Thursday, July 9, 2020

Feeding winter birds in Ohio

Ohio is a great place to set up a winter bird feeder. If you want to join in with others in this joyful pastime, you have come to the right place!

This article tells all about how and why to feed winter birds in Ohio. It also shows you pictures of some of the common winter feeder birds you can expect, along with brief identification. And this page tells you what foods to offer in order to attract these birds to your backyard.

Winter weather in Ohio is cold, very cold. Temperatures are slightly warmer as one moves south in the state. But that is relative. The average low temperature for the state in January is 15˚ F (-9.4˚ C). Snowfall amounts are also deeper in the north (especially the northeast) than in the south.

You might think that birds would be absent in these harsh winter conditions. But no. There are many birds in Ohio in winter, even in your backyard. But with snow frequently covering the natural food, birds will quickly come to your bird feeder!

In this article
Why feed winter birds in Ohio?
What birds come to feeders in Ohio in winter?
Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Ohio
Related articles

Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

Why feed winter birds in Ohio?

Many bird species spend the winter in Ohio. And many people feed birds in winter. In fact, because people feed birds, more bird numbers spend the winter in towns now than in the past. Many birds rely on some bird feeders to supplement their winter diet.

Even if many of the individual birds could survive winter without bird feeders, many do so more easily thanks to people like you who feed them.

Some of the birds that really benefit from backyard feeders are the young-of-the-year. These birds, only 6 months old or so, are experiencing their first Ohio winter! They lack the experience of older birds at finding food and water in cold and snowy conditions. Your feeders can really make a difference to these individuals.

Do the birds need us to feed them? Probably not. Or, usually not. 

Do we need to feed birds? Maybe so. Feeding birds brings us closer to nature and is good for our mental health. Watching birds at our feeders can relieve stress. It gives us joy, even on dreary days. You never know what new species may show up at your feeder, especially early in winter.

What birds come to feeders in Ohio in winter?

Fortunately for bird lovers, Ohio has many interesting birds that come to feeders in winter.

Following are a few photos and descriptions of the more common birds to visit your feeders. For a more complete list, including birds that visit your backyard at other times of year, please see my article on the common backyard birds of Ohio. I'll link to it again at the end of this article to remind you.

The summaries below list basic identification and tell what kind of foods each bird likes best. I also list the kind of bird feeders that the species prefers.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker
Photo by Greg Gillson

Downy Woodpecker: 

This tiny woodpecker is common in deciduous woods and backyards. 

They are common across North America from Alaska and across Canada and south through the United States. They stay away from the deserts of the West and Southwest, though. They are found year-round throughout Ohio.

Small and stocky, they have a very small chisel-pointed bill. They are black-and-white striped on the head. The wings and tail are black with white bars. The under parts are white. The back is white. Males have a small red spot on the nape.

They give a pik call and a rattle call in spring.

Downy Woodpeckers love suet in backyard feeders.

Photo of American Goldfinch on teasel
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

American Goldfinch: 

These birds love weedy grasslands and backyard feeders. 

In summer they live across southern Canada and the northern 1/2 of the United States. In winter they mostly leave Canada and may be found throughout all of the U.S. They live year-round in Ohio.

These are tiny birds, rather slim with short forked tails. The conical seed-eating bill is small. Males in summer are bright yellow with black wings and tail. In winter birds molt into a dull tan plumage with a bit of yellow on the throat. The black wings and tail have large pale edges.

Flight calls are a cheery chirping po-ta-to-chip!

American Goldfinches visit backyard feeders for black oil sunflower seeds in tube feeders. They really love Niger seed in special thistle feeders.

Photo of Tufted Titmouse on bird feeder
Tufted Titmouse
Image by anne773 from Pixabay

Tufted Titmouse: 

These relatives of chickadees live in deciduous woodlands in the eastern half of the United States. They live year-round in Ohio.

They are stocky with a big head and full tail. The bill is stout, though small. They are colored blue-gray above and pale gray below. There is a ring of black feathers around the eye and on the forehead.

They give a loud Peter Peter Peter song throughout the year and also chickadee-like calls.

Tufted Titmouses love to eat black oil sunflower seeds from hopper feeders.

Photo of Northern Cardinal in snow storm
Northern Cardinal
Image by tlparadis from Pixabay

Northern Cardinal: 

These familiar birds of eastern and southeastern deciduous forests lights up many backyards. They are year-round residents throughout Ohio.

They have a distinctive crest and full tail. The bill is heavy and colored orange. Males are bright red with black face. Females are pale brown.

They are quite vocal and sing throughout the year. Common calls songs include a whistled whoit whoit whoit or birdy birdy.

Northern Cardinals eat larger seeds including safflower and sunflower seeds. 

They prefer a feeder with a tray, so either a larger hopper feeder or platform feeder.

