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Common Backyard Winter Birds

Northern Cardinal

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.

American Robin

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.

Tufted Titmouse

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.

Chickadee (Parus).

This bird sings its name, "Chickadee-dee-dee," as it flits about tree branches. Chickadees nest in excavated softwood, often using birch trees. The black-capped chickadee (P. atricapillus), measures 4-1/2 inches. Six species of chickadee are found in various regions of North America; besides the black-capped, they are boreal, Carolina, chestnut-backed, Mexican, and mountain. These birds feed on insects, seeds, and fruit.


(Sialia). Western (S. mexicana) and eastern bluebirds (S. sialis) make their nests in the soft wood of decaying trees. Both are 7 inches long. The western bluebird is found west of the Rockies. The eastern bluebird is becoming reestablished after a period of decline. Bluebirds will settle in nest boxes provided by gardeners and also enjoy a local birdbath. To survive the winter, they depend on food sources such as berries, spiders, and insects.

Eastern or rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

This 7- to 8-inch bird, which resembles the more familiar robin, is found throughout the eastern United States; the western rufous-sided towhee has white spots on its back and shoulders. The brown towhee (P. fuscus), common in the West, is found on hillsides, in scrubby or wooded areas, and in coastal gardens. In winter these birds enjoy acorns and berries.

Woodpecker. These birds peck wood in search of wood-boring insects; they also enjoy ripe berries. In an interesting adaptation for clinging to branches, the birds' stiff tail feathers act as additional support when they stand vertically on branches, two toes forward, two back. Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) enjoy bright red viburnum berries. They measure 6 to 7 inches and are found throughout North America.

House Finch.

House finches are granivorous birds that eat primarily seeds, including sunflower seeds, weed seeds, and grains. Fruit, sap, and plant buds also make up part of their diet depending on the season and local food abundance, and they may even visit hummingbird feeders for a sip of nectar. They pick seeds carefully from plants and nibble away the hulls to reach the nutritious kernels, and they also forage on the ground for fallen seeds.



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