Flocks Along the Highways

Seeing birds along our highways is common after a heavy snow in the Midwest. The flocks are drawn to the freshly exposed grassy areas created by the snowplows. At a time when the farm fields are covered in a heavy blanket of white, the roadsides serve as a buffet of weed seeds and spilled grains. When the snow blows or melts off the fields, the birds seem to disappear, at least until the next significant snowfall.

So, what kind of birds are they anyway? Granted, there are many types of birds feeding along the highways. But the three most typical species of birds seen in flocks are Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings. The flocks can be composed of singles species or mixed species.

The most common of the three species is the Horned Lark. When on bare ground, they can blend in when their backs are turned toward you. But, when they turn their head, you are greeted with a nice yellow face, black mask, and occasionally you can see their tiny black horns protruding.

The Horned Lark can be as found as individuals or in large flocks in the winter time. Canon 20D + 500mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, ISO 800, f/22, 1/250. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2005, Rural IA.

The Lapland Longspur is the second most common of these three species. They nest on the Tundra and over-winter across the Midwest.

The Lapland Longspur can be found in single-species flocks or mixed in with other species throughout the winter. Canon 1D Mark IV + 500mm lens & 2x teleconverter at 1000mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/1250. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2010, Rural IA.

Snow Buntings are true northern birds, nesting in the high Arctic and overwintering in Canada and the United States.

Snow Buntings are seen less frequently in the Midwest. No doubt they are present but their coloration makes it more challenging to see them. Canon 40D + 500mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/640. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2009, Rural IA.

The next time we get a significant snowfall, take the time to check out these interesting birds. Of course, make sure you pull completely off the road and stay safe.

6 thoughts on “Flocks Along the Highways”

  1. Thanks Stan,
    You have always done well with bird shooting–Camera style.
    I am going to put up my trail camera on a nesting Barred Owl.
    We had it up last year and did get a few images of three young.
    I Great horn Owl pair took over that cavity so am trusting that we got the right cavity for the Barred pair this year.

  2. Carol Gronstal

    This is great! Usually, I’d just see a flock explode away from the ditch. I might be able to know which ones I’m looking at now. Thanks!

    1. If you are on a county blacktop without much traffic, sometimes you can find a place to park as you are approaching a flock. Then you can get a better view. I have a hard time identifying them when I am zooming by a flock at 55 mph.

  3. Thanks, Stan. Always refreshing to see your closeups of nature around us. We see deer, turkeys, eagles occasionally, many owls, hawks and turkey vultures from our window. During the winter up to 26 male cardinals came to our feeder at one time. Keep up the good work! M&D Von Weihe.

    1. You have a great place for Cardinals in the winter. I need to find a good place to photograph Turkey toms strutting. Carroll county Iowa is not blessed with an abundance of wildlife habitat.

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