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Top 22 Birds to Spot in Winter

Written By Richie Alston


As the months turn that little bit cooler, many of our favorite birds head off to warmer climates to overwinter. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any birds to spot in winter. In fact, the list is pretty extensive.

Here are 22 of our favorite birds that you’ll see in different parts of the country over the winter months. Some are fairly commons. Others are a lot rarer. How many will you spot this winter?

1) Snowy Owl

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Tundra, Open Fields

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Bubo Scaniacus

The Snowy Owl is a large, white owl native to the Arctic regions. With their bright yellow eyes and immaculate plumage, they are a sight to behold. Best spotted during the day in open fields or tundras, they sometimes venture further south in the winter, making them a treat for birdwatchers in the Northern US.

Snowy Owls are known to perch on fence posts or other high vantage points. An interesting fact: unlike most owls, they are not entirely nocturnal and can often be seen hunting during the day.

2) Dark-Eyed Junco

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Woodlands, Gardens

Rarity: Common

Latin: Junco Hyemalis

Often referred to as “snowbirds” because of their winter arrival, Dark-eyed Juncos are small sparrows with varying plumage based on their region. They are easily identifiable by their white bellies and dark eyes.

These birds can be spotted at ground level, often feeding on seeds, especially during early morning or late afternoon. Their frequent hopping and flashing of their white outer tail feathers are distinguishing behaviors.

Tip: Set up bird feeders with seeds; they’re likely to pay a visit!

3) Snow Bunting

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Open Fields, Beaches

Rarity: Common

Latin: Plectrophenax Nivalis

These charming birds are recognized by their white bodies with contrasting dark wings. They breed in the high Arctic, but during winter, they travel to the Northern US.

Open fields and beaches, especially during the early morning or late afternoon, are the best places to spot them. They often forage in groups, picking seeds off the ground.

A quirky fact: Snow Buntings undergo a dramatic molt, transforming their plumage from winter white to summer brown.

4) Northern Cardinal

Location: Eastern US

Habitat: Woodlands, Gardens

Rarity: Common

Latin: Cardinalis Cardinalis

With their brilliant red plumage and crested head, male Northern Cardinals are hard to miss, while females sport a more subdued brown shade. They are most active during early morning and evening, often seen in woodlands or gardens. Their loud, cheerful songs are a treat to the ears.

To attract them, consider setting up a bird feeder with sunflower seeds.

5) American Tree Sparrow

Location: Central US

Habitat: Scrublands, Fields

Rarity: Common

Latin: Spizelloides Arborea

Don’t be misled by the name; these sparrows are mostly found in open fields and scrublands. They have a warm, russet cap and a distinct dark spot on their pale chest.

Early mornings are the best time to spot them, often foraging on the ground in flocks. Despite their name, they prefer the ground to trees!

6) Common Redpoll

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Woodlands, Feeders

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Acanthis Flammea

These are small finches with a rosy cast and a distinctive red cap. They can be found in woodlands and often visit feeders during winter. Look for their unique feeding behavior of hanging upside down to access seeds.

7) Bald Eagle

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Lakes, Rivers, Coats

Rarity: Common

Latin: Haliaeetus Leucocephalus

This majestic bird is the national symbol of the US. They are large raptors with a distinctive white head and tail contrasted against a dark brown body. They can be seen soaring high or perched near water bodies.

Watching them fish, swooping down to grasp a fish with their talons, is a sight to remember. Early morning or late afternoon near lakes or rivers are the best times to spot them.

8) Rough-Legged Hawk

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Open Fields, Meadows

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Buteo Lagopus

Named for the feathers that reach down their legs, these hawks are a winter visitor to the Northern US. They hover over open fields and meadows in search of prey. Their distinct hovering flight, even in strong winds, sets them apart.

9) Snow Goose

Location: Central US

Habitat: Wetlands, Fields

Rarity: Common

Latin: Answer Caerulescens

These are large, white geese with black wingtips. They migrate in large flocks and can often be seen in wetlands or fields. Their cacophonous calls often give away their presence before they’re seen.

