Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Feeding winter birds in New Jersey

Feeding backyard birds is a popular winter pastime. It is the perfect combination of indoor/outdoor activity. Enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your warm home!

Are you thinking about trying bird feeding for the first time? Or, perhaps, you have tried it, but are looking for some tips for making your winter bird feeding adventure more successful and enjoyable.

This article tells why and how to set up a bird feeder in New Jersey in the winter. I'll also show you photos of the common feeder birds in New Jersey that you can look for at your own backyard feeder! I will give brief identification tips. I will tell you what foods and what type of feeders attract each species.

Winters are fairly cold in New Jersey. The northwestern part of the state is colder than the more mild coastal areas. Winter temperatures generally range from a high of 34-43° F and a low of 16-28° F.

Snowfall can happen October to April. It ranges from 40-50 inches in the north to 10-15 inches in the south.

Despite the cold winter weather, many birds spend the winter and will show up at your feeders. In fact, many of the birds found at your feeder in winter will remain in your backyard all year long.



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



Photo of bird feeders in the snow outside some homes


Why feed winter birds in New Jersey?

Each type of bird follows its own species' instinctive pattern to decide where to spend the winter. This has worked out for them for hundreds and even thousands of generations. 

However, we have been experiencing very unstable weather patterns lately. These are expected to continue. These extreme weather events put stress on birds. This stress adds up. Eventually, it may mean that more and more birds don't survive the winter.

You can help the birds survive the winter and bring joy to your life as well!

Watching and feeding birds helps people reconnect with nature. It reminds us that our actions--no matter how seemingly insignificant--can have real positive effects on the natural world. 

You may not be able to save the world alone. But you are not alone. Millions of people feed birds. Millions of people care about the environment. This is one little thing you can do to make it better.

Do you have children or grandchildren? Feeding birds is a great way to bond with them. 

Feeding winter birds teaches children about the interconnectedness of nature. It helps them get away from their electronic devices and look around at living things they share the planet with. Children are evermore disconnected from the natural world.


What birds come to feeders in winter in New Jersey?

In this section I will show the most common winter birds to come to feeders in New Jersey.

I include photos and brief descriptions. My hope is that you will learn these most common birds in your area. 

Of course, you can feed birds without identifying them. But often, putting a name to something is the first step to getting to know it better. Caring.

I have also written another article on common backyard birds of New Jersey. That article includes birds all through the year. It also includes backyard birds that don't necessarily eat at bird feeders. When you are done with this article, please check out The most common backyard birds of New Jersey. I'll link to it again at the end of this article.


Photo of White-throated Sparrow at bird bath
White-throated Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

White-throated Sparrow

This northern bird winters across much of the eastern United States.

They scratch in the leaves on the ground. When startled, they usually fly into low saplings, unlike other sparrows that dive into low dense bushes.

This woodland and brush-loving sparrow breeds across Canada and the extreme northeastern parts of the US. In winter they move south. They winter in the East and South. They are rare, but regular, along the West Coast.

White-throated Sparrows winter throughout New Jersey. This is just on the edge of their breeding range. A few birds may be found in higher elevations throughout the year.

They are longer than many other plump sparrows, with a long tail. The conical bill tells that they eat seeds.

They are striped tan and brown above. The breast is gray, contrasting strongly with a bright white throat. The head is striped tan-and-brown in juveniles and some adults. Other adults have head stripes of back-and-white. All ages and color forms have a bright spot of yellow feathers above the front of the eyes.

These birds may sing throughout the year, a plaintive whistle: Ole Sam Peabody, Peabody or Oh, Sweet Canada, Canada. They have a surprisingly loud chip! note frequently given at dawn and dusk.

White-throated Sparrows eat black oil sunflower seeds and some of the smaller mixed seeds. They will eat on platform and hopper feeders, but often clean up seeds on the ground spilled from the feeder above.


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

Downy Woodpecker

These cute little birds frequent backyards and feeders. In winter singles or a pair often attach themselves to flocks of chickadees and other small songbirds.

They climb up small tree trunks, saplings, and branches. They often stay quite low. They peck at the bark, dislodging insects.

They are resident in deciduous woods and stream sides from Alaska, across Canada, and all of the United States except for desert lands.

Downy Woodpeckers are found year-round throughout New Jersey.

As with all woodpeckers, the body is stocky. The short tail is stiff pointed. The head is large. Unlike most woodpeckers, this species has a small stubby bill, rather than the typical longer chisel-shaped bill. They have strong legs and feet with which they cling to tree trunks and other surfaces.

These birds are black above, white below. The back is white. The wings are spotted with white. The tail is black with white outer tail feathers. The head is striped black and white. The male has a red spot on the back of the head which the female lacks.

In winter their call is a sharp pik note.

At the feeder they may eat small seeds or nuts, but are primarily attracted to the suet feeder.


Photo of Northern Cardinal at bird feeder
Northern Cardinal
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

Northern Cardinal

This bird's image seems to be on every bird feeder and bird seed package. And no wonder--it's one of the most common backyard birds in the eastern and southern United States.

Cardinals often forage in low bushes or on the ground. In winter may be found in small flocks, often with other sparrows and juncos.