Photo of Mourning Dove on snag
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson

Mourning Dove: 

These pigeons are found throughout the United States in towns and farmlands. They are found throughout Ohio at all times of year.

They are stocky with a small round head. The tail is long and pointed. They are colored a fawn brown, with a pinkish hue on the breast.

They give a mournful cooing song: boo-hoo hoo hoo.

Mourning Doves eat a wide variety of seeds and grain, including sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and mixed bird seed. 

They like to eat on the ground or on platform feeders.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the ground
Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Greg Gillson

Dark-eyed Junco: 

Often called "snowbirds" because they arrive in backyards with the first snows.

They breed in conifer forests and mountains in Canada and the United States. In Ohio they breed in the northeastern corner of the state, but are only found in the winter in most of the state.

They are small and neckless with a thin tail that flashes white outer tail feathers. The form in Ohio is mostly slate gray with a white belly. Females show a bit of brown on the back.

They constantly twitter and smack as they feed. 

The spring song is a long musical trill on a single pitch.

Dark-eyed Juncos feed on the ground and like mixed bird seed. 

So they prefer platform feeders and hopper feeders.

Photo of House Finch in bird bath
House Finch
Photo by Greg Gillson

House Finch: 

These birds are found in open lands in the West, but in residential areas and backyards throughout most of the United States. They are found year-round throughout Ohio.

They are small with prominent heads and long tails. They are brownish above and pale below, heavily streaked with dark brown. Males have a red forehead, breast, and rump.

They give a chirping call: wheat. The song is given throughout the year and is a lively warble of high-pitched three-part notes.

House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds which they eat from hopper feeders and tube feeders.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch crawling on underside of branch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Photo by Greg Gillson

White-breasted Nuthatch: 

These birds are found in oak and pine woodlands across the United States and southern Canada. They are year-round residents in Ohio.

They are small, stout birds with big heads and long straight bills. The tail is very short. These birds are gray above with a black crown. The under parts and face is white.

The common call is a nasal yank yank yank.

White-breasted Nuthatches grab black oil sunflower seeds one-at-a-time from tube feeders and then go off to a tree to pound the seeds open and eat them.

Photo of Blue Jay in bird bath
Blue Jay
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Blue Jay: 

These boisterous birds are found in deciduous woods in eastern and central United States and central Canada. They are found throughout the year in Ohio.

Fairly large, they feature a large head with long stout bill and full tail. 

They are blue above, including a full crest. The under parts and face are white. These birds have a black necklace across the throat that goes up around the back of the head. There are white patches in the wings and tail.

Calls include a raspy jay jay jay and whistled wheedle notes.

Blue Jays eat sunflower seeds and peanuts from hopper and platform feeders.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker on tree trunk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Red-bellied Woodpecker: 

These larger woodpeckers are found in open woodlands and towns across the eastern United States. They are found throughout Ohio.

Stocky with a short stiff pointed tail, they have a big head and long chisel-shaped bill. They cling to tree trunks with powerful feet. 

The upperparts are black with numerous thin white bars. The under parts are pale gray. Both genders have red on the back of the neck, males have more red, continuing over the crown to the forehead.

They have a loud churrr call.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other nuts from platform and large hopper feeders.

Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Ohio

So what kinds of feeders and what kind of foods will attract the most birds in winter in Ohio?

I suggest starting with a larger hopper feeder with a large roof to keep off the snow. 

You can put in a mixed bird seed. But make sure it has plenty of black oil sunflower seeds and white proso millet. These should probably be listed as the first 2 ingredients. 

Also make sure that milo isn't listed as one of the first 4 to 5 ingredients. This filler seed isn't well liked by most birds. They'll toss it out of the feeder and make a mess. 

This hopper feeder will attract the cardinals, juncos, doves, jays and many others.

Next, set up a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds exclusively. Both the red finches and the goldfinches love these. So will the nuthatches and titmouses.

If you want to attract woodpeckers then set up a suet feeder. Try a variety with nuts for them. Many birds will eat suet in the winter. You can experiment with several different additives, such as nuts, seeds, fruit, or even mealworms.

Finally, a bird bath with a heater will supply all birds with drinking water. They need this especially when all the available ground water is frozen. You may find birds come for a drink that don't eat any of the foods you offer at your feeder.

These related articles should answer your questions on setting up a bird feeder and get you started viewing and identifying your backyard birds: 

The most common backyard birds in Ohio

My recommended bird feeder setup

Bird seeds that attract the most birds

Different kinds of bird feeders for different birds

Bird baths that birds actually use

Binoculars for beginning bird watchers

Bird watching books for beginners


  1. Very informative. I buy a bird feed wiht millet in it. I did not see millet mentioned. What about Millet?

    1. Yep. That is in the mixed seed I talked about--white proso millet.


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