Birds of Wisconsin

Spotting Your First of Year Bird

For many, the start of a new year can inspire change, hope, and excitement for what lies ahead. In the birding community, some participate in a tradition of finding their FOY, also known as first of year bird, which can symbolize their theme and fortune for the upcoming year. No matter your experience level or your neighborhood, your own first bird of 2024 can be easy to find and start off your new year with nature in mind.

Many yard birds are spotted from our own home windows. Black-capped Chickadees, one of the most easily recognizable songbirds, are little globes of black-and-white, constantly flitting among branches mumbling their ‘chickadee-dee-dee’ songs. Some believe that seeing a chickadee as your FOY can symbolize a year of joy and cheerfulness ahead. Dark-eyed Juncos, our northern visitors who spend their winters in our area, forage on the ground under bushes or bird feeders. For some, juncos indicate a year of stability and being well grounded.

And then, there are our corvid friends. Blue Jays, crows, and ravens have been heralded as some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. All of these birds have the ability to mimic sounds; Blue Jays can perfectly imitate the call of a Red-tailed Hawk and will use this predator call to cause other birds to scatter and hide, leaving all the food behind for the taking. To see a corvid as a first bird of the year can signify a year of great communication and sharp intelligence.

The striking red of Northern Cardinals is hard to miss among the trees. Cardinals do not migrate and spend their entire year close to their nesting territories. Many of us are lucky enough to have a pair in our yards year-round; we celebrate their successful nesting in the spring while enjoying the same pairs company in the snowy winter months. Spotting a cardinal in the morning of January 1 can signify a year of grace and integrity ahead.

For the more adventurous, a walk through your nearby park or natural area can uncover more species that may not frequent our yards. Waterfowl, like scaup, bufflehead, and mergansers can be spotted on open water. Upwards of 20 different duck species congregate on Lake Michigan in the winter months and, at various spots throughout Milwaukee, these birds can be observed from the shore. Ducks are often viewed as omens of good luck and great fortune ahead.

Great Horned Owls can be heard hooting as daylight breaks or, with a lot of patience and warm gear, you may be fortunate to spot one resting high in a tree. Finding an owl in the twilight hours of the new year can represent perseverance and reverence for your next twelve months.

Whether it’s a bird visiting your backyard feeders, or one spotted through binoculars on your first hike of the new year, taking the time to watch these beautiful animals around us can start your year with peace, hope, and excitement. Happy birding in 2024!