Hundreds of Indiana winter birds can be found throughout the state during the snowy season. Some are there year-round while others visit just for the snowy season. Among those birds, there are 30 species that consistently visited yards and feeders in the 2021-2022 winter season. This article reveals those 30 species and provides details about each one including what they look like, the habitat they’re typically found in, and what they eat in winter.
I’ve been backyard birding in Wisconsin for more than 25 years and have seen many of the same winter birds. While winter isn’t my favorite season (especially when the temps are below zero and the icy winds howl) I’m thankful I have the winter birds to look forward to. Somehow, winter birds make the season more bearable.
30 Indiana Winter Birds
According to data derived from Feederwatch.org for the winter season December 11, 2021, through March 4, 2022), the 30 most frequent Indiana backyard visitors are below. They’re listed in the order of the most frequent visitor to the least.
- Northern Cardinal
- House Finch
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Downy Woodpecker
- House Sparrow
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Mourning Dove
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Blue Jay
- American Goldfinch
- Tufted Titmouse
- European Starling
- Carolina Chickadee
- Carolina Wren
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Eastern Bluebird
- Song Sparrow
- American Robin
- Northern Flicker
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- White-throated Sparrow
- American Crow
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Pileated Woodpecker
- American Tree Sparrow
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Purple Finch
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Red-headed Woodpecker
A list of winter birds is only useful if you can identify them out your back window. No worries! Below are the 30 Indiana winter birds along with color photos & appearance descriptions of the male vs female of each species, range maps, diet & feeder food information as well as detailed habitat explanations.
1. Northern Cardinal
Appearance: Male northern cardinals are medium-sized bright red birds about 8 1/2″ long with a black mask, red crown, orange beak, and black areas on wings and tail. The female cardinal also has an orange beak but is buff-brown with a tan crown + a tinge of red, red spots on the wings & tail.
Diet: In winter, northern cardinals primarily forage for small berries and seeds.
Feeder food: Northern cardinals are frequent feeder visitors and enjoy black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, striped sunflower seed, hulled peanuts, and cracked corn.
Habitat: Northern cardinals remain in Indiana year-round birds. They prefer edges of wooded areas, thickets, tangled vines, city parks, and our backyards.
2. House Finch
Appearance: The house finch is a small bird about 5″ long, orange/red face, chest, and rump. Brown wings streaked with white. White belly with brown streaks. The Female and juvenile are brown with streaks of white.
Winter Diet: Seeds, fruit.
Winter Feeder Food: Black oil sunflower seed is their favorite.
Winter habitat: House finches are another of Indiana’s year-round birds. They prefer to live around human dwellings (buildings, backyard trees, shrubs, and barns). Also are found in parks and other urban areas.
3. Dark-eyed Junco
Appearance: Dark-eyed juncos are tiny birds about 5.5″ – 6.5″ long. Males are dark gray with a white underside and pink bill. Females are the same except brownish gray.
Winter Diet: Seeds.
Winter Feeder Food: Nyjer, black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, hulled peanuts, and suet.
Winter habitat: Dark-eyed juncos only visit Indiana in wintertime. They enjoy a variety of habitats from thickly forested areas (both coniferous and deciduous) to wide-open spaces, partially wooded edges, parks, and especially backyards.
4. Downy Woodpecker
Appearance: Downy woodpeckers are small birds 6″ – 7″ long. Males are tuxedo-black with a white stripe on the back, white belly, white outer tail feathers, some spotted areas of white on the wings, a yellow/tan spot above the beak, and the infamous red patch on his head at the back of the crown. Females are nearly identical without red coloring.
Diet: Fruit and berries that remain on the trees, shrubs, and vines.
Feeder food: Suet, peanut butter spread, Sunflower seeds, Safflower seeds, hulled peanuts, corn, fruits, nectar (sugar water).
Habitat: Downy woodpeckers spend all 12 months of the year in Indiana. This non-migrating woodpecker species can be found anywhere there are trees.
