Sunday, February 7, 2021

Feeding winter birds in Tennessee

Feeding backyard birds in winter is a very popular past time.

This article is for beginners setting up their first bird feeders. It is also for people who already have a bird feeder, but are looking for new ideas.

It is also for those who have been feeding birds, but have become curious as to exactly who's visiting--naming your numerous feeder visitors.

This article tells why and how to set up a bird feeder in Tennessee in the winter. I'll also show you photos of the common feeder birds in Tennessee 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.

The eastern portion of Tennessee features the Blue Ridge Mountains. There winter snowfall averages 80 inches! In the western parts of the state, the total average snowfall for the entire winter is only 5 inches.

Winter is a rainy period in Tennessee, especially in the lower areas where most of the towns are located.

Tennessee is far enough south that many birds that nest in northern regions migrate south to Tennessee in winter. And the colder weather means that many birds will appreciate a well-stocked feeder.



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



Photo of bird feeder in a snowy residential area. Image by publicdomainpictures from Pixabay.


Why feed winter birds in Tennessee?

As mentioned, many birds migrate south out of Canada and more northerly states to spend the winter in Tennessee. Also, many of your regular feeder visitors in winter are year-round residents. There are lots of different kinds of birds that visit feeders in winter in Tennessee.

Watching birds at your feeder can bring hours of enjoyment. It seems there is always some activity at the feeder. Perhaps a brief squabble or a sudden flushing departure. Then back again peacefully.

Sometimes watching feeder birds is calming. I find it similar to watching the flames of a fire dance back and forth. Or similar to watching fish swim in a tank. It is mesmerizing and quiets the mind.

On the other hand, you may notice that there is a different bird one morning. And you want to know what it is. Then watching birds at the feeder can be like a treasure hunt, with a prized new species showing up for the first time.

Watching birds at the feeder brings you closer to nature. We need more of that.

It can help young people learn about the needs of wildlife. It can help them learn the responsibility by cleaning and refilling the feeder. And it is the perfect science project! That's how I started.

Feeding and identifying birds can be a family project. What a wonderful way to bond with the grand kids!


What birds come to feeders in winter in Tennessee?

Most people feed seeds to birds at their feeders. Thus, seed eating birds are the most common at bird feeders.

However, some birds that eat grubs or other crawling insects come to feeders for suet--rendered fat. Suet supplies needed protein and fat to get birds through the long cold nights and dreary days.

This article shows you 15 common birds that will likely show up at your bird feeder. That's a good introduction to your backyard birds. 

Once you learn these 15, you'll be more likely to notice other birds in your yard. You may like to read my article on common backyard birds of Tennessee. It has backyard birds throughout the year, and not just feeder birds. I'll link to this again at the end of this article.

Here, then, are the birds that you should look for at your feeder. Have you seen them all? Did you already know their names? Are there any new to you? Do you know what these birds eat at your feeder? Do you know what kind of feeder they like best? These are the topics of this article.

Who else comes to your feeder? Many less common birds are possible.


Photo of Blue Jay in a bird bath
Blue Jay. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Blue Jay

These are rather noisy and social birds. Most people know them, even if they do not feed birds.

Oak groves and residential areas with large trees are a favorite habitat. In winter they are found east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada southward.

Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

Jays are fairly large backyard birds with a large head and short round wings with full rounded tail. The bill is long and stout. They have a shaggy crest.

These birds are blue above and white (or very pale gray) below. They have a black necklace. The wings and tail are barred with black and white.

Blue Jays eat peanuts and sunflower seeds from platform or hopper feeders. They also love suet.


Photo of Carolina Chickadee at feeder
Carolina Chickadee. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Carolina Chickadee

Flocks of these little balls of fluff hang on your feeders and call out their names in a hoarse call.

These birds live in woodland edges and suburbs. They are found in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Carolina Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These birds a re small and round with a large round head and long tail. The bill is short and stout.

Birds are gray above and pale below. The black cap and bib contrasts sharply with the white face.

Carolina Chickadees love to eat black oil sunflower seeds in tube and hopper feeders. They also like suet.


Tufted Titmouse. Anne773 from Pixabay.

Tufted Titmouse

These very plain birds aren't much bigger than chickadees. They travel the woods and backyards in small family groups.

These birds are found in deciduous woods, parks, and backyard trees at lower elevations. They are found in the East, Midwest, and Southeast. 

Tufted Titmouses are year-round residents in Tennessee.

These are small stocky birds. The tail is fairly long and wide. The bill is short and stout. The head is crested, but only obvious at close range.