These birds live in woodlands, stream sides, and suburban gardens. They are found year-round in extreme southeastern Canada and across the eastern United states west to Minnesota and SE North Dakota, south through Texas, and from there west to Arizona and south through lowlands of Mexico.

Northern Cardinals are found year-round throughout New Jersey.

These are medium-large songbirds and fairly plump. They have a full rounded tail. The bill is very large and cone-shaped. The signature crest may be held obviously upright or slicked backed and inconspicuous.

Males are bright red with blackish face. Females are more subdued pale brownish. Both share the red bill and crested head.

The common call in winter is a loud chip. However, they sing year-round in whistled phrases repeated 3 times, such as cheer cheer cheer or birdy birdy birdy.

Northern Cardinals eat larger sunflower and safflower seeds from platform feeders or larger hopper feeders. They may frequently be seen on the ground under the feeder cleaning up any fallen seeds.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch on a branch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Photo by Greg Gillson

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches are instantly identifiable as short tailed birds that walk head-first down the tree trunk. 

They are also very acrobatic at your bird feeder. They grab a single large seed and then fly off to pound it open to eat or cache it away for eating later in winter.

These birds are found in deciduous trees in the East. In the West, they are found in oak and ponderosa pine forests. They are found across southern Canada, most of the United States except treeless deserts and grasslands, and through the mountains of Mexico.

White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout New Jersey.

These small birds are stocky. They have a large head on a short neck. The legs are short, feet strong. The tail is short and stubby, in line with the back. The bill is fairly long, stout, pointed.

White-breasted Nuthatches have a gray back. The face and under parts are white. They have a thin strip of black over the crown. The wings and tail are dark. The dark eye stands out in the middle to the white face. They often show a bit of rusty coloration on their vent.

The voice varies over their range. One common call is a loud nasal yank yank call.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds at tube or hopper feeders. They also eat suet, especially those with peanut bits.


Photo of American Goldfinches as thistle seed feeder
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

American Goldfinch

You may know this bird in its bright yellow and black summer plumage. But you may not recognize it in its drab winter feathers.

These tiny finches are usually found in small flocks. They often feed on thistle and other weed seeds.

American Goldfinches summer in southern Canada south to the mid-latitudes of the United States. In winter they move south, being found throughout the US.

American Goldfinches may be found all year-round throughout New Jersey.

These are small birds with a round head.  The bill is short and conical. The tail appears short and strongly forked.

In winter, American Goldfinches are rather drab gray or tan. The wings are dark with one obvious wide pale wing bar, and some pale edges on other wing feathers. The face and throat is yellow, especially the male.

Flocks are communicative, with whiny whistles. In flight they call a lilting: po-ta-to-chip!

Goldfinches eat black oil sunflower seeds at tube feeders. They love the seed of the Niger plant, in a special finch feeder (see photo above) or thistle sock.


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

Dark-eyed Junco

When these little birds descend to the lowlands, then you know winter is on its way!

These birds form flocks in the winter. They spend most of their time on the ground, scratching for seeds, and nervously flashing their white outer tail feathers.

They breed in northern boreal and mixed forests from Alaska across Canada, and also mountain regions of the West and Northeast. In winter they descend and migrate south to wood edges and backyards across most of the United States.

Dark-eyed Juncos breed in extreme northwestern New Jersey, and they winter throughout the state.

Juncos are plump with large heads and short necks. Their tails are medium long, and thin.

The form of junco found in New Jersey is rather all-over dark slate above, with a white lower breast and belly. Females are a bit more brownish on the back. The bill is pink, as are the legs and feet. The tail is blackish with about three white outer tail feathers on each side.

They make constant smacking and ticking notes.

Dark-eyed Juncos like smaller seeds such as white proso millet. They also eat black oil sunflower seeds. They prefer to eat on the ground under the feeder, but will eat from hopper and platform feeders.


Photo of House Sparrow on bird feeder
House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

House Sparrow

This common bird was introduced from Europe to New York in 1850. They spread from there across the North American Continent.

House Sparrows occur in noisy flocks throughout the year.

Cities, farms, and ranches are this birds favorite habitat. They inhabit residential areas, as well.

They are year-round residents across Canada and south through the United States and Mexico, wherever there are people.

House Sparrows are year-round residents in New Jersey.

This is a stocky sparrow with big head and shorter tail. The head is rather flat. The large bill is conical.

These birds are dusty brown above and gray below. Females have a broad pale eyebrow. Males have a gray crown, chestnut nape, and black mask and throat that is more extensive in summer.

Calls include chirrup and chirp notes.

These birds like all kinds of smaller seeds. Because they are noisy and messy, and eat a lot, many people don't care to attract them to their feeders. They have rather weak feet, so they don't like tube feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds in tube feeders is the best way to keep numbers down at your feeder.


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

Mourning Dove

This very common bird regularly visits bird feeders.

Watch them bob their heads as they walk on the ground!

Mourning Doves are found in a wide variety of habitats, including towns, farms, river bottoms. They summer from southern Canada southward, but leave Canada and the northern reaches in the center of the United States in winter.

Mourning Doves are found year-round in New Jersey.

As with other doves, these are plump birds. The head is small and round. These birds have a long pointed tail. The legs are short.

The coloration of these birds is pale brown, darker on the wings, with a pinkish cast on the breast. There are large black spots on the wings. There are white edges on the outer tail feathers.

In spring these birds give a sad cooing sound. In winter, though, the only sound they are likely to make is the whistling noise of the wings as they fly.

Mourning Doves eat a wide variety of grains and seeds. They will eat black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn. They prefer to eat on the ground. So they will like a low platform feeder. But they even squeeze up onto small hopper feeders!


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

House Finch

Well-named birds, they are found wherever there are people living.

These birds are usually found in flocks, flying up into the tops of low trees when disturbed.

In the East, they are often restricted to residential areas. In the West they are also found in arid canyon lands. 

House Finches live from southern Canada, south through most of the United States and Mexico.

House Finches are year-round residents throughout New Jersey.

These are compact birds with big heads. They have a slightly longer tail than most other finches, but still rather short. The bill is deep and conical.

The general plumage coloration is gray and dusty brown with darker brown streaks. The under parts are creamy white with dusky streaks. The female doesn't have much of a pattern on the head, compared with other female finches. The males show a reddish-orange coloration on the upper parts. These are brightest on the forehead, upper breast, and rump.

These birds seem constantly to chirp, a wheat sounding call. They have a wiry, drawn out warbling song that they may sing throughout much of the year.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from a tube feeder. They also eat Niger seed from thistle feeders.


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

Blue Jay

This is one of the most recognizable birds in the U.S., even though it is restricted to the eastern half of the country. In the West, people often call any other jay (Steller's Jay and California Scrub-Jay or others) they see a "blue jay."

These are often brash and noisy birds. They sometimes chase other birds away from the feeder.

Their primary habitat is deciduous woodlands. They fit right in with the shade trees of the suburbs. 

They live east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the Gulf States. In winter they retreat from much of Canada. During this time you may see large migratory flocks.

Blue Jays are year-round residents in New Jersey.

These are rather large backyard birds. They have a big head and a full tail. The legs and feet are large. The bill is large, stout, long. The crest is a noticeable feature.

Birds are blue above and white below. The crown and crest is blue. The face is white. There is a black necklace across the breast that wraps up around the head. The wings and tail are barred with black and have numerous white spots.

They give numerous whistled and harsh calls, including a jay jay jay call.

At feeders, Blue Jays eat larger seeds and nuts. They are fond of sunflower seeds and peanuts. They eat from platform and hopper feeders. They love suet, too. 

They are larger than other feeder birds. They have a large appetite, and may take seeds away from the feeder in fall to bury and eat later in the winter. Thus, many people don't really care to have them visit their feeders. To deter and discouraging them a bit, use tube feeders for other birds. Place suet in upside-down suet feeders to make it harder for large birds like jays to reach.


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

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This woodpecker quickly becomes accustomed to bird feeders. Otherwise they tend to be shy.

They are often solitary. They are active, and at home on all parts of the tree, not just the trunk.

These birds are found in deciduous woods and find shade trees in residential areas to their liking.

These birds are found in the Eastern United States, though generally absent in the area immediately next to the Canadian border.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout New Jersey.

Like other woodpeckers, these have stout bodies. The head is large and the bill as long as the head, chisel-shaped. The tail is short and pointed. The legs are short. The feet large and strong.

These are pale buffy-colored birds with thin black-and-white stripes on the back and wings. There is a red stripe of red from bill to hind neck.

A common call is a rolling churrr.

At your bird feeder Red-bellied Woodpeckers like black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other nuts from platform feeders. They love suet and peanut butter.


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

Tufted Titmouse

This bird is a bit larger than chickadees, with which it is related. Like those birds it searches crannies and bark, often hanging acrobatically from twig tips.

These birds are found in deciduous and mixed woods, often high in the canopy. It is found from southern Maine to southern Minnesota and south from Florida to eastern Texas.

Tufted Titmouses are year-round residents in New Jersey.

These birds are a round ball of fluff with a large head. The tails are full, but not as long and active as chickadees. The crest may or may not be obvious with only a brief view. Legs and feet are strong. The bill is short and stout.

They are colored gray above and pale below. The black eye stands out in the middle of the pale face. This is accentuated by black feathers around the eye. These make the eye look bigger than it is. The tell-tale mark is the black forehead.

Winter calls are soft nasal twitters. Sings throughout the year, a loud whistled Peter-Peter-Peter.

Feed Tufted Titmouses black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders. They also liked bits of peanuts.


Photo of Song Sparrow on a log
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

Song Sparrow

These birds are abundant in wetlands, but also found in residential backyards with large landscaped shrubs.

They hide in brushy situations, but come out to inquisitively inspect any intruders in their territories.

Found in brushy, weedy, areas, especially in wetlands or stream sides. They breed from Alaska and across Canada, and down both coasts, and the northern two-thirds of the central United States. In winter they move out of Canada and the northernmost interior US to winter throughout most of the US.

Song Sparrows are year-round residents in New Jersey.

These birds are small, rather plump. They have a round head on a short neck. The tail is long and rounded at the tip. The bill is conical, but not overly large.

There are numerous variations in coloration across the continent. Some populations are paler and grayer  with sparse breast streaking (such as the form from southern California in the photo above). Others are dark, rusty, and heavily streaked. The head pattern is the same: gray eyebrow, gray cheek patch, white submalar, white throat, all edged with dark brown. The dark lateral throat stripe is especially wide. The breast streaks coalesce into a dense central spot.

These birds call a chimp note and sing throughout most of the year, a lively broken trill with three scratchy (the third drawn out) introductory notes.


Setting up a winter bird feeding station in New Jersey

I usually recommend setting up different kinds of feeders, each with their own food. However, most of the birds in New Jersey would do well with high quality mixed seed in a hopper feeder.

If you don't have squirrels, then any of the hopper feeders on the Amazon website (affiliate link here) will be fine.

As for mixed bird seed, the one I recommend as best is Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link here). It is 50% sunflower seeds, both in the shell and broken kernels. Much of the rest is white millet. This combination of seeds is best and will attract the most birds. It has no cheap filler such as red milo or cracked corn. My recently purchased bag has a resealable Velcro-like opening.

This combination of feeder and seed will readily attract all the birds listed above, except the woodpeckers. They may still eat it, but...

To attract the woodpeckers, set up a suet feeder. I really like the Nature's Way Upside-down suet feeder (Amazon affiliate link here). It also attracts chickadees, nuthatches, titmouses, wrens, and other smaller birds that might not eat seeds. But larger starlings, blackbirds, jays, and crows have a more difficult time getting to it--even though they try!

Recently I have been impressed with the St. Albans Bay suet blocks that fit in that feeder (Amazon affiliate link here). Half of these blocks are berry and the other half is peanut. I think birds like either equally well. These are very affordable.




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 New Jersey

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



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Binoculars for eyeglass wearers

Do you wear eyeglasses?

Do you wonder if you can wear your glasses with binoculars?

And, if so, how do you choose the best binoculars to use with glasses?

These last two questions are the subject of this article!

Eyeglass wearers should choose binoculars with long eye relief of over 15.5 mm. A wide field of view is also helpful, especially for nature viewing.

But not all eyeglass wearers will need to wear them when using binoculars.

And if you wear contact lenses, there's no difference between them and someone using bare eyes when viewing through binoculars!


Photo of binoculars and eyeglasses
I wish I didn't, but I have to wear glasses
when using binoculars!


Can you wear glasses when you use binoculars?

The good news is that you can wear glasses when you use binoculars!

The even better news is that you may not need to.

Not all eye conditions requiring eyeglasses require them when using binoculars.


Do you have to wear glasses when using binoculars? 

If your vision is simply nearsightedness or farsightedness, then you may be able to use binoculars without eyeglasses.

For instance, if you only wear glasses to read, then you won't wear them when using binoculars.

Conversely, if you take your glasses off to read, then you likely don't need to wear them, either, when using binoculars.

It is easier and preferable NOT to wear eyeglasses with binoculars. It's a pain, I can tell you! 

Glasses fog over easily in cold weather. Your eyeglasses also get pushed against your eyebrows and get greasy. And sprinkles or pollen or other debris gets smeared around on your glasses by the binoculars. Then the bridge of your nose may get sore by having the binoculars push on your glasses' nose pads.


If you have astigmatism you should wear eyeglasses when you use binoculars.

Astigmatism is the common visual condition where the cornea of your eye is not perfectly circular . Thus, your vision will be blurry in that eye, both near and far. Astigmatism is often different in each eye.

People with astigmatism wear glasses at all times, at least, when they want to see clearly. That's me.

So if you have astigmatism you'll most likely want--or need--to wear your glasses.

But what if you only have astigmatism in one eye, or it isn't very bad? Well, you might be tempted to go without glasses when using binoculars. I wouldn't recommend it though.

Using binoculars does put some strain on your eyes, whether you wear eyeglasses or not. So I'd recommend wearing your glasses. But you might try it both ways. And don't overdo it. Give plenty of time in between to rest your eyes. Eye strain headaches aren't fun.


Best binoculars for use with glasses

The best binoculars for use with eyeglasses are those with long eye relief and wide field of view.

Eye relief is basically the distance from the optical lens on the binocular to the focal point. It is how far away from your eye you need to hold the binoculars to get a full view. 

Obviously, your glasses prevent you from bringing the binoculars any closer to your eye. So you want your binoculars to have a longer eye relief than the distance between your eye and the outer surface of your glasses.

But the style of your glasses and the size of the lenses will be different. So will the shape of the bridge on your nose. You may need more or less eye relief than someone else who wears glasses. But both of you will definitely need longer eye relief than someone who does not wear glasses.

If your binoculars have a shorter eye relief than the distance between your eyes and glasses lens, then you will not see the entire field of view the binoculars offer. The edge all around will be restricted from your view. You will still see the object in the center of your binocular view, but the edges will vignette.

This is offset somewhat by binoculars that have an extra wide field of view. Still, you want to actually enjoy that wide field of view, not use the wider field of view to offset the narrow view given by too short of eye relief.

For bird watching, I want binoculars with a wide field of view to take in the picture window panorama, not give the impression I'm looking at the world through a straw. So getting the proper eye relief is critical.


What to look for when buying binoculars to use while wearing glasses


Eye relief

When deciding which binoculars to use or purchase for use with eyeglasses, look to the manufacturer's specification sheet for eye relief. It is listed in millimeters (mm). 

If you wear glasses then you want the eye relief spec to be at least 15.5 mm. Longer is better, out to 19 or 20 mm.