5. House Sparrow
Winter appearance: House sparrows are small birds about 6″ long, brown with a large grayish-edged bib (in spring & summer the bib becomes a prominent black) and chin down to the chest. White wing bar and gray belly & crown. The Female is a bit smaller, all light brown and not black.
Winter diet: Seeds and fruit.
Winter feeder food: Black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Winter habitat: House sparrows can be found in Indiana year-round. They’re found around people and buildings in the city, towns, villages, suburbs, and farms.
6. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Appearance: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized bird about 9 1/4″ long. They have a zebra-like striped back with a white rump. The red crown extends down the nape of the neck. The chest is tan with just a tinge of red on the belly. The females are the same except they don’t have a red crown.
Winter diet: Insects hibernate beneath the tree bark, nuts, and fruits that remain on fruit-bearing trees & shrubs.
Winter feeder food: Suet, hulled peanuts.
Winter habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers make Indiana their year-round home as well as other eastern states. They prefer to be in or near forests and woodlands.
7. Mourning Dove
Appearance: A large bird about 12″ long smooth with fawn colors. Black spots on the wings and tail. A single black spot below and behind the eyes. Wide brown tail with white edges. Red-orange legs. Gray patch between the head and back and iridescent colors around the neck. Large black eyes with light blue around the eyes. Pointy bill.
Winter diet: Seeds
Winter feeder food: Will come to eat seeds that drop below the feeder as they are ground foragers.
Winter habitat: Mourning doves spend all seasons in Indiana. They prefer open areas.
8. White-breasted Nuthatch
Appearance: The white-breasted nuthatch is a small bird about 5-6″ long with a gray/blue back, white head with a black cap, chestnut under the tail, and a long thin pick-like beak. Females look similar except their cap and neck are gray.
Winter diet: Insects hibernating beneath the bark & seeds.
Winter feeder food: Suet, sunflower seed, shelled peanuts.
Winter habitat: White-breasted nuthatches spend time in Indiana year-round. They prefer mature deciduous and mixed forests; wooded suburban areas such as orchards, parks, and backyards and are usually spotted moving head-first down a tree trunk foraging for insects beneath the bark.
9. Blue Jay
Appearance: Large bird 12″ long, medium blue & white body, blue crest (which he flattens at will), gray belly, and white face. White & blue wings with black spots. Females look the same.
Winter diet: Fruit and seeds that remain on the trees, shrubs, and vines as well as nuts.
Winter feeder food: Whole peanuts, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn.
Winter habitat: Blue jays remain in Indiana year-round. They can be found in forested areas with mixed tree types but are also common in suburbs and urban areas.
10. American Goldfinch
Winter appearance: The American goldfinch is a small bird about 4.5″ long. In fall, goldfinches molt their bright yellow feathers revealing a dingy brown body, duller yellow head, and thicker white stripes on their wings for winter. Females are similar to males except their wings have more white tips
Winter diet: Seeds they can glean from seed-bearing flowers (weeds, grasses) that are still standing and (dormant) insects.
Winter feeder food: Thistle seed (Nyjer)
Winter habitat: They’re a common bird in winter throughout the contiguous US. You can find them in weedy fields, roadsides, orchards, and backyards.
Winter range: American goldfinches are partial migrators. While most of them spend all four seasons of the year in Indiana, when winter rolls around some of them expand west and south.
11. Tufted Titmouse
Appearance: The tufted titmouse is a small bird about 6″ long with slate gray above, white on its chest, belly, and around the eyes. Below the wings is a patch of rusty brown, the legs are gray and the eyes are dark. They have a pointed “tuft” crest.
Winter diet: Seeds and fruits left on the branches & vines.
Winter feeder food: Suet.
Winter habitat: Tufted titmice are year-round birds in Indiana. They prefer orchards because of the fruit availability and often hang around them through winter to glean whatever remains on the vines. They also live in deciduous wooded areas or mixed woods.
12. European Starling
Appearance: The European starling is a medium-sized bird about 7 1/2″ long with iridescent shades of purple and black with white speckles throughout. They have a long pointed gray bill in fall and yellow in spring. The tail is short. The female of the species looks the same.
Winter diet: Seeds and fruit that happen to remain on the barren branches.
Winter feeder food: Everything and anything you could offer at the feeder.
Winter habitat: Most starlings remain in Indiana year-round while a handful of them migrate south into Mexico. They don’t have a strong preference for habitat but are commonly found in urban and residential areas including backyard lawns, parks, and fields.
13. Carolina Chickadee
Appearance: The Carolina chickadee is a small bird about 5″ long. They’re primarily gray on top and white underneath. They have a black cap & throat, white cheeks that fade to gray in the back, and buffy tan flanks.
Winter diet: Seeds and small fruits leftover on shrubs and trees.
Winter feeder food: Sunflower seeds, peanut chips, and suet.
Did you know? Chickadees are often associated with happiness and optimism. When you see one, it might be a reminder to maintain a positive outlook and focus on the bright side of life. This can help you attract more positive experiences and opportunities.
Winter habitat: Carolina chickadees spend winter in their year-round range which includes the southern 2/3 of Indiana. They prefer woodlands and wooded edges, suburbs, and city parks.
14. Carolina Wren
Appearance: The Carolina wren is a small bird about 5 1/2″ long, chunky shape with deep rusty brown above and cinnamon color below. Bold white stripe above the eye and throat. Down curved bill.
Winter diet: Insects and spiders.
Winter feeder food: Hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, and suet.
Winter habitat: Carolina wrens spend all four seasons, including winter, in Indiana. They prefer brushy woods and wooded backyards.
15. Hairy Woodpecker
Appearance: The hairy woodpecker is a medium-sized black-and-white bird about 9″ long with a white belly and black wings with white spots. A white stripe runs down the back. They have a red mark on the back of the head and a long black bill. The female is the same except with no red mark.
Winter diet: Seeds, nuts, and any hibernating insects they can find beneath the tree bark.
Winter feeder food: Suet, hulled peanuts.
Winter habitat: Hairy woodpeckers are year-round birds in Indiana. They prefer mature forests, urban, and suburban areas where dense trees are found.
16. Eastern Bluebird
Appearance: 7″ long, royal blue, orange throat & breast, white belly & undertail. The female is similar but has more muted colors
Winter Diet: Small fruit left on the branches of trees, shrubs, and vines.
Winter Feeder food: Suet, sunflower seeds, dried fruit.
Winter Habitat: Most eastern bluebirds remain in Indiana for winter while a few expand south and west as far as Colorado and Mexico. They prefer wide-open spaces, fields, & meadows, and will roost in tree cavities or manmade birdhouses to stay warm.
17. Song Sparrow
Appearance: Song sparrows are small birds between 5-6″ in length with round heads and varying shades of brown streaks on the chest that converge into a central dark spot. They have dark brown eyes, short stubby beaks, and long, round tails. The females appear the same.
Winter diet: Seeds.
Winter feeder food: Unlikely to visit a feeder.
Winter habitat: Song sparrows remain in Indiana for winter. They prefer open areas and edges of woodlands.
18. American Robin
Appearance: Medium-size bird about 10″ long, gray/brown upper, brown/orange underparts, yellow beak, white chin, white surrounding eyes. orange beak. The Female has a lighter head and underparts.
Winter diet: In winter, robins eat berries and other fruits left on shrubs, trees, and vines.
Feeder food: Robins do not visit feeders.
Habitat: In wintertime, American robins stay put in Indiana. They’re typically found in fields, parks, wooded and forested areas, mountains, and backyards.
19. Northern Flicker
Appearance: The northern flicker is a large bird about 12.5″ long. They have brown backs with black bars, a black crescent on the upper chest, and white with black spots on the belly and underparts.
• In the eastern part of their range, they are referred to as “yellow-shafted northern flickers” and have bright yellow underwings and undertail. They have a gray crown, tan face, and a red patch on the nape. The male has a black swipe on his cheek, the female does not.
• In the western part of their range, they are referred to as “red-shafted northern flickers” and have pink underwings and undertail, brown crown, gray face, and crown & nape brown. The male has a red swipe on his cheek, the female does not.
Winter diet: Insects they’re able to find hibernating beneath tree bark.
Winter feeder food: Unlikely to visit a feeder.
Winter habitat: Northern flickers remain in Indiana for winter. They prefer open areas near trees.
20. Black-Capped Chickadee
Appearance: Black-capped chickadees are small birds about 5 1/4″ long. They have a black cap – as well as a black throat and cheek. They have white breasts and bellies, and the body and wings are a gray-olive color with edges of white. During the winter their belly changes to a buffer tan.
Diet: Seeds, small fruits, and berries that remain on the trees, shrubs, and vines.
Feeder Food: Black-oil sunflower & safflower seeds (They peck a hole in the shell to get at the tiny seed bits inside), suet, peanut butter, and hulled peanuts.
Habitat: Black-capped chickadees remain in the northern 1/2 of Indiana for winter. They prefer the edges of forests and open wooded areas – including your backyard or even tree-lined parks in the city. They will also hang out in shrubs and willow thickets. Trees are still important for this bird because they are cavity nesters and offer a much-needed place to roost in winter.
21. White-throated Sparrow
Appearance: The white-throated sparrow is a small bird about 6-7″ long. They’re brown with a gray chest & belly and have a small yellow spot between their eyes (lore). They also have a white patch on their throat & crown, and white or tan stripes alternating with black stripes. Females and males are the same.
Winter diet: Seeds.
Winter feeder food: Millet and sunflower seeds.
Winter habitat: White-throated sparrows migrate south for the winter and many settle in Indiana. They prefer forested areas of coniferous and deciduous trees.
22. American Crow
Appearance: American crows are large all-black birds about 16-20″ long, with wide necks with long straight bills. Males and females have the same appearance.
Diet: They’re opportunistic scavengers who eat just about anything they can find on the ground – especially garbage. Natural living fare includes insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, and other birds’ eggs & young.
Feeder Food: Crows do not visit feeders.
Winter Habitat: American crows are common birds found throughout the US including Indiana. The types of habitat they prefer include fields, open wooded and forested areas, river edges, shores, towns, cities, parks, and more.
23. Cooper’s Hawk
Appearance: Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized bird about 15-18″ long. They’re blue-gray with rusty underparts, and a black cap.
Winter diet: Medium-sized birds such as doves, jays, and robins as well as small mammals as large as squirrels.
Winter feeder food: They don’t visit feeders.
Winter habitat: Many Cooper’s hawks remain in Indiana for winter while a small number of them migrate south for warmer temps. They prefer forests and forested areas.
24. Pileated Woodpecker
Appearance: A large bird about 19″ in length. They’re mostly black with white stripes on their face and neck with white underwings. The flaming red triangle-shaped crest is unmistakable and the male also has a red stripe on his cheek. The female is the same except her crest does not go all the way to her bill. And, she does not have a red stripe on her cheek.
Winter diet: Insects that they drive out of hibernation from beneath the tree bark – especially carpenter ants.
Winter feeder food: Suet, shelled peanuts, safflower seed, sunflower seed.
Winter habitat: Pileated woodpeckers spend winters in their year-round range which includes the western and southern parts of Indiana. You can find them in forested and wooded areas that offer tall deciduous (leafy trees like maple & beech), coniferous trees (like evergreen & pine), and lower fruit & nut-bearing trees & shrubs.
25. American Tree Sparrow
Appearance: The American tree sparrow is a small bird about 6″ long. It’s brown with a tan breast and a rust-colored crown. They have a single black spot in the center of the chest, a dark upper bill, and a yellow lower bill. Eyes are accented with gray eyebrows. The female looks the same.
Winter diet: Seeds.
Winter feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.
Winter habitat: American tree sparrows migrate south for the winter and many settle in Indiana for the season. They prefer wooded areas, especially on the edges.
26. Red-winged Blackbird
Appearance: Red-winged blackbirds are medium-sized jet-black birds about 8 1/2″ long with red and yellow patches on the shoulder of their upper wings. They have pointy black bills. The females are brown and heavily streaked. She has white eyebrows and a brown bill.
Winter diet: Seeds, grains, and berries if there are any leftovers on the trees & shrubs.
Winter feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet.
Winter habitat: Red-winged blackbirds remain in Indiana for winter. During this season they gather in large flocks, often with grackles, cowbirds, and starlings. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see them in your backyard.
27. Red-breasted Nuthatch
Appearance: Red-breasted nuthatches are about 4.5″ long, have gray/blue backs, white heads with black stripes running over either eye, orange-cinnamon-colored breasts, and a pointy pick-like beak. Females look the same except their underside is a more faded color.
Winter diet: Insects that are hibernating beneath the tree bark.
Winter feeder food: Suet, sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, fruit.
Winter habitat: Red-breasted nuthatches visit Indiana just for the winter. They’re usually spotted climbing upside-down on a deciduous tree foraging for hibernating insects beneath the bark.
28. Purple Finch
Appearance: The purple finch is a small bird about 6″ long with a raspberry-red head with lighter shades on the breast, back, and rump. The wings and tail are brown. Females are brown with brown striped breasts and white streaks across their eyes.
Diet: Seeds, insects, and fruit.
Feeder food: Black oil sunflower seeds are their favorite.
Habitat: Purple finches visit Indiana just for the winter. They prefer coniferous forests in summer along with mixed forests near streams and tree-lined backyards.
29. Brown-headed Cowbird
Appearance: The brown-headed cowbird is a medium-sized bird about 7 1/2″ long. The male is a glossy black with a chocolate brown head with a long pointed gray bill. The female is a dull brownish-gray.
Winter diet: Seeds.
Winter feeder food: Mixed birdseed.
Winter habitat: Brown-headed cowbirds make southern Indiana their home year-round, including winter. They prefer thick shrubs, wooded edges, and hedgerows.
30. Red-headed Woodpecker
Appearance: Red-headed woodpeckers are medium-sized birds about 9″ long with a red head, black back, white rump, chest, and belly. They also have white patches on their wings, a black tail, and gray legs & bill. The female is the same as the male.
Winter diet: Nuts, seeds, and insects hibernating beneath tree bark.
Winter feeder food: Suet and hulled peanuts.
Winter habitat: During winter, red-headed woodpeckers stay in Indiana. They prefer open woodlands especially when ample deciduous trees are present.
What Birds Eat in the Winter in Indiana
Winter is a challenging time for wild birds – especially those that settle in midwest states like Indiana.
The plummeting temperatures, wind, and icy precipitation create the need for wildlife to stay warm in order to survive.
Living food is either hibernating (insects) or died off (plants) leaving wild birds with fewer food options. That’s why many Indiana winter birds switch to a winter menu of seeds, nuts, and whatever berries they can find left on the plants and trees.
How to Help Indiana Winter Birds Survive the Season
The average low temp in Indiana from December – March is 46 degrees. January lows can get closer to zero which means wild birds will expend even more energy finding food. And, water will be frozen.
You can help birds survive this frigid time by offering high-calorie foods at the feeder and water they can drink and bathe in.
Offer Indiana Winter Birds Water
The waterways are likely frozen during parts of winter. Your birdbath will also be frozen. That’s why I recommend putting out a heated birdbath for our feathered friends.