These birds are gray--darker above and paler below. They have a black forehead.

Tufted Titmouses love black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts from hopper feeders.


Photo of White-throated Sparrow on bird bath
White-throated Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

White-throated Sparrow

These birds visit your feeders in winter. They generally stay hidden under bushes on the ground.

Breeding across Canada, these birds spend the winter in the East and South.

White-throated Sparrows winter throughout Tennessee.

These are fairly long sparrows with a long tail. The bill is short and conical.

These sparrows are brown streaked with darker brown above. The breast is a medium gray. The head is striped with black-and-white or tan-and-brown. There is a big spot of yellow on the eyebrow in front of the eye.

White-throated Sparrows like millet and mixed seeds from a platform feeder or the ground.


Photo of a Carolina Wren on a stump
Carolina Wren. SOARnet from Pixabay.

Carolina Wren

These are fairly common backyard birds in landscaped bushes or wild tangles. They primarily eat insects.

These birds are found in brushy areas and are common in backyards. They are found in Southeast, but range into the East, Midwest, and South.

Carolina Wrens are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These are compact birds with long floppy tails. The bill is long thin and curved.

These wrens are brown above and buffy below. They have a white throat and white eyebrow.

Carolina Wrens come to suet feeders and also eat hulled sunflower seeds.


Photo of Mourning Dove on stump
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson.

Mourning Dove

These are common backyard birds. Their sad cooing reminds some people of owl hooting.

These birds are found in a variety of habitats including wooded river valleys, farmlands and residential areas. They breed throughout the United States and southern Canada. In winter they move south, mostly out of Canada and the northern parts of the US.

Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These are plump birds with small round heads and long pointed tails.

These birds are pale gray-brown, pinkish on the breast.

Mourning Doves eat many seeds and grains, including black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn from platform feeders or ground.


Photo of a Red-bellied Woodpecker on a tree trunk
Red-bellied Woodpecker. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

These woodland birds readily come to bird feeders.

These birds live in open woodlands and parks. The are found in most areas of the East, including Southeast, South, and Midwest.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These stocky birds are medium-sized backyard birds. The head is large with a long stout bill. Legs are short, feet strong. Tail is short and pointed.

The body is pale. The back and wings are finely barred black and white. The crown and back of the head is red, more extensive on the male.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanuts from platform feeders. They also eat suet.


Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on ground
Dark-eyed Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco

These are tiny sparrows with big dark gray heads. When they visit your feeders in large flocks, you know that winter has arrived.

These birds are found in conifer forest edges in summer, breeding across Canada and the mountains in the West and East.

Dark-eyed Juncos winter throughout the state of Tennessee.

These are small birds with big head on short neck. The tail is thin. The tail is short and conical.

These birds are generally dark gray above including a hood over the head. The belly is white. The tail is dark with white outer tail feathers that are flashed, and especially visible in flight.

Dark-eyed Juncos like to eat millet and mixed seeds and cracked corn on the ground or platform feeder.


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

Downy Woodpecker

These tiny woodpeckers are common in willow stream edges and also backyards. While not found in flocks with their own species, pairs often travel in winter with mixed flocks of chickadees and other small woodland birds.

These birds are found in woodlots and city parks. They live across North America except for the deserts of the Southwest.

Downy Woodpeckers live year-round throughout Tennessee.

These small woodpeckers are stocky with a short pointed tail. The head is fairly large. The bill is fairly short and pointed.

These birds are black above and white below. The back is white as are the outer tail feathers. The head is striped black and white. Males have a red spot of feathers on the back of the head.

Downy Woodpeckers eat sunflower seeds and peanuts from hopper feeders. They eat suet and peanut butter.


Photo of Northern Cardinal on bird feeder
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Northern Cardinal

This striking crested bird has its image on every package of bird seed--even in places where it doesn't live!

These birds live in woodland edges and gardens. The are found throughout the East, Midwest, and South--even into the Southwest.

Northern Cardinals are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These are medium-sized songbirds with ample tail. The bill is thick and short. The head is obviously crested.

Males are bright scarlet red with a black face. Females are paler and brown.

Northern Cardinals eat most kind of seeds including safflower seeds and sunflowers from platform feeders or the ground.


Photo of Song Sparrow on log
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Song Sparrow

These birds are more common in stream edges and wet tangles. But they also live in residential areas with dense landscaped bushes. They hide very well and stick to the ground, though. They may sneak up onto the bird feeder when all the other birds have flown off.

