Birds-at-Risk: Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owls are one of the few owl species active during daylight hours. In winter, these medium-sized owls will often congregate in small flocks as dusk falls, swooping over and under each other and exchanging sharp, yip-like cries before flying off to hunt! The Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area hosts significant populations of wintering Short-eared Owls. Look for these endearing owls near dawn or dusk. [Status: Endangered]

Birds-at-Risk: Northern Harriers

These slender raptors course low over the contours of the land as they hunt for prey – at times flying just a few feet above the ground! The beautiful grey plumage and clean white underside of the male has earned him the nickname “Grey Ghost.” Both the male and the larger mottled brown female sport an owl-like facial disk of feathers and a prominent white rump patch. Unlike most raptors these birds nest on the ground, making them more vulnerable to human disturbance and predators. Several pairs are known to be nesting in the Washington County Grasslands IBA. [Status: Threatened]

About the Washington County Grasslands IBA

Birds of all colors, shapes and sizes sing and call and flit through grasses and hedgerows from spring to fall. There are nearly 200 species that breed, winter or migrate in and around the IBA!

It seems no sooner than the last visitor reluctantly departs the grounds of the annual Winter Raptor Fest than the spring thaw begins. The honking cries of thousands of Canada and Snow Geese foraging on the seasonally wet "flats" herald the end of winter. Look closely and you'll see a variety of "puddle ducks" mixed in, including teal, pintail and mallards. Head over to the Hudson River, a major flyway bordering the western edge of the IBA, to see many more species of waterfowl. March is a prime time for spring migration. Common waterfowl sightings include Buffleheads, scaup, goldeneyes, mergansers, occasional loons and a dozen more. Bald Eagles and herons are also common.

Male Eastern Meadowlarks return a couple weeks before females. The early bird gets the best territory. His clear, flute-like song stakes his claim, and later attracts a mate. Look for these brightly marked songbirds on fence posts or low bushes in Spring. Sightings will be more difficult once grasses grow higher; like most grassland bird species Meadowlarks nest on the ground.

Northern Harriers glide over uncut hayfields, at times passing within feet of you as they search for prey. Red-tailed hawks soar overhead, or can be found perched in trees and on power poles. Rough-legged Hawks, with their dark brown belly bands and white markings are often mistaken for Red-tailed Hawks, and can outnumber them in some years.