Top 20 Backyard Winter Birds in Illinois

Dark eyed junco for identification

Do you want to know what birds of Illinois visit your backyard in winter? Watching the birds outside in the cold flocking to your feeders while you sit by the window with a hot drink is one of the joys of winter. 

Get to know all the common winter birds in Illinois and how to attract more of them to your yard to bring you joy in winter every day.

These are the birds that appear most frequently in Illinois bird checklists on ebird in December and January.

Compared to summer, notable differences of winter birds in Illinois are Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpeckers, and Black-capped Chickadees are more commonly seen at feeders.

Red-winged Blackbirds, Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroats and other warblers have migrated away.

Find out more about these winter birds in Illinois that visit feeders and backyards, see photos, and find out how you can attract more of these winter birds to your backyard.

Get Free Printables, with pictures of the backyard birds in Illinois throughout the year, to create your own tally:

Common Backyard Winter Birds of Illinois:

  1. Northern Cardinal 42.62%
  2. Dark-eyed Junco 42.03%
  3. Downy Woodpecker 37.85%
  4. Black-capped Chickadee 33.97%
  5. House Sparrow 32.43%
  6. American Crow 30.34%
  7. European Starling 29.67%
  8. Red-bellied Woodpecker 28.78%
  9. White-breasted Nuthatch 26.32%
  10. Mourning Dove 26.14%
  11. American Goldfinch 25.97%
  12. Blue Jay 25.69%
  13. American Tree Sparrow 20.22%
  14. House Finch 20.17%
  15. American Robin 17.91%
  16. Hairy Woodpecker 12.58%
  17. White-throated Sparrow 11.63%
  18. Tufted Titmouse 10.29%
  19. Song Sparrow 9.64%
  20. Carolina Wren 8.75%

20 Most Common Backyard Winter Birds in Illinois

1. Northern Cardinal

Northern cardinal male and female for identification

Northern Cardinals are common in Illinois all year.

The bright red male Northern Cardinal with black around their faces is a great sight, especially against a white winter background. 

Females are also a little showy with their brown coloring, sharp brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.

  • Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz (42-48 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in (25-31 cm)

Northern Cardinals will sometimes attack their own reflection during breeding season as they obsessively defend their territories.

Cardinals are heavy birds with quite large beaks, so they need a suitable hopper feeder or feeder with a big enough area for them to perch.

You can attract more Northern Cardinals to backyard feeders with sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, millet, and milo. They will feed from large tube feeders, hoppers, platform feeders, or food scattered on the ground.

2. Dark-eyed Junco

Dark eyed junco for identification

Dark-eyed Juncos are winter birds in Illinois and visit the state between September and May.

Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows that are different colors depending on the state.  They are generally slate-colored in the east and black, white, and brown in the west.

  • Length: 5.5-6.3 in (14-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in (18-25 cm)

They can be found in open and partially wooded areas, often on the ground, and are common across the continent. Some remain resident all year in the west and in the Appalachian Mountains.  Those that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south in winter to most of the United States.

Juncos prefer to feed near the ground, and it’s best to keep ground feeders away from shrubs where cats and predators can hide.

You can attract more Dark-eyed Juncos to backyard feeders with a variety of seeds such as black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, millet, and peanuts.  Platform feeders or scattered on the ground are best.

3. Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpecker for identification

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year in Illinois.

Downy Woodpeckers are small birds that are common at backyard feeders.  They are often mixed in with other birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches. Woodpeckers are often seen at feeders in winter in Wisconsin.

They have black and white coloring with a red patch at the back of their heads.  They look similar to the Hairy Woodpecker but smaller.

  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (21-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)

Downy woodpeckers can be found in woodlots, along streams, city parks, and backyards, and eat mainly insects, beetle larvae, berries, acorns, and grains.

To attract more Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard, try suet feeders, but they will also eat black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts on platform feeders.

4. Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees are cute birds with big round heads and tiny bodies. These birds will happily feed at backyard feeders, and they will investigate everything, including you! 

Black-capped Chickadees have black caps and beaks, white cheeks, and are gray on the back, wings, and tail. 

  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in (16-21 cm)

They can be found in forests, open woods, parks. Black-capped Chickadees eat seeds, berries and insects, spiders, and suet. Chickadees will grab a seed and go to a perch to open and eat them.

To attract more Black-capped Chickadees to your backyard, try suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts or peanut butter. They will even feed from your hand and are often one of the first birds to discover new feeders. They will also use nest boxes, especially if you fill them with wood shavings.