These birds are found in brushy habitats, often near water. They breed across Canada and south to the mid-latitudes of the United States. In winter they migrate out of Canada and the northernmost US to winter in the mid-latitudes and southern US.

Song Sparrows are year-round residents in Tennessee.

These are rather small plump sparrows with medium tail rounded at the tip.

The plumage of these birds is dark and paler brown stripes on a gray background. The head is striped brown and gray with a very broad lateral throat stripe. Streaks on the under parts form a dense spot on the center of the upper breast.

Song Sparrows eat millet and small mixed seed on the ground or platform feeder.


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

American Goldfinch

You may know this bird as the bright yellow and black "wild canary" of summer. In winter they are dull colored, with yellow restricted to a hint on the throat.

Found in weedy fields and shrubby trees separated by grassland. They breed across southern Canada to the mid-latitudes of the United States. In winter they depart Canada and extreme northern US. They winter throughout most of the US.

American Goldfinches live year-round in Tennessee.

These are very small birds. They have a long body but short forked tail. The head is round. The bill is short small and conical.

In winter these birds are a dull tan or gray with dark wings with white wing stripes. The throat of males show a yellow wash. Males in summer are bright lemon yellow with black cap, wings, and tail.

American Goldfinches eat black oil sunflower seeds, either in the shell or hulled, from tube feeders. They love Niger seed from a thistle sock.


Photo of House Finch at bird feeder
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

House Finch

Well named, these birds are common in residential areas, where they form noisy flocks.

These birds are mainly found in residential areas across the entire United States.

House Finches are year-round residents throughout Tennessee.

These birds are rather well-formed. The body may appear slim, the tail medium-length. The head is rounded and the bill is short and conical.

These birds are colored rather gray above with brown streaking. Below they are white or buffy with dusty brown streaks. Males have reddish orange feathers on the forehead, breast, and rump.

House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders. They also eat Niger seed from thistle socks.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch on branch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

White-breasted Nuthatch

These birds keep to the trunk and main branches. They crawl over the bark. With their strong feet they even walk down the tree head first!

These birds live in deciduous and mixed woods from southern Canada throughout the United States. They are especially found in oak woodlands.

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

These are small stocky birds. They have very short tails. They have large heads. The bill is fairly long and sharply pointed.

The back is blue-gray. The wings are dark. The under parts and face is gleaming white. There is a black stripe over the crown and hind neck. They show a bit of rusty color on the vent.

White-breasted Nuthatches love to eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders.


Photo of Eastern Towhee in tree branches
Eastern Towhee. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Towhee

These big shy sparrows hang out in the tangles and on the ground under the bushes.

These birds are found in thickets and forest edges. The breed throughout the East. In winter they move to the Southeast.

Eastern Towhees are found throughout the year in Tennessee.

These are fairly large and long backyard birds. The tail is full and rounded.

These birds are blackish above, including the hooded head. The sides are rusty. The belly is white. The eye is red.

Eastern Towhees eat millet and sunflower seeds on the ground, platform, or hopper feeder.


Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Tennessee

Based on the types of birds that are most frequent at feeders in Tennessee, I recommend setting up the following kinds of bird feeders.

First, select a tube feeder and black oil sunflower seeds. 

This tube feeder from Droll Yankees is a good one. (Affiliate link to Amazon)

I have found Wagner's always has a good price on black oil sunflower seed. (Amazon)

Tube feeders with black oil sunflower seeds will attract Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches, House Finches.

Next, I recommend a hopper feeder with wide tray and mixed seeds.

This hopper feeder from Woodlink is made of cedar and includes suet cages! (Affiliate link to Amazon). It has nice wide trays to allow birds that prefer platform feeders to also eat.

Don't go for the cheap bird seed at the local store. Buy Wagner's Songbird Supreme mixed seed. (Buy from Amazon) It is 50% sunflower seeds, both hulled and in the shell for finches. It also has millet for sparrows, juncos, and towhees. Best of all, it has NO CHEAP FILLER. There's no red milo, no cracked corn, foods most birds do not eat. The birds at my feeder really love it! It even comes in a re-sealable velcro bag.

As mentioned, this feeder will be the favorite of Tufted Titmouses, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees.


Oh, and the suet for that feeder? I have been buying the St. Albans Bay suet. (Amazon link) Birds love it and it is a lower price than most.

One bird that loves suet but won't usually eat from seed feeders is the Carolina Wren. Other birds that love suet include Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatches.



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 Tennessee

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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