Any shorter eye relief than 15.5 mm and you will not be able to see the entire binocular view.


Field of View

Likewise, if you want to enjoy the expansive wide field of view, you want to check the spec sheet again. 

Field of view is given as both a unit of degrees of a circle, and as a width. That width is commonly given as a certain number of feet at 1000 yards distance. That is, if you were looking at a fence line perpendicular to you and 1000 yards away, how much of the fence line (how wide) could you see?

For 8-power (8x) binoculars anything over 390 feet at 1000 yards is a wide angle field of view. Something around 420 feet is really good. Anything less than about 340 feet at 1000 yards is quite narrow. Binoculars advertised with the words "wide view" doesn't mean they really are. Look at the manufacturer's specification sheet.

For 10x binoculars, a field of view of 360 feet at 1000 yards is quite wide. The more you increase magnification, the more constricted will be your field of view with the same model of binoculars. So 8x binoculars usually have a much wider field of view than 10x or larger.

Wide field of view is especially useful when scanning for wildlife, such as bird watching or hunting. If you are looking at a fixed object, then wide field of view is not as necessary.


Adjusting binoculars and sharing binoculars with others

Using binoculars with glasses is the same as without. With the exception that you rest the eyecups of the binoculars on your glasses instead of your eye socket frontal bones.

However, if you share binoculars with others, you will need to readjust them. Just like the driver's seat adjustments in the car, each person will have their own settings.

This is especially true if one person wears eyeglasses and the other does not.

Here's how you adjust binoculars if sharing with others (every time):

  1. Push the eyecups in if you wear glasses, extend them if you do not.
  2. Bend the barrels in or out at the center hinge to form one seamless viewing circle when looking through them.
  3. Look at a mid-distant object and use the focus knob to bring your left eye into clear focus.
  4. Adjust the right eye diopter to bring the right eye into focus to match the left eye.


If you need more help with these adjustments, I wrote an article on How to use binoculars that goes into greater detail. It has labeled photos.




I wrote an article on what makes the best binoculars for birding, with glasses or without. That article also lists several binocular models at all price levels that are all suitable for eyeglass wearers.




Monday, December 14, 2020

Feeding winter birds in Virginia

Winter is a wonderful time to feed birds in Virginia. This state boasts many birds that come to bird feeders.

This article tells why and how to set up a bird feeder in Virginia in the winter. I'll also show you photos of the common feeder birds in Virginia that you can look for at your own backyard feeder! I will give brief identification tips. I will tell you what foods and what type of feeders attract each species.

Winter weather in Virginia is described as frigid. The coldest month is January. Snowfall happens December through March. Up to 8 inches per year of snow falls along the coast. Inland mountains receive about 25 inches of snow a year, but up to 100 inches in the Appalachians.

All that snow means that birds will be looking for food at your feeders!




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





Photo of birds at bird feeder in winter, covered in snow
Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay


Why feed winter birds in Virginia

Many winter feeder birds in Virginia are year-round residents. These include cardinals, chickadees, jays, woodpeckers, and house finches.

But these are supplemented in winter with visitors from the north and from the mountains. Common among these are White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Winter birds at feeders will include many birds in their first year. They've never gone through winter before. So they may be inexperienced in finding natural foods. They will readily flock to your feeders!

Set up your bird feeders in late fall so that birds moving around then find your feeders. When the harsh weather arrives, they will be established at your feeders and remain in place all winter.

As important as food, having a source of fresh unfrozen water is important for birds in winter. If you live in an area of the state with multiple days of freezing weather, then consider setting up a bird bath with heater.

Watching birds at your feeder in winter is a source of endless joy. Why not give bird feeding a try this coming winter?

What birds come to feeders in winter in Virginia?

As already mentioned, jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and other resident birds come to feeders year-round. But they may visit more regularly in winter.

Woodpeckers may be in your backyard all year. But they may come to your feeders more often in winter.

Sparrows and finches love your seed feeders. Many of these birds are migratory. They move out of more northern or mountainous areas to winter in Virginia.

There are many additional birds in Virginia that commonly visit your backyard. But these do not generally eat at feeders. Please read my article on the most common backyard birds of Virginia. This article identifies the common birds in your backyard all through the year, whether or not they come to feeders. I'll link to it again at the end of this article, so you can read it next, if you want.

Here are the common winter feeder birds in Virginia. Each species account gives simple identification pointers, and what foods at your feeder will attract them best.


Photo of Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Greg Gillson


Dark-eyed Junco

These tiny little sparrows are often the first sign that winter is on the way. Juncos often form large flocks in your neighborhood, foraging under your feeders.

They hop on the ground, scratching in the dirt for food under bushes and small conifer trees. 

Dark-eyed Juncos breed across the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska. They breed in conifer mountain forests in both the West and East.

In winter juncos move southward to be found across southern Canada, all of the United States, and even across northern Mexico.

In Virginia, Dark-eyed Juncos breed in the highest mountains in the west part of the state. They winter throughout Virginia.

These are very small plump sparrows with a large-looking head. The squared black tails stick out behind constantly flicking open to reveal white tail feather edges. They have conical seed eating bills, but rather dainty and pointed, colored pink. The legs and feet are also pink.

