The Most Common Backyard Birds You'll See During the Winter
Bundle up and head outdoors this winter, and you'll find a snow-laden haven of cardinals, blue jays, and black-capped chickadees.
Wintertime may seem like a quiet, hibernating period until you start focusing on our feathered friends. Surprisingly, there are plenty of birds soaring, skittering, and swooping in the air at this time of year. And if your garden isn't yet a trending hot spot for birds, there are many ways to attract avian visitors during the winter.
A good place to start planning for bird guests is in the summer and fall when certain late blooming flowers should not be pruned back but, instead, allowed to form seeds that the birds will enjoy as a tasty and much needed winter snack. Perfect perennials for letting go to seed are: asters, coreopsis, salvia, rudbeckia, and coneflowers. And if your garden and food sources are smothered in snow, you can be a good host by setting out bird feeders with the right high caloric food to keep them warm and survive the cold months. Suet and peanuts are a great source of protein for the bird visitors. And don't forget to set out some clean water and a give them a safe place to shelter, like a birdhouse, during these chilly days.
Want to take your enjoyable bird watching one step further? Nils Warnock, Ph.D, director of conservation science at Audubon Canyon Ranch says, "Bird watchers are one of science's most vital sources of data on how the ecological world is faring. Be a citizen scientist and join eBird through Cornell, Christmas Bird Counts through the National Audubon Society or local bird monitoring programs like Audubon Canyon Ranch's Heron or Egret colony monitoring program."
By planning ahead and providing birds with food and shelter during the winter, you will not only be supporting avian populations that are sadly in decline, but you will also be visually rewarded. And while the exact species that might visit you could vary due to geography, habitat, and range, here are some common birds to look out for.
The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) not only has a super cute name, but its pettiness makes it even more adorable. They have black feathers on top and a patch under their beak. These birds especially love birch trees for nesting and enjoy a feeder full of suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.
The sunny yellow-hued American goldfinch with a black forehead marking can be watched all over the states. For a real birdwatching activity, fill a seed bag with thistle and witness flocks of them dart around the feeder and feast with fervor. They also look for tiny seeds inside ornamental grasses and perennials like asters.
Partial to wooded areas and tree-filled backyards, the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is adorned in multiple shades of black, gray, and white. This bird especially enjoys sunflower seeds—so much so that it will fly off with and then wedge them into a bark crevice or under a house shingle and pound away with its sharp beak.
As the name implies, the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) wears a distinctive bright blue coat and has a recognizable call. This species has adapted to living with people and it's not hard to attract this bold bird, as they will flock to any feeder.
The most common and widespread dove is the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) whose gentle cooing is often mistaken for an owl call. This friendly bird, dressed in brownish feathers and gray wings, is surprisingly comfortable around people. To attract them, set out seeds with millet, oat, and wheat.
Another charmingly and appropriately named bird, the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) has crested gray feathers that peak proudly on its head. This little bird may be small but it is tough and can tackle cold winters. To keep them healthy and happy, offer them a snack of suet or sunflower seeds. By February and March, listen for their signature "Peter, Peter, Peter" call.
The downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is a smaller version of the classic woodpecker. This bird has an arrow straight beak and is mostly striped and spotted black and white with males sporting a red patch on the back of their head. Downy Woodpeckers are common feeder birds that enjoy suet and black oil sunflower seeds, and, according to allaboutbirds.org, occasionally drink from hummingbird feeders.
The Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is not afraid of cold weather and therefore doesn't migrate. This bird is common in the East where it is the official state bird for seven states. The Northern cardinal is also not drab; it appears like a spark of fire with its brilliant red feathers on males and red tinged brown feathers on the females. You can lure these beauties with sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and peanuts.
Recognizable all over the U.S. for its rusty pumpkin-hued chest contrasting with its grayish back, the American robin (Turdus migratorius) can be seen hunting the ground for worms or scouring trees for berries or bark for insects. And despite their frequent appearances in gardens, American Robin populations have sadly declined by over 2 million since 1970, reports Warnock.
Though common along the Pacific Coast, Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) is anything but common when it comes to its appearance. Their iridescent emerald feathers sparkle against their dazzling pink throats. This winter gem is easy to attract: Simply set out a hummingbird feeder filled with a homemade mixture of one part sugar to four parts water (skip the food coloring).
The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is easy to recognize by their crisp markings and bright white tail feathers that flash when the bird is in flight. Discover these little sparrows in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them where they also feed. Have on hand plenty of black-oil sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, cracked corn, or thistle.