5. House Sparrow

House sparrow for identification

House Sparrows are common all year in Illinois.

The House Sparrow is another introduced species that has done very well and is now one of the most common birds. They are found near houses and buildings and can be pretty tame, so they will eat out of your hand.  

They have gray and brown heads and white cheeks. Their backs are black and brown, and their bellies are gray.

  • Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz (27-30 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)

They can be considered a pest as they are non-native but will be found in backyards even if you do not feed them.

You can attract more House Sparrows to your backyard feeders with most kinds of birdseed, including millet, corn, and sunflower seeds.

6. American Crow

American Crow for identification

American Crows are common all year in Illinois.

American crows are large all-black birds that make a hoarse, cawing sound.

  • Length: 15.8-20.9 in (40-53 cm)
  • Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz (316-620 g)
  • Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in (85-100 cm)

They are common birds that can be found in most habitats, including treetops, woods, fields, beaches, or towns.

They eat most things and usually feed on the ground, eating earthworms, insects, seeds, and fruit. They also eat fish, young turtles, mussels, and clams and will even eat eggs and nestlings of many species of birds.

American Crows gather in large numbers of up to two million crows in winter to sleep in communal roosts.

You can attract more American Crows to your backyard by scattering peanuts but can become a nuisance as attracted by garbage or pet food if left out.

7. European Starling

European Starling for identification

European starlings are common all year in Illinois.

European Starlings are not native but are now one of the most numerous songbirds.  They are stocky black birds with iridescent purple, green, and blue tones. 

  • Length: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz (60-96 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)

Considered a pest by some due to their aggressive behavior, these birds fly in large, noisy flocks and can be seen perched in groups on the top of trees or flying over fields in flocks. To stop European Starlings from dominating your yard, tube feeders with cages are essential in your feeder setup.

You can attract more European Starlings to your backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, and peanuts.

8. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common all year in Illinois.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a pale red belly that can be difficult to spot, with a red cap and nape and black-and-white stripped back. They are a similar size as a Hairy Woodpecker at around 9 inches.

  • Length: 9.4 in (24 cm)
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in (33-42 cm)

In spring and summer, they make a loud call and are found in woods and forests, especially with deadwood in eastern states. Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat mainly insects and spiders, but they will also eat acorns, nuts and pine cones, and some seeds and fruits.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers will come to backyards for suet and black oil sunflower seeds. They can also be seen on hummingbird feeders and will feed on fruit.  Planting native berry trees such as hawthorn or mountain-ash.

9. White-breasted Nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch for identification

White-breasted Nuthatches are common all year in Illinois.

White-breasted Nuthatches are active little birds that are gray-blue on the back and white on the face and belly, with a black cap. They will often have a chestnut color on the lower belly and under the tail.

  • Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in (20-27 cm)

They jam large nuts and acorns into tree bark and then whack them with their bills to open or ‘hatch’ them to get the seed out.

You can attract more White-breasted Nuthatches to your backyard with sunflower seeds and peanuts on tube feeders or suet feeders.

10. Mourning dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are common all year in Illinois.

Mourning Doves are graceful small-headed birds, plump bodies and long tails. They are a soft brown with black spots on the wings.

  • Length: 9.1-13.4 in (23-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz (96-170 g)
  • Wingspan: 17.7 in (45 cm)

They can be seen perching on telephone wires and foraging for seeds on the ground in grasslands, fields, and backyards. Mourning Doves can be found in open areas or on the edge of woodland. Mourning Doves are common over all of the lower 48 all year but may migrate after breeding from the far north.

Doves prefer to feed near the ground, and it’s best to keep ground feeders away from shrubs where cats and predators can hide.

You can attract more Mourning Doves to your backyard by scattering millet on the ground or on platform feeders. They will also eat black sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.

11. American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch for identification

American Goldfinch are common all year in Illinois.

American Goldfinches are popular birds with the males bright yellow and black coloring in spring.  The females are duller brown, as are males in winter.

  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)

American Goldfinches breed in far northern states and Canada before migrating to southern states. They remain all year in the rest of the US.

They can be found in weedy fields and overgrown areas foraging for sunflower, thistle, and aster plants. They are also common in suburbs, parks, and backyards.

To attract more American Goldfinches to your backyard, try planting thistles and milkweed.  They will visit most bird feeders and prefer sunflower seed and nyjer seed.  Goldfinches often travel in flocks, and to get a swarm of them, fly-in is a sight you need to see.

