Wednesday, December 14, 2005

National Zoo Birding

This morning was bitterly cold; in fact it was the coldest of the winter so far here in Washington. When I woke up, the temperature at National Airport was reported to be 19°F. The high was about 24° or 25°. Naturally it seemed like a good morning for birding. During sustained cold spells like what we experienced over the past two days, local ponds freeze over, leaving waterfowl to seek other open waterways. One place where open water is guaranteed is the National Zoo. Most ponds are heated, and the stretch of Rock Creek below the zoo rarely freezes. So the zoo's waterfowl population will rise considerably during cold snaps.

The best place for birding at the zoo, in my opinion, is the bicycle trail along the creek. I have seen up to 30-40 wood ducks gathered there at times. This morning there were about a dozen. Males in the full breeding plumage were giving their whistling "zipper" calls, while females clucked. Up at the bird house, about fifty mallards and a few wood ducks and American black ducks had gathered in the wetland ponds vacated by the zoo's own birds. (Apparently all the birds in the birdhouse ponds are wild at the moment; a fire caused most of the zoo's birds to be removed temporarily.)

Waterfowl were not all there was to see. Many sparrows - house, song, and white-throated - competed for rights around the feeders in the various animal pens. No unusual ones, though. Woodpeckers also were plentiful. One very good bird was a red-breasted nuthatch. The Washington area seems to have unusually high numbers of this species this year.


Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal