Hundreds of Wisconsin winter birds can be found throughout the state during the snowy season. Some are there year-round while others visit just for the season. Among those birds, there are 21 bird species commonly seen in yards and at feeders in the 2021-2022 winter season.
In this article, you will find photos of the 21 common birds for easy identification, their winter diet & habitat information, range maps to determine if they’re likely to be found in your particular area, and the best food to offer them in winter to help them survive. Wisconsin winter bird identification has never been easier!
I’ve been backyard birdwatching in Wisconsin for more than 20 years and have seen many winter backyard 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.
21 Common Winter Birds in Wisconsin Backyards
According to data derived from Feederwatch.org for the winter season (12/11/21 – 3/4/22), the 21 most common birds to visit Wisconsin backyards are listed below.
Following the species name is a percentage that indicates how frequently that particular species was observed out of the 21 total birds. In other words, if all 21 common birds were to visit you could expect 8.5 Black-capped chickadees, 7.7 downy woodpeckers, and so on.
- Black-capped Chickadee (8.5%)
- Downy Woodpecker (7.7%)
- Dark-eyed Junco (7.6%)
- American Goldfinch (7.5%)
- Northern Cardinal (7%)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (6.8%)
- Mourning Dove (6.5%)
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (6.4%)
- House Finch (5.9%)
- Blue Jay (5.6%)
- Hairy Woodpecker (5.4%)
- House Sparrow (5.2%)
- Red-breasted Nuthatch (4.4%)
- Common Redpoll (2.8%)
- American Crow (2.4%)
- Tufted Titmouse (2.2%)
- European Starling (2.1%)
- Pine Siskin (1.7%)
- Pileated Woodpecker (1.6%)
- Purple Finch (1.5%)
- American Tree Sparrow (1.2%)
Wisconsin Winter Bird Identification Guide
The list of our feathered friends doesn’t do much good without photos and more information about them. Am I right?
Below you will find photos, a description of what they look like, what they eat will eat in nature as well as at your backyard bird feeder, and range maps for each of the 21 common backyard winter birds.
Water sources are important for wild birds in winter. By offering a heated birdbath (or two) and providing fresh water regularly, all of your feathered friends will benefit.
1. 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 (especially pine cones), 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, hulled peanuts, and mixed seeds.
Winter Habitat: Black-capped chickadees remain in Wisconsin for winter. They prefer the edges of coniferous forests (especially where pine cones are abundant) 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.
2. 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, vines, and other plants.
Feeder food: Suet, peanut butter spread, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, hulled peanuts, corn, fruits, nectar (sugar water), and mixed seed.
Winter Habitat: Downy woodpeckers spend all 12 months of the year in Wisconsin. Snow and ice don’t bother this little bird. This non-migrating woodpecker species can be found anywhere there are trees.
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 Wisconsin in wintertime. They enjoy a variety of habitats from thick coniferous forests (as well as deciduous) to wide-open spaces, partially wooded edges, parks, and especially backyards.
4. American Goldfinch
Winter appearance: The American goldfinch is a small bird about 4.5″ long. In fall, these finches 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 bird 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 Wisconsin when winter rolls around, some of them expand west and south.
5. Northern Cardinal
Appearance: Male northern cardinals are medium-sized bright red feathered 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 has buff-brown plumage with a tan crown + a tinge of red, red spots on the wings & tail.
Diet: In winter, northern cardinals forage for small berries and seeds left on the plants.
Feeder food: Northern cardinals are frequent backyard feeder visitors and enjoy black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, striped sunflower seed, hulled peanuts, and cracked corn.
Winter Habitat: Northern cardinals remain in Wisconsin year-round birds. They prefer edges of wooded areas, thickets, tangled vines, city parks, and our backyards.
6. 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 that are hibernating beneath the bark & seeds (especially pine cones).
Winter bird feeder food: Suet, sunflower seed, shelled peanuts.
Winter habitat: White-breasted nuthatches spend time in Wisconsin year-round among the snow and ice. They prefer mature deciduous and mixed forests (especially where the cone crop is abundant); 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.
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 head and back and iridescent colors around the neck. Large black eyes with light blue around the eyes. Pointy bill.
Winter diet: Seeds
Winter bird 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 Wisconsin’s lower 2/3 of the state. They prefer open areas and apparently don’t mind the chilly weather.
8. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Appearance: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized bird about 9 1/4″ long. They have a zebra-like feathered 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 that are hibernating beneath the tree bark, nuts, fruits (any that remain on fruit-bearing trees & shrubs), and seeds (especially pine cones).
Winter feeder food: Suet, hulled peanuts.
Winter habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers make Wisconsin their year-round in the lower 2/3 of the state. They prefer to be in or near forests and woodlands.
9. 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 spend all four seasons in Wisconsin’s lower 1/2 and eastern part of the state. They prefer to live around human dwellings (buildings, backyard trees, shrubs, and barns). Also are found in parks and other urban areas.
10. 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. The female plumage looks 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 Wisconsin year-round. They can be found in coniferous forests and wooded areas with mixed tree types. But, they’re also common in suburbs and urban areas.
11. 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 Wisconsin. They prefer mature forests, urban, and suburban areas where dense trees are found.
12. 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, milo, and mixed seed.
Winter habitat: House sparrows can be found in Wisconsin year-round. They’re found around people and buildings in the city, towns, villages, suburbs, and farms.
13. 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 and seeds (especially pine cones).
Winter feeder food: Suet, sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, fruit.