10) Cedar Waxwing

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Woodlands, Orchards

Rarity: Common

Latin: Bombycilla Cedrorum

Elegant birds with a sleek profile, they have a distinct crest and a black mask. They’re often seen in flocks, high on berry trees. Their high-pitched calls are a good indicator of their presence.

11) Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Coniferous Forests

Rarity: Common

Latin: Regulus Satrapa

These tiny birds are agile and energetic. Recognizable by their striking golden crown, they’re most often found flitting about in coniferous forests.

Their high-pitched calls and rapid movements can be a challenge for birdwatchers, but spotting them is rewarding. Early morning is the best time to observe them actively feeding on insects.

12) Short-Eared Owl

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Grasslands, Marshes

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Asio Flammeus

These medium-sized owls have a distinctive face with large eyes and short ear tufts. Preferring open habitats like grasslands and marshes, they can often be seen hunting during the late afternoon or at dusk, gliding low over fields.

Their erratic flight pattern while hunting is a characteristic behavior.

13) Bohemian Waxwing

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Woodlands, Berry Trees

Rarity: Rare

Latin: Bombycilla Garrulus

Similar to Cedar Waxwings, these birds have a crest and a love for berries. They are slightly larger and sport a rich rufous undertail. They are sociable birds, often seen in large, noisy flocks.

Listen for their high-pitched trills and keep an eye on berry-laden trees during winter.

14) Pine Siskin

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Forests, Feeders

Rarity: Common

Latin: Spinus Pinus

These finches have streaked bodies and a sharp bill. They often mingle with other finches at feeders. Their flight is undulating, and they produce a distinctive buzzing call. To attract them, consider setting up feeders with thistle seeds.

15) Northern Shrike

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Open Country, Fields

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Lanius Borealis

A predatory songbird, they have a gray body, black mask, and a hooked bill. Often perched on high vantage points in open country, they hunt small birds and mammals.

They often impale their prey on thorns or barbed wire!

16) Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Location: Throughout US

Habitat: Coniferous Forests

Rarity: Common

Latin: Sitta Canadensis

These small, active birds have a blue-gray back and a distinctive black eye stripe. They can often be seen moving head-first down tree trunks searching for insects. Their nasal calls are a giveaway.

They’re attracted to feeders with sunflower seeds or suet.

17) Evening Grosbeak

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Forests, Feeders

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Coccothraustes Vespertinus

With their thick bills and vibrant plumage, these birds are a treat to spot. Males have a striking yellow and black coloration. They often visit bird feeders in groups, especially during early morning.

18) Long-Tailed Duck

Location: Coastal US

Habitat: Seas, Large Lakes

Rarity: Common

Latin: Clangula Hyemalis

These sea ducks have a distinctive long tail and vocal calls. They can be seen diving in coastal waters or large lakes. Their plumage changes dramatically between seasons, but they always retain their elongated central tail feathers.

19) Harlequin Duck

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Rocky Coastlines, Fast Rives

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Histrionicus Histrionicus

These are small, colorful sea ducks. Males have a striking blue-gray plumage with white patterns, while females are more subdued.

They prefer fast-flowing rivers or rocky coastlines. Watching them navigate swift currents is fascinating.

20) Purple Sandpiper

Location: Northeastern US

Habitat: Rocky Coastlines

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Calidris Maritima

These shorebirds have a slightly curved bill and a distinctive winter plumage that’s grayish with a purplish hue. They are often seen on rocky coastlines, probing for food.

They’re more active during low tides when they forage along the water’s edge.

21) White-Winged Crossbill

Location: Northern US

Habitat: Coniferious Forests

Rarity: Uncommon

Latin: Loxia Leucoptera

These unique finches have crossed mandibles, which they use to extract seeds from conifer cones. Males are reddish-pink, while females are yellowish. Listening for their distinctive calls in coniferous forests can lead you to them.

22) Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Location: Southern US

Habitat: Woodlands, Orchards

Rarity: Common

Latin: Sphyrapicus Varius

A type of woodpecker, they have a distinctive pattern with a yellow belly. They create rows of small holes in tree trunks to feed on sap and attract insects.

The drumming sound on trees and their unique feeding pattern are good indicators of their presence.

Spotted Any?

Have you come across any of these? Let everybody know by commenting at the bottom of this page.

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