12. Blue Jay

Blue Jay for identification

Blue Jays are common all year in Illinois.

Blue Jays are common large songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides. 

  • Length: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
  • Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)

They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available. Mostly resident but may migrate from the far northwest of US and can migrate in large flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coast.

They can be found in forests, but especially near oak as they eat acorns. They can also be found in backyards near feeders.  As well as acorns, they eat insects, nuts and seeds, and grain. They may also take eggs from nests or take nestlings.

Blue Jays are large birds and prefer to fly in, grab a peanut or sunflower seed and take it away to feed.  They prefer platform or tray feeders to make it easy to make a quick exit.

To attract more Blue Jays to your backyard, try peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet, but they prefer these on tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post.  They will also enjoy a birdbath.

13. American Tree Sparrow

American tree sparrow

American Tree sparrows are winter birds in Illinois. They can be spotted here between October and May after breeding in Canada.

They are long-tailed brown-streaked plump birds with rusty caps, gray faces, and a rusty eyeline.  They forage in small flocks in weedy fields and under bird feeders.

  • Length: 5.5 in (14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-1.0 oz (13-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.4 in (24 cm)

Small birds need a feeder that stops bigger ‘bully’ birds such as starlings, grackles, and blackbirds from taking all your bird feed and scaring off the small songbirds. Tube feeders with cages are essential in your feeder setup.

You can attract more American Tree Sparrows to your backyard platform feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and millet.  They also feed off the ground under tube feeders foraging for seeds dropped or discarded from above.

14. House Finch

house finch male

House Finches are common all year in Illinois.

House Finches have a red head and breast in the males and brown-streaked coloring in the females.  

  • Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (16-27 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)

Originally only in western states, it was introduced to the eastern states and has done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.

They can be found in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders. They can be found in noisy groups that are hard to miss.

You can attract more House Finches to backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer seeds in tube feeders or platform feeders.

15. American Robin

American Robin for identification

American Robins can be spotted in Illinois in both summer and winter. However, they are spotted more often in summer.

American Robins are a common sight on lawns eating earthworms.  They have black heads and backs with red or orange breasts. 

  • Length: 7.9-11.0 in (20-28 cm)
  • Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz (77-85 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)

They tend to roost in trees in winter, so you are more likely to see them in your backyard from spring.

American robins do not regularly visit feeders, although they are common in backyards. Providing a habitat with lots of insects is the best way to encourage them, but they sometimes eat sunflower seeds, suet and peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms.

16. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

Hairy Woodpeckers can be spotted all year in Illinois.

Hairy Woodpeckers are black and white with a red patch on the back of their heads.  They are slightly bigger than their lookalikes, the Downy Woodpecker.

Length: 7.1-10.2 in (18-26 cm)
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz (40-95 g)
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in (33-41 cm)

They can be found in woods and forests, and parks but also at backyard feeders. Hairy woodpeckers are one of three woodpeckers that are common winter birds in Wisconsin.

You can attract more Hairy Woodpeckers to your backyard with suet feeders but also peanut and black oil sunflower seeds on platform feeders.

17. White-throated Sparrow

White throated sparrow

White-throated Sparrows are another winter bird in Illinois. They can be spotted here between September and June. You can also spot more during the spring and fall migration when their number swells with birds migrating through.

White-throated Sparrows have a distinctive black and white striped head, bright white throat, and yellow between the eye and bill.  Their backs are brown, and underneath is gray.

  • Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz (22-32 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)

White-throated Sparrows are migratory birds, breeding mainly in Canada before heading south in winter to Eastern and Southern states and the Pacific Coast.

You can find White-throated Sparrows on the ground in forests and woods and along the edges of wooded areas, often in large flocks.

White-throated Sparrows diet is mainly seeds of grasses and weeds as well as fruits such as grape, sumac, mountain ash, blueberry, blackberry, and dogwood. They will also eat a large number of insects from the forest floor, especially in summer.

You can attract White-throated Sparrows to your backyard feeders with millet and black oil sunflower seeds on platform feeders.

18. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted Titmouses can be spotted all year in Illinois.

The Tufted Titmouse is gray on the back and white underneath with a cute gray crest and large eyes that often flock with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.

  • Length: 5.5-6.3 in (14-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (18-26 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-10.2 in (20-26 cm)

They can be assertive over smaller birds and are found in woodlands, parks, and at backyard feeders.