A heated birdbath ensures liquid water is available so they get the hydration they need without expending too much much-needed energy.
I tested several different heated birdbaths and found three models to be the best. In other words, these birdbaths are safe & effective, durable, easy to clean, and a good value. I love the stylish Songbird Essentials heated birdbath but a more affordable API heated birdbath also does the job and looks great!
Offer Indiana Winter Birds High-Calorie Feeder Food
If you hang a bird feeder during this time it won’t take much to entice them. They know they need additional calories to stay warm and less energy expenditure searching for food means they can conserve it for other crucial activities like staying warm.
In order to supply the calories birds need to stay warm and survive the winter, you should offer high-calorie food at the bird feeder. The higher fat, the better!
The table below lists high-calorie foods birds love along with the birds you can attract with that food. I recommend offering suet (pure is better but suet cakes with high-fat content are great too) at a minimum.
|Food||Fat Content*||Indiana Winter Birds It Will Attract|
|Suet (Pure beef or pork fat)||100%||Crows, robins, chickadees, blue jays, Carolina wrens, woodpeckers (including northern flickers), eastern bluebirds, starlings, nuthatches, tufted titmouse|
|Suet Cake||25 – 95% (depending on contents)||Crows, robins, chickadees, blue jays, Carolina wrens, woodpeckers (including northern flickers), eastern bluebirds, starlings, nuthatches, tufted titmouse|
|Peanuts (Hulled & Unsalted)||45%||Crows, chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers (including northern flickers), starlings|
|Black-Oil Sunflower Seeds||30%||All except robins, and woodpeckers.|
|Safflower Seeds||30%||Chickadees, blue jays, juncos, woodpeckers, house finch, northern cardinal, northern flicker, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch|
|Seed Mix||10 – 50%||All|
*Fat content derived from Kaytee brand of bird seed. Other brands may vary.
Best Feeders for Indiana Winter Birds
The best feeder is dependent on the food you’re offering and how often you want to fill the feeder.
I love platform feeders because you can toss any size, shape, and type of food on them. You can even chop up a suet block and toss it onto the feeder. In fact, I can’t think of a food you couldn’t offer on a platform feeder.
Platform feeders also attract and support the largest variety of species from tiny juncos to cardinals and blue jays.
The open style of this feeder requires you to put food out on a regular basis so it is consumed every day or so. Once it snows, the remaining food is covered and becomes less appealing to birds. I prefer to monitor & manage the quantity of food I put out and love the variety of birds it attracts, so platform feeders are my favorite.
Covered Platform Feeders
Similar to the standard platform feeder, covered platform feeders accept any type of bird food and allow many species to feed from it. The difference is it has a domed cover which helps to keep precipitation like sleet and snow from building up. They’re also easy to clean and durable.
You can make your own covered platform feeder like the one in the picture above, or buy a covered platform feeder.
If you prefer to fill a feeder once a week or so, the tube feeder is for you. However, unlike platform feeders, tube feeders are limited to sunflower seeds and mixed seeds.
This style feeder will still attract a variety of birds but the perches on this style feeder are relatively short so larger birds like cardinals and bluejays will be challenged to use it.
Suet and suet cakes usually come in square blocks. You can easily chop them up and toss them onto platform feeders but that’s not feasible with a tube feeder.
Instead, you will need a suet feeder that holds the block of food and enables birds to perch on the wire mesh to feed.
This style feeder is most suited for woodpeckers and nuthatches. If you want to host the largest woodpecker in North America, the pileated woodpecker, make sure you choose a large suet feeder to support them.
While winter in Indiana may seem to last for an eternity, observing the winter birds makes it a bit more bearable. When spring arrives it’s time to say goodbye to the Juncos and American tree sparrows that came to visit just for the season, and hello again to the migrators returning home to Indiana.
I hope you were able to identify the winter Indiana winter bird you’re interested in or at least learned more about them. Happy Birding!