Virginia has an abundance of wildlife all year round. Come winter, many animals go into hibernation or flee to the warmer weather of southern states. Thankfully, there are a plethora of beautiful birds that spend winters in Virginia.
Grab your binoculars, and your winter coat, and head out into the great outdoors of the Old Dominion State to see these avian beauties.
1. Hooded Merganser
You’ve never seen a duck quite like this one. According to fellow AZA writer William Frady, Hooded Mergansers look like “A 60s comic book villain vibe.” This is due to the uniquely large heads these birds have!
Males of this species have a black and white pattern across their heads, while females are identifiable from their cinnamon-colored crest. You can find these birds in Virginia in small ponds and rivers.
They love to snack on crawfish by using their serrated bills. These birds winter in multiple areas around the country, including the Atlantic coast. If you put out a nesting box, you may be able to attract a breeding pair to your backyard!
2. Northern Gannet
A seabird you’ll find in Virginia in winter is the Northern Gannet. This bird is famous for rapidly diving into the water at speeds of 60 miles per hour in hopes of catching a fresh meal. They have black wingtips, a white body, and a yellow head.
You can find Northern Gannets along the coast of Virginia. In fact, they winter along the entire Atlantic coast. They migrate around beaches during spring and fall. This bird is known for being incredibly loud.
When they’re hunting above the sea, many people say they sound like a raven. Northern Gannet has the nickname Seerabe, which translates to sea raven.
3. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
A beautiful petite bird, the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, takes the third spot on this list for birds that winter in Virginia. Although small, these birds have no shortage of energy. You can spot them flying around shrubs and the lower branches of trees.
It has greenish-gray wings and white rings around its eyes. Male ruby-crowned kinglets have a stunning ruby crown, hence the name. It’s mostly hidden, with the exception of finding a mate during spring.
This is when males will puff up their ruby crown and display it for potential mates. Lastly, these little birds can lay up to 12 eggs per nest!
Wow! Let’s talk about the showstopper that is a Bufflehead! Similar to the Northern Gannet, Bufflehead have large heads that grab your attention. Adult males of this species have a black and white body with a white piece that wraps all around the back of their head.
Females have small patches on their wings and are grayish-brown when they’re young. These birds dive underwater in hopes of finding food such as aquatic invertebrates. They are quite widespread during winter, though you can find them near water and in forests throughout Virginia.
They love shallow saltwater bays and relaxing near aspen trees.
5. American Wigeon
The prime time to spot an American Wigeon in Virginia is throughout the winter months. Unlike other ducks, American Wigeons spend a lot of their time grazing on land. Sometimes you can spot these birds near deep water as they attempt to steal food from other birds.
They eat mostly algae, wild celery, pondweeds, and other plants. Juvenile American Wigeons snack on insects as well. These birds nest on dry land within 100 feet of water. They prefer being concealed by towering vegetation to stay safe from predators.
The American wigeon flushes effortlessly and is apprehensive of unfamiliar situations, despite its tendency to be a territorial feeder when around other waterfowl species. During hunting season, they can become nocturnal hunters.
6. Orange-Crowned Warbler
Another gorgeous bird you’ll find in Virginia in winter is the Orange-crowned warbler. Despite its name, you might not spot the “orange crown” on this bird’s head. It’s almost never visible! You can often see these birds flying around in flocks of other species!
They stay relatively low to the ground throughout the year. If you look closely, you can spot these birds flicking their tails near bushes and short trees as they hunt for insects among fallen foliage.
In comparison to other warblers, this species is quite small and has a noticeably sharp bill. Orange-crowned warblers have small wings and uniquely stout tails. Strangely, when you see these birds on the West Coast, they’ll have a gray head instead of yellow.
7. Dark-Eyed Junco
Next, let’s take a look at dark-eyed junco bird. These puffy little birds love to hop around the forest floor in Virginia. They have bright white tail feathers that look like flashing lights as they move through the sky.
If you have a bird feeder in your yard in Virginia, you’ve likely seen these birds snacking on seed! As winter comes to a close and spring arrives, dark-eyed junco birds move north. As the weather warms up, these birds move to higher elevations.
The male guards the nesting area by singing from a tall perch. Typically, the nest location is on the ground, well concealed by drooping grass, logs, rocks, or visible roots, or by a small hole in a hillside.
8. Snow Goose
Snow geese are an idyllic winter bird that you can find in Virginia in the winter. The Snow Goose has a white body and black wingtips, making it difficult to spot while they’re flying. The dark stripe running along the pink bill is commonly referred to as a “grinning patch” or “black lips.”
You can find these beautiful, white birds walking along shallow water. You’ll likely hear these birds honking before you see them. Although they travel great distances in the air, snow geese are very magnificent on foot.
The young may travel as far as 50 miles with their parents to a better location for raising their young. Geese throughout their migration, either flying high above the ground or wintering in grasslands in Virginia.
9. Common Loon
The penultimate bird you’ll find wintering in Virginia is the common loon. Similar to geese, you may hear a loon before you see them. They have a haunting call that is easily identifiable. The common loon has a unique black-and-white pattern with eerie red eyes.
These birds typically live around seacoasts and lakes in Virginia. Common loons aren’t as active on shore as they are on land. They are incredible divers and can quickly catch fish as they chase them underwater.
Be careful driving in Virginia after it rains! These birds can mistake wet roadways for lakes and rivers. Every year, they’ll return to the same lake to spend their time, breed, and feed.
10. Tundra Swan
The last bird we’ll be talking about that winter in Virginia is the Tundra Swan. This stunning white bird has a dark black beak with a yellow strike near the eye. It’s important to distinguish between tundra swans and bigger species such as trumpeter and mute swans.
With the exception of the winter, trumpeter swans are primarily located in the Midwest and Western areas of the country. They have an impressive wingspan of nearly 70 inches! Tundra swans have a high-pitched call that is similar to a black goose.
During migrating, tundra swans are observed in flocks; however, during mating season, they divide into solitary couples. They come together for life, and they will fight tooth and nail to protect their breeding area.
Summary of Birds That Spend Winter in Virginia
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