You can attract Tufted Titmice to your backyard feeders with sunflower seeds, suet, and peanuts on tube feeders or suet cages.  They will also eat from platform feeders or hopper feeders. Tufted Titmice also prefer suet feeders with tail props to balance their long tails on.

19. Song Sparrow

Song sparrow for identification

Song Sparrows can be spotted in both summer and winter in Illinois. However, they are more common in summer.

Song sparrows are not as remarkable as other backyard birds, but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.

  • Length: 4.7-6.7 in (12-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz (12-53 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in (18-24 cm)

Song Sparrow live all year in the northern US. Some breed in Canada and then migrate to southern states.

They can be found in open, shrubby, and wet areas, often perched on a low shrub singing. They are also found at backyard feeders.

Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of insects and plants, including beetles, caterpillars, midges, spiders, and earthworms. They will also eat buckwheat, sunflower, raspberries, wild cherries, blackberries, wheat, and rice.

You can attract more song sparrows to your backyard feeders by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.

20. Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wrens can be spotted in Illinois all year.

Carolina Wrens are shy birds that are dark brown on top and light brown underneath.  They have a white eyebrow stripe and upright tail, and a loud teakettle song.

  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz (18-22 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.4 in (29 cm)

Carolina Wrens are residents all year across Eastern and Southeastern States.

They can be found in woods or thickly vegetated areas and will visit backyard feeders.

You can attract more Carolina Wrens to your backyard feeders with suet feeders, hulled sunflower seeds, or peanut hearts in large tube feeders or on platform feeders.

Best Bird Feeders to Attract Birds

variety of different bird feeders will attract the most species of birds in Wisconsin to your backyard, but suet feeders are especially popular in winter.

  1.  Tube Feeders can be filled with different types of birdseed and depending on the seed different birds will be attracted. Black oil sunflower seeds attract Goldfinches, Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Pine Siskins.
  2. Ground Feeders or a tray below a Tube Feeder with Black oil sunflowers tube feeders attract Cardinals, Jays, Finches, and Sparrows.
  3. Platform feeders with Millet or Corn attract small and medium-sized birds such as sparrows, Blackbirds, Towhees, Juncos, Doves, Grackles, and Starlings.
  4. Peanut feeders attract Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Jays, Juncos, Finches, and Sparrows.
  5. Suet Feeders are great, especially in winter, for Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Wrens, and Chickadees.

How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard in Illinois

If you would like to attract more birds to your yard in Illinois, here are some tips:

  1. Provide bird feeders for different types of birds to get the most species to visit your yard.
  2. Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream.  Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant and in winter a heated birdbath helps prevent ice build-up.
  3.  Grow native plants that will provide food and shelter. Plants, trees, and shrubs that provide fruit, berries, and nuts. Blackberries, wild grasses, elderberries, serviceberries, Oaks, Beeches, Cherries, sumacs, hemlocks, Purple Coneflowers, Sunflowers, Milkweed, Cardinal Flowers, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper, Buttonbush, and Dogwoods.
  4. Let your grass grow long to provide cover and seeds.
  5. Leave a brush pile to provide food, protection, and nesting opportunities for birds.
  6. Don’t use pesticides and herbicides as these may be toxic to birds and prevent the natural foraging opportunities for insects and seeds that birds will seek in your yard.
  7. Set up nest boxes to attract breeding birds and ensure they are cleaned every year.

How to Identify Birds in Illinois

Here are some more tips to help you identify birds in Illinois, whether you choose to go out birding or stay home bird watching in Illinois:

  1. Size – Size is the easiest thing to notice about a bird.  Birds are often measured in inches or centimeters in guide books.  It’s best to take a note of the bird in terms of small, medium, or large to be able to look for it later. A small bird is about the size of a sparrow, a medium bird is about the size of a pigeon and a large bird is the size of a goose.
  2. Shape – Take note of the silhouette of the bird and jot it down or draw the outline.  Look at tail length, bill shape, wing shape, and overall body shape.
  3. Color pattern – Take a note of the main color of the head, back, belly, and wings, and tail for the main color and then any secondary colors or patterns. Also take note of any patterns such as banding, spots, or highlights.
  4. Behavior – Are they on the ground or high up in the trees. Are they in flocks or on their own?  Can you spot what they are eating?
  5. Habitat – Woodlands, parks, shrubs, grasslands or meadows, shore or marsh.
  6. Use a bird identification app such as those created by ebird or Audubon