Winter birds commonly seen at feeders

A favorite winter pastime of mine is to maintain a bird feeding station, observing the visitors, keeping a list of birds that show up each season. I know a lot of folks do the same, so I thought I would share a partial list of the most common birds that drop by my yard and tell a little about identifying them.

I should first point out that who comes to the feeders depends to some degree on what food sources you put out. Our preference is black oil sunflower seed, a high calorie food that attracts a variety of bird species but not starlings or grackles. We also have a thistle feeder to attract goldfinch, and suet cakes to attract woodpeckers. So here is my list.

Tufted Titmouse: a small, high-energy bird with a gray back, white belly, and a touch of red below the wings. The pointy crest feathers on their head is an easy marker to look for. They won’t eat at the feeder but will grab a sunflower, fly to a branch and then peck it open.

Chickadee: the one at my feeder is the Carolina Chickadee, but there is a larger, similar one called Black Capped. These are small birds with a light gray back, dull white belly, and a distinct black head down to the eye, with a white face and black chin. They go for the black oil seed as well as thistle.

Red Bellied Woodpecker: A large, handsome bird with a zebra-striped back and a red patch along the top of its head and back of the neck. Woodpeckers are fun birds to watch with their ability to climb around on the bark of trees with their specialized claws, and wear out suet cakes and black oil sunflower seed. They can be noisy at times, especially as they are spooked off the feeder.

Downy Woodpecker: Another bark climber that has similar coloration to other woodpeckers, with a black back with streaks of white dashes, and a white belly. The head is also black and white, and the males also have a red spot on the back of their heads. They are the smallest of the woodpeckers we have locally, around the size of a sparrow.

White Breasted Nuthatch: This is my favorite bird to watch. It’s another bark crawler and has other characteristics that remind me of the woodpecker family, but not so. The Nuthatch is quite the acrobat, being able to walk around on a vertical tree trunk upside down. It’s a smallish bird with a blue-gray back, white belly and face, and a black cap and neck nape. They go for suet and black oil seed.

Blue Jay: Most folks know this one easily, with its blue and white body and pointy-head crest. They are the bully of the crowd, having their way at the feeder, and can be loud and noisy at times. Jays will often stuff seeds in their craw and then hide them somewhere for future use. They do this with acorns as well.

Cardinal: Another well-known bird that shows up on Christmas card snow scenes with its bright red color. The male has the vivid red, while the female is a more subdued brownish red. The short beak, black face and crested cap make this one an easy I.D.

Goldfinch: This small bird has an olive-green body in the winter with black wings, but as spring approaches the male shifts to a bright yellow color with a black cap. They really go for thistle seed.

There are several other birds that regularly come to my feeders, including several sparrow species, mourning dove, purple finch, and dark-eyed junco. I get occasional visits from the eastern towhee, brown thrasher, and red-bellied woodpecker. Bird watching is a great thing to share with kids, and my grandkids picked up on identifying them surprisingly fast. They are smart little boogers.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.