When we think of birds heading south for the winter, we usually picture warm, tropical destinations. For some birds that breed in the north, however, the central United States or even our cold and snowy area is all the further south they need to be for their wintering grounds.
White-crowned Sparrows breed north of the Arctic Circle in Canada and Alaska. Their wintering grounds cover the lower two-thirds of the United States. White-crowned Sparrows migrate through our area in October, and again in May when they return north. Small flocks may be found in our area throughout the winter, particularly if the winter is mild.
White-throated Sparrows breed from central to southern Canada, venturing not as far north as the White-crowned Sparrows do. They also do not travel as far south in the winter, although they can be found as far south as Florida. White-throated Sparrows are common visitors to our area, arriving in late September and staying until mid-May.
Known as the 'snowbirds', Dark-eyed Juncos are often considered the harbingers of winter. These sparrows breed from Alaska through southern Canada. There are some populations that live year-round in the mountainous regions of the eastern US, as well as small localized populations (even in western PA). Those Juncos will breed in the upper elevations during summer and drop to lower elevations in the winter.
Starting in late September, migrating Juncos from Canada will arrive in our area. Some Juncos will stay all winter, while others continue further south into the lower states. Wintering populations will stay in our area until May.