There are several different populations across North America, each a bit different in coloration. Birds in Virginia are of the Slate-colored Junco variety. Males are slate blackish-gray throughout, with an extensive white belly. Females are often paler with a brownish wash on the back.

They give smack calls and tick sounds in winter.

Juncos feed on platform feeders or trays on hopper feeders. But they really prefer to feed on the ground under the feeders where seeds fall. They will eat hulled sunflower seeds, black oil sunflowers, and are especially attracted to white proso millet.


Photo of Northern Cardinal in snow
Image by tlparadis from Pixabay


Northern Cardinal

These bright red birds are the most frequently seen winter birds at feeders in Virginia. They aren't the most numerous, but it seems there is often a pair in every yard or every feeder.

Though bright and colorful, these birds tend to be rather shy. You may see them hopping in the lawn, or hiding away in brushy tangles.

Northern Cardinals are common birds in the Eastern, Southeastern, and Southwest. They live in woodlands and gardens all year long.

In Virginia, cardinals are year-round residents.

Cardinals are fairly large chunky sparrow-like birds related to the Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. They have a very large thick bill for eating seeds. The tail is full and rounded. The full crest is an obvious mark on both males and females.

Males are all-over red with black on the face. Females are a duller tan with reddish hints.

Birds sing nearly all year. The song includes repeated whistled phrases such as birdy-birdy-birdy or cheer-cheer-cheer. The common call note is a sharp chip!

Northern Cardinals love to eat sunflowers and larger seeds such as safflower seeds. They prefer platform feeders and hopper feeders with larger trays.


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


Downy Woodpecker

Most people love to have woodpeckers visit their bird feeders. None is more welcome than the cute little Downy Woodpecker.

Like most woodpeckers, Downys climb tree trunks, pecking in the bark for food. These small birds also cling to small branches and even heavy weed stalks. They follow winter flocks of chickadees, kinglets, and nuthatches.

Downy Woodpeckers live year-round in deciduous woods, especially near water. They are equally at home in backyards, parks, and gardens. They are found across Alaska, Canada, and most of the United States except for the southwestern deserts.

Downy Woodpeckers live year-round throughout Virginia.

These are small stocky birds, barely over 6 inches long, bill tip to tail tip. The bill is short and pointed, but not strong and as chisel-like as other woodpeckers. The tail is short, stiff, and pointed. The legs are short, but the feet are large and strong.

The bird is white on the underparts and black above with white spots on the wings. The back is white. The head is striped black-and-white. Males have a little red spot on the back of the crown.

The common call is a sharp pick! note. In spring these are combined into a rattling whinny.

Downy Woodpeckers are attracted primarily to your suet feeder (as in photo above), though they will eat sunflower seeds from hopper and platform feeders.


Photo of Tufted Titmouse at feeder
Tufted Titmouse
Image by Anne773 from Pixabay

Tufted Titmouse

If you have a wooded backyard in the East, then this cheerful little bird likely lives there.

They are vocal and rather tame. They hop and crawl through trees and bushes. They search bark and twigs for insects and seeds.

Tufted Titmouses are year-round residents in deciduous woods. They are found in the eastern half of the United States, west to Texas, Minnesota.

In Virginia, the Tufted Titmouse lives year-round, mostly below 2000 feet elevation.

Titmouses are similar to the related chickadees, though a bit larger. They are stocky with a full tail and large crested head. They have strong legs and feet.

These birds are colored gray throughout, with black on the forehead and a peachy wash on the flanks.

Tufted Titmouses sing throughout the year, a Peter-Peter-Peter whistle. They also give chickadee-like call notes.

At your hopper feeder these birds love black oil sunflower seeds and pieces of peanuts. They will also eat suet--especially with peanuts or peanut butter.


Photo of Song Sparrow in cattails
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson


Song Sparrow

These little brown streaked sparrows are one of the most widespread in North America.

Song Sparrows hop and feed on the ground, remaining close to low bushes for cover and escape.

These birds are found in marshes, river edges, brambles, and large landscaping bushes.

They breed from southern Alaska south to northwestern Mexico, across Canada and the northern United States. In winter, birds from the north migrate south to the entire U.S., but many remain year-round at mid-latitudes.

Song Sparrows breed in the mountains of northern and western Virginia. In winter they are found throughout the state.

This is a plump sparrow with a rounded tail tip. The bill is thick and cone-shaped for eating seeds.

The upper parts are gray, streaked with both light rusty and dark brown. The head is gray with rusty brown lateral crown stripes, a stripe back from the eye, a thin mustache stripe, and a wide lateral throat stripe. The throat is white. The breast is white and heavily spotted, especially on the center of the breast, where many spots merge into one patch.

Song Sparrows are frequent singers, often even on sunny days in winter. A common call note sounds like chimp!

These birds are rather wary around the feeders and other feeding birds. They may sneak to your hopper or platform feeder when there are no other birds present. More often, you may notice them on the ground under the feeders or under a nearby bush. They eat black oil sunflower seeds and smaller millet seeds at your feeder.


Photo of a Carolina Chickadee at a feeder
Carolina Chickadee
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay


Carolina Chickadee

This is the common friendly little chickadee of the Southeast. 

Flocks move through the trees. They cling and hang from the tips of branches looking for insects. But they readily eat seeds at your bird feeder, too, where they are fearless. In fact, they may trustingly take sunflower seeds from your hand!

