A common winter birding misconception is that there are few birds to enjoy during the coldest months. In fact, many beautiful and unusual birds are eager to visit feeders in the winter because of scarce food supplies. There are so many species of birds you can spot in the winter. From the Bohemian Waxwing to the Snow Bunting, you have your pick of majestic birds to look for in freezing temperatures. These 12 birds are just a few you might find at your feeders in the winter, if you know how to attract them and what winter foods to offer for a tasty and nutritious treat.
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Common Name: Bohemian Waxwing
Scientific Name: Bombycilla garrulus
The bohemian waxwing is common in winter in the northwest and northern Rocky Mountain regions, though in irruption years these colorful birds can appear in any northern region. Often confused with their more common cousins, the cedar waxwings, bohemian waxwings are slightly larger and have rusty undertail coverts, a rufous wash on the face, and a gray chest and abdomen instead of the cedar waxwing's brighter yellow markings. These birds will eagerly flock to fruit trees in the winter, and they will also dive into the snow for water. Backyard birders can attract them in great numbers by offering a heated bird bath for liquid water in the winter.Continue to 2 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Northern Cardinal
Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
The northern cardinal is one of the most popular winter backyard birds. While these bold red birds are common throughout the eastern United States all year round, they are particularly welcome in the winter. Their brilliant plumage is a stunning ornament to a bland landscape, and even the female's paler tan plumage is striking against her red bill and reddish markings. These birds prefer black oil sunflower seed and safflower seed, though in the winter they are also partial to suet blocks with mixed seed and fruit. Northern cardinals will also appreciate a heated bird bath for winter water.Continue to 3 of 12 below.
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Common Name: American Robin
Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
Many people consider the American robin as one of the first spring birds. In fact, these songbirds can be year round residents throughout the United States if food supplies are plentiful and snow cover is not too deep. While they are migratory throughout Canada, they will also stay in parts of that summer range if conditions are right. In the yard, American robins will take advantage of bird baths no matter how cold it gets. Offering fruit in feeders or leaving fruit on trees throughout the winter will provide a favored food source.Continue to 4 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Scientific Name: Sitta canadensis
The red-breasted nuthatch is a year-round resident throughout Canada and the western mountain regions and upper Appalachian Mountains of the United States, but it can be found throughout the United States in the winter months. Easily recognized by its boldly striped head and the red wash to its flanks, this nuthatch is active and perky, and will easily visit seed feeders and suet blocks in yards. Very bold birds, they are unafraid of humans and can even be hand-fed by patient birders.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Tufted Titmouse
Scientific Name: Baeolophus bicolor
The most familiar titmouse, the tufted titmouse is common in the eastern United States all year round, but they are more likely to visit feeders in the winter months, where they prefer seeds, suet and peanuts. These are also bold birds that can be hand fed, though the western titmice – juniper, oak, black-crested, and bridled – are less apt to become tame. Western variations are also less widespread, but still visit feeders regularly.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Dark-Eyed Junco
Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
The dark-eyed junco is so popular in the winter it is frequently called a "snowbird." There are actually several plumage variations of dark-eyed juncos, and the Oregon dark-eyed junco shown here is the most populous in the West. The plainer slate-colored bird is the most popular dark-eyed junco in the eastern United States. No matter what type of dark-eyed junco visits your feeders, however, white proso millet is their favorite food, and they prefer it from ground feeders or low platforms.Continue to 7 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Downy Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens
The smallest North American woodpecker, the downy woodpecker is common throughout the United States and Canada all year. These birds will visit feeders more frequently in the winter, however, particularly for suet mixes. Backyard birders can make their own simple suet recipe with sunflower seeds or millet mixed in. Leaving weed stalks and sunflower stalks up in the winter will also attract these birds, and they will also use bird roost boxes on cold nights.Continue to 8 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Snow Bunting
Scientific Name: Plectrophenax nivalis
Nesting in Arctic regions, the snow bunting migrates to spend winters in southern Canada and the northern United States. Easily recognizable with its white plumage and rusty collar, these birds can form large, active, hungry flocks as they visit feeders for different seeds, particularly white proso millet and sunflower seeds offered on the ground or in low platforms. They will flutter into the snow for winter baths, and even tunnel into the snow for roosting warmth. Backyard birders can encourage snow buntings to visit not only with the proper food, but also by planting low, brushy shrubs to provide attractive roosting areas.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Mountain Chickadee
Scientific Name: Poecile gambeli
Chickadees of all varieties are year-round residents in their specific ranges, and the mountain chickadee is common in the western mountain regions, particularly in coniferous forests. Chickadees will visit bird feeders for seed and seed-suet mixes, and in fact chickadees are some of the easiest winter birds to attract. The black-capped chickadee, the most common northern chickadee, as well as the southeastern Carolina chickadee, will also visit yards for similar foods. All of these lively birds will forage in trees with quick flits and jumps from branch to branch.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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Common Name: California Quail
Scientific Name: Callipepla californica
The California quail is a common year-round ground bird in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the western region of the United States. In winter, they can be found in large flocks foraging in fields and visiting feeders where seeds spill on the ground. At night, these birds will cuddle together in a tight roost to conserve heat, fluffing up their feathers to make their plump bodies even rounder. Providing the right food and sufficient shelter is key to attracting backyard quail in summer and winter.Continue to 11 of 12 below.
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Common Name: Pine Siskin
Scientific Name: Carduelis pinus
The pine siskin is a northern bird that breeds in central Canada. While its winter range is generally restricted to southern Canada and the extreme northern United States, this small finch has large irruption years when populations may spread as far south as Mexico. These birds often form large flocks and they will mix with American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches. They can be bullies at Nyjer feeders, however, as they protect their favorite seed with bold threat displays of thrusting bills and spread wings and tails.Continue to 12 of 12 below.
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Common Name: House Sparrow
Scientific Name: Passer domesticus
The house sparrow is a common and familiar bird year round throughout southern Canada, the United States and Mexico, and they bring lively flocking behavior to even the most isolated winter feeders. They will gladly eat a variety of seeds, but black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and millet are preferred, either from platform or hopper feeders. Brush piles, pine trees, and low shrubs are also favorite roosting spots, and these birds will cuddle together on cold winter nights to conserve heat. Some birders, however, prefer to discourage house sparrows because they are an invasive species in North America and can be bullies toward native birds.