, in bird feeders, or on trays, so the seeds don’t sink beneath the snow.
Other winter birds include yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows, and short-eared owls. “The owls are especially fun to watch because they even fly about in daytime,” Kannan said. River Valley residents can spot short-eared owls in open grassy areas, especially near Charleston and in the Fort Chaffee area.
As for a truly astounding bird to look for, Kannan said, “A Snowy Owl would absolutely create a sensation since they’re rare so far south, but they have shown up in Tulsa and surrounding areas, so it is possible.” Red Crossbills can also make a delightful appearance when the temperatures drop.
Kannan recommends Allaboutbirds.org, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s one-stop-shop for bird-watchers who want to expand their knowledge. And for those who'd like to take a note from Kannan’s ornithology classes, eBird.org accounts are free to users who would like to report bird observations and share pictures of their findings. “eBird is Cornell’s hugely popular global citizen science database to report bird observations for the scientific community,” Kannan explained. “It’s an excellent (and fun to use!) portal for uploading checklists, photos, audios, and even videos. It automatically keeps track of the number of species you’ve seen, your birding locations, your monthly and yearly progress in birding, and more.”
For a glimpse into ornithological study at UAFS, Kannan’s students’ studies of Roseate Spoonbills and other birds from Alma wastewater treatment plant and Devil’s Den State Park in the local region are available online, as are samples of audio and photos from study abroad trips he led through Caye Caulker and Crystal Paradise Resort in Belize.
To inquire about studying with Dr. Kannan, and to learn more about biology degrees at UAFS, visit: https://uafs.edu/jointhepride-stem