Carolina Chickadees are found in deciduous woods and residential areas.

These birds are resident from New Jersey to southern Illinois and south from central Texas to northern Florida.

Carolina Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

Like other chickadees, these little balls of fluff are plump with a big head and fairly long active tail. They have strong legs and feet. The bill is short, but blunt. They are smaller than Black-capped Chickadees.

In typical chickadee pattern they are gray above and white below. The black cap and throat contrast with the white hind face. There is a faint buff wash on the flanks. 

The flanks aren't as richly-colored, and the wings lack the strong white feather edges of the more northly Black-capped Chickadees. Otherwise they are very similar except for the voice.

And, speaking of the voice, Carolina Chickadees give a higher, faster chick-a-dee-dee-dee call than Black-cappeds.

Carolina Chickadees love black oil sunflower seeds from any kind of feeder. They come in and grab a single seed and then fly away to hide it for later. When they eat a seed, they hold it in their feet on a limb and pound the seed open with their bill. They also love suet.


Photo of White-throated Sparrow at bird bath
White-throated Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson


White-throated Sparrow

This sparrow is a winter visitor at feeders in much of the East and Southeast, quite rare in the West. It is similar to the White-crowned Sparrow that winters in the southern half of the United States and West Coast.

They hang out in brushy patches with scrubby trees. They scratch around on the ground, but also visit feeders. When startled, they are more likely to into a small tree, rather down in the brambles as other sparrows.

They generally nest in woodlands across Canada and the northernmost of the eastern states. They winter from the Northeast to Illinois and to southern Arizona. And then they winter southward from here from Texas to Florida.

White-throated Sparrows winter throughout Virginia.

These are rather large sparrows with long tails. The bill is conical for eating seeds.

They are light brownish above with dark brown stripes on the back. The chest is gray, contrasting with the white throat. The head is striped with either black-and-white or brown-and-tan. There is a yellow spot of feathers right in front of the eyes. The bill is gray. The legs and feet are pink. There are two thin white wing bars.

The call note is a very loud metallic pink! This is often given at dawn and dusk.

White-throated Sparrows eat sunflower and other smaller seeds. They prefer eating on the ground, so look for them on platform feeders or hopper feeders with a wide shelf.


Photo of Mourning Dove on a broken branch
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson


Mourning Dove

This rather tame dove may build its stick nest on your porch in summer. If your winters aren't too severe, they may remain in your yard.

Look for this dove on telephone lines, fence lines, and the tips of small trees. They may even soak up the sun's rays on the peak of your roof! They look for food on the ground where they walk and bob their heads.

Mourning Doves live in a wide variety of habitats, including open country, river side trees, farms, and residential yards.

They breed from southern Canada southward across most of the United States and Mexico. In winter, these doves migrate out of Canada and out of the north Plains states. Otherwise, they are resident across most of the US.

Mourning Doves are resident year-round throughout Virginia.

These doves have the plump body of other doves. But the long pointed tail makes the bird look slim sometimes. The neck is long and the round head is small. The legs are short. The bills of doves are rather short, thin, and bluntly pointed.

Mourning Doves are tan below, slightly darker on the back and wings. It has large black spots on the wing. The long pointed tail has white edges. The feet are pink.

In spring you may be familiar with the sad cooing song of this dove. These birds are quiet in winter, except for the whistling of their wings as they fly.

Mourning Doves eat grain and seeds, so they like some of the cheapest mixed bird seeds with grains and corn that other birds don't like. They also eat black oil sunflower seeds. While they may prefer to eat on the ground or on a platform feeder, some birds squeeze themselves onto even small hopper feeders!


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

House Finch

Along with House Sparrows, these House Finches are likely to be one of the most common "little brown birds" at your feeder, summer or winter.

Family groups or small flocks visit your yard. When startled they usually fly up noisily into the tips of nearby smaller trees.

In the East, House Finches are found primarily in residential areas. in the West they were originally found in dry canyonlands, but are now abundant in residential areas and farmlands.

These finches are resident across extreme southern Canada, most of Mexico, and all of the United States except for high mountains and southern Florida.

House Finches are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

Rather compact birds, they have a larger head and medium tail with slight notch in the tip. The bill is thick and conical, curved on the upper ridge.

Both genders are rather gray with dark brown streaks above. The pale, almost white under parts are heavily streaked with blurry brown. Males have red-orange forehead, upper breast, and rump.

Winter flocks chirp, the note sounding like wheet.

House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders or hopper feeders.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch crawling upside down on a tree
White-breasted Nuthatch
Greg Gillson


White-breasted Nuthatch

What's that bird crawling upside down on the tree trunk? It's a nuthatch! There are four kinds in North America. This is the largest of the four nuthatch species (though still small).

Nuthatches crawl over, under, and around tree branches and trunks. They find insects in the bark from their unusual perspective.

These nuthatches are the only ones generally found in deciduous trees. In the West they favor oaks, but also pines.

They are year-round residents in most of the places they occur. They are found from southern Canada (further northward in the West) southward to the northern parts of the Gulf States. In the West they are found into the highlands of Mexico, but absent from the sage, scrub, and cacti deserts. In the Great Plains they occur along water courses with trees. But, of course, they are absent from grasslands.

White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

Nuthatches are short, plump birds. The have a large head on a short neck. The tail is straight and stubby. Legs and feet are large and strong. The bill is long and chisel-shaped.

White-breasted Nuthatches are blue-gray above and white below. They have a black crown that contrasts with the white face with a black beady eye in the center. Some birds have a touch of rust on the vent area.

The call of this species is a nasal yank.

White-breasted Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds. They take one at a time from your hopper feeder, then fly off. They may eat the seed, holding it in their feet against a branch and pounding it open. It is just as likely, though, that they cache a pile of seeds away to eat later in the year.


Photo of American Goldfinches at a feeder
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

American Goldfinch

The bright yellow and black males in summer are a favorite of bird watchers throughout North America. In winter, though, the plumage is subdued. You may not recognize them.

Goldfinches are often found in flocks. They are tiny birds.

These birds live wherever they can find fields of small weed and thistle seeds. They like open woodlands and road edges.

In summer, American Goldfinches breed from southern Canada to the middle latitudes of the United States, to northern Georgia and Alabama, Oklahoma, northern Utah, and all the way to coastal southern California.

In winter, American Goldfinches leave Canada almost completely. They move southward to all of the U.S. and into northeastern Mexico.

American Goldfinches breed in summer in the western two-thirds of Virginia. They winter throughout the whole state.

These are very small birds with round heads. The small bill is conical, but pointed. The under tail coverts are very long, making the forked tail look very short.

In winter, American Goldfinches lack the bright lemon yellow summer plumage with jet black wings and tails. Birds are pale tan or brown above. They are white below--especially on the under tail covert feathers, with buttery yellow throats. White wing bars are obvious on the dark wings. 

Calls are soft and whiney. Flying they give a rapid whistled per-chik-o-ree call.

American Goldfinches are especially attracted to thistle feeders where they eat Niger seed (as in the photo above). They also eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders.


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


Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are fairly large common backyard birds in the East.

Woodpeckers cling to the trunk of trees with their large, strong feet. Their very long tongue pulls out insects from deep within the bark.

These birds live in deciduous forests, especially near water. They also like shade trees in residential areas.

These birds live year-round in the East, south of the New England States, westward to Nebraska and eastern Texas.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers live year-round throughout Virginia.

These birds have the typical woodpecker build. They are fairly stocky with a short neck and large head. They have a short pointed tail. The bill is long and chisel-shaped.

The body and head of these birds is pale gray. The back and wings are barred with many thin black-and-white feathers. Birds have a red crown, more extensive (bill to back) on the males.

The calls of Red-bellied Woodpeckers is a loud rolling churrr.

At your feeder they love peanuts or other nuts offered on a platform feeder. They may eat sunflower seeds. They also like suet.


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


Blue Jay

This is a fairly bold bird of backyards in the East and Central parts of the United States.

Blue Jays are striking, active, and colorful. But they are a little too boisterous for many of the smaller feeder birds--and with a big appetite for feeder seeds!

These birds live in deciduous and mixed woods, especially oaks. They like larger trees in residential areas.

These jays are found east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada south to Florida. In winter they travel around a bit, moving into the northwestern parts of the US and adjacent Canada. They also move westward into western Texas and New Mexico.

Blue Jays live year-round throughout Virginia.

Jays have large heads and long full rounded tails. They have strong black legs and feet. The bill is black, long, stout, and pointed. This species has a crest.

These birds are blue above and light gray below, fading to white on the lower belly. The face is white, bordered by a thin black necklace below, and blue crown and crest above. The wings and tail are blue with black bars and some white spots. In flight, Blue Jays flash white wing patches and white tail corners.

The common call of Blue Jays is a loud rough jeer.

They love peanuts and other nuts. They love suet, too. They will gulp down a gullet full of sunflower seeds and take them away to bury them to eat later in the season, a behavior called caching. They will soon empty your feeders in fall. They are heavy, so like eating from larger platform or hopper feeders with large trays.

Feeding black oil sunflower seeds in tube feeders will keep the sunflower seeds away from the jays and allow the finches and chickadees to get some.


Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Virginia

There are so many birds that come to feeders in Virginia that I recommend setting up several different kinds to attract the widest variety!

I rarely recommend platform feeders. However, the juncos, cardinals, doves, jays, and sparrows will all like that type of feeder best. Get one with an ample roof to keep out the rain and snow. Feed mixed bird seed. Add peanuts or other nuts to attract woodpeckers. 

The best mixed bird seed I've found is Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link). It has no filler like wheat, corn, or milo; it is 50% sunflower seeds--I highly recommend it!

Then set up a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. This will attract both the red and yellow finches, chickadees, titmouses, and nuthatches. 

I really like the Nature's Way upside-down suet feeder (Amazon affiliate link). It keeps out the always gluttonous jays and starlings. The chickadees really benefit.

A suet feeder will provide much needed protein and fat during the cold season. It will attract woodpeckers, especially if it has peanuts in it. 

I've been purchasing St. Albans Bay suet cakes (Amazon affiliate link). Half are peanut, half are berry. And it is less expensive than many brands. The birds love it!

Birds need water to drink and keep their feathers in good condition. This is especially important in winter when the natural water supply may be frozen for days at a time. So consider adding a bird bath and perhaps a bird bath heater to your yard.




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 Virginia

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



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