Winter habitat: Red-breasted nuthatches are found year-round in the northern part of Wisconsin. For the remainder of the state, they visit just for the chilly season. They’re usually spotted climbing upside-down on a deciduous tree foraging for insects beneath the bark. Coniferous forests are also a big draw – especially where the cone crop is abundant.
14. Common Redpoll
Appearance: Commonly known as the “winter finch”, the common redpoll is a small bird about 5″ long. It’s a heavily streaked bird with a bright red crown, a black spot beneath the chin, and raspberry splotch on its chest. In winter the plumage in the breast area becomes much redder/pink. The female is similar except without the raspberry chest and in winter adopts whiter underparts.
Winter diet: Seeds mostly. In winter flocks, they’ll feed on the ground or in seed-bearing trees
Winter backyard feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, and nyjer.
Winter habitat: In winter, most common redpolls leave their breeding area in northern Canada and head south. Many settle in Wisconsin for the winter. A few may show up even further south but those instances are infrequent. They prefer open areas lined with trees.
15. American Crow
Appearance: American crows are large all-black feathered 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 backyard feeders.
Winter Habitat: American crows are common birds found throughout the US including Wisconsin. The types of habitat they prefer include fields, open wooded and forested areas, river edges, shores, towns, cities, parks, and more.
16. 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 backyard feeder food: Suet.
Winter habitat: Tufted titmice are year-round birds in the southern half of frozen Wisconsin. They prefer orchards because of the fruit availability and often hang around them through the snow season to glean whatever remains on the vines. They also live in deciduous wooded areas or mixed woods.
17. 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 your backyard feeder.
Winter habitat: Starlings are year-round birds in Wisconsin. A handful of them migrates 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.
18. Pine Siskin
Appearance: The pine siskin is a small brown bird about 5″ long with streaks on the back, breast, and belly. There’s faint yellow plumage in the wing bars at end of the tail. The female is similar but has less yellow on the wings and tail.
Winter diet: Seeds.
Winter backyard feeder food: Nyjer, black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, and suet.
Winter habitat: Pine siskins expand their range considerably during the winter. While many remain in their year-round home in northern Wisconsin, others settle throughout the rest of the state for the snow-filled winter. They prefer open areas and wooded edges.
19. 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 remain in Wisconsin for winter, except for the southeastern part of the state where they’re rare. 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.
20. 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.
Backyard Feeder food: Black oil sunflower seeds are their favorite.
Habitat: Many purple finches in the northern part of Wisconsin stay there for winter while others migrate south into the remaining part of the state just for the season. They prefer coniferous forests in summer along with mixed forests near streams and tree-lined backyards.
21. 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 backyard feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.
Winter habitat: American tree sparrows migrate to Wisconsin just for the winter. They prefer wooded areas, especially on the edges.
More Wisconsin Winter Birds
OK so we revealed the 21 common backyard winter birds but what about the others? I got you! Some birds stay in the state for winter while others visit just during winter after the first flake of snow drops.
If you live in a certain part of the state you may be wondering which birds you might see in your neck of the woods.
Let’s break it down.
Wisconsin birds that stay in winter
Let’s praise the year-round birds that decide to stay in Wisconsin for winter. They deserve props!
Some of them are part of the 21 common backyard winter birds while others are not. Here are the birds that stay in Wisconsin for the winter.
|Canada Jay (Gray Jay)|
|Great Horned Owl|
Wisconsin Winter Birds Just Visiting for the Season
If you live in Wisconsin like me, it’s hard to imagine any bird species would intentionally migrate to the badger state for the winter. After all, the temperatures and climate can be frozen and downright windy!
Only a few bold bird species travel to Wisconsin for winter yet live outside the state for the other seasons. They are common redpolls, pine grosbeaks, American tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, white-throated sparrows, snow buntings, northern shrikes, great gray owls, gyrfalcon, rough-legged hawk, and snowy owls.
I’m thankful for the variety these birds bring to the landscape as well as another opportunity to look forward to winter. Below are photos of each of these birds. More detail about these birds is found later in the article.
American Tree Sparrow
Winter Birds in Northern Wisconsin
Do you live in northern Wisconsin and wonder which winter birds you can expect to see – before the first snowflake falls? No problem. They’re all listed below.
|American Tree Sparrow|
|Gray Jay (Canada Jay)|
|Great Horned Owl|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Great Gray Owl|
Winter Birds in Southern Wisconsin
I didn’t forget about you southern Wisconsinites! Below are the birds you can expect to see in winter:
|American Tree Sparrow|
|Bald Eagle ??|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Great Horned Owl|
Bird Feeders in Winter
Remember to continue cleaning your bird feeders and birdbaths throughout winter. Wisconsin winters can bring a variety of precipitation including snow, sleet, and rain. Temperatures can vary as well anywhere from 60 degrees to -65 degrees. All these conditions can cause the bird seed to clump, grow bacteria, and make the birds sick. Yes, even in winter!
While winter in Wisconsin seems like an eternity for many of us Wisconsinites, observing the common bird visitors in winter backyard birds makes it a bit more bearable.
By filling your backyard feeders with their favorite foods and providing fresh water, you’re sure to attract a wide variety of them.
When spring arrives it’s time to say goodbye to the common redpolls, American tree sparrows, and other winter visitors, and hello again to the migrators returning home to Wisconsin.
I hope you were able to identify the winter Wisconsin bird you’re interested in or at least learned more about them. Happy Birding!