Backyard Winter Birds in Michigan

White breasted nuthatch for identification

Do you want to know what birds of Michigan are visiting 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 Michigan and how to attract more of them to your yard to bring you joy in winter every day. These are the birds most frequently spotted in December and January in Michigan according to bird checklists submitted on ebird.

Compared to summer, notable differences of winter birds in Michigan are the Downy Woodpecker is more commonly seen and American Tree Sparrows make an appearance as do Red-breasted Nuthatches.

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Find out more about these winter birds in Michigan that visit feeders and backyards and see pictures and find out how you can attract more birds to your backyard.

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

20 Most Common Backyard Winter Birds in Michigan:

  1. Black-capped Chickadee (48.5%)
  2. Downy Woodpecker (38.9%)
  3. Blue Jay (38.5%)
  4. Northern Cardinal (37.8%)
  5. White-breasted Nuthatch (35.9%)
  6. Dark-eyed Junco (35.8%)
  7. American Crow (34.3%)
  8. American Goldfinch (33%)
  9. Mourning Dove (31.3%)
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker (29%)
  11. Tufted Titmouse (26.3%)
  12. House Sparrow (26%)
  13. House Finch (20.7%)
  14. American Tree Sparrow (20.3%)
  15. European Starling (19%)
  16. Hairy Woodpecker (17.6%)
  17. Red-breasted Nuthatch (11%)
  18. American Robin (9.1%)
  19. Rock Pigeon (8.9%)
  20. Eastern Bluebird (6.6%)

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20 Most Common Backyard Winter Birds in Michigan:

1. Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Although the Black-capped Chickadee is common all year in Michigan it is the most commonly spotted bird in winter here.

The Black-capped Chickadee is a cute bird with a big round head and tiny body. These birds will happily feed at backyard feeders and will investigate everything including you! 

Black-capped Chickadees have black-caps and beaks, white cheeks, and are gray on the back, wings, and tail.  They particularly like suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts or peanut butter. They will even feed from your hand.

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. Stopping bigger bully birds or squirrels from plundering your feeders and stopping flocks of chickadees brightening up your day is easily solved with the Woodlink Caged feeder that is super easy to clean.  In winter this Upside Down Suet Feeder helps the little guys get some winter fuel.

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.

2. Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpecker for identification

Downy Woodpeckers live in Michigan all year but they are more commonly spotted here in winter.

Downy Woodpeckers are small birds that are common at backyard feeders.  They are often mixed in with other birds such as chickadees and nuthatches.  They have black and white coloring with a red patch at the back of their heads.  They look similar to the Hairy Woodpecker.

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

An upside-down suet feeder is excellent for smaller woodpeckers such as Downy Woodpeckers as they offer protection from the rain and help stop bully birds.  A bulk pack of suet cakes is a more economical way of buying them.

Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Downy Woodpeckers to your yard and if you combine them with suet in a great combination suet and hopper feeder then you get two feeders in one.

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.

Downy woodpeckers are the most common woodpecker to visit feeders in Michigan in winter.

3. Blue Jay

Blue Jay for identification

Blue Jays live in Michigan all year and they are the third most common bird spotted here in both winter and summer.

Blue Jays are common songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides.  They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available 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.  Platform or tray feeders make it easy to make a quick exit. This Woodlink Audubon Platform Feeder can be either hung, pole-mounted, or placed on the ground and has a mesh screen on the bottom to allow for rain drainage which is essential to stop feed from going moldy.

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.

Blue Jays are commonly seen in summer and winter in Michigan.

4. Northern Cardinal

Northern cardinal male and female for identification

Northern Cardinals are common birds in both summer and winter in Michigan.

The bright red male Northern Cardinal with black around their faces is a great sight, especially against a white winter background.  The females are also a little showy with their brown coloring, sharp brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.

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. The Woodlink Absolute feeder is very sturdy and cardinals love this feeder as they have a big enough area to perch without tipping the feeder as with lightweight feeders.  This is also squirrel proof which is always a bonus.

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

Northern Cardinals are common in summer and winter in Michigan but they look especially striking in winter against the snow.

5. White-breasted Nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch for identification

White-breasted Nuthatches are common birds in both summer and winter in Michigan but they are more frequently spotted in winter here.

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.

They can be found in deciduous forests, woodland edges, parks, and yards with trees or at feeders. They mainly eat insects including beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, ants, and also spiders.

Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds and this Droll Yankees feeder makes it so easy to clean, stopping food from going moldy and making birds ill.

White-breasted Nuthatches also eat seeds and nuts including acorns, hawthorns, sunflower seeds, and sometimes corn crops. 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.

6. Dark-eyed Junco

Dark eyed junco for identification

Dark-eyed Juncos are common birds in Michigan in winter. Some do stay in the summer but their numbers swell here in winter with birds migrating south from Canada and Alaska.

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.

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

Juncos prefer to feed near the ground and it’s best to keep ground feeders away from shrubs where cats and predators can hide so this covered feeder is great for keeping out the elements. A budget-friendly alternative that allows rain to drain out is this simple platform feeder.

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.

7. American Crow

American Crow for identification

American crows are common birds in Michigan all year.

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

8. American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch for identification

American Goldfinches are common birds in Michigan all year.

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

American Goldfinches breed in far northern states and Canada before migrating to southern states, they remain all year in the rest of the U.S.

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.

Goldfinches often travel in flocks and to get a swarm of them fly-in is a sight you need to create.  This is made possible with this Droll Yankees flocker feeder that has a staggering 20 ports to really get the party going.

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. 

9. Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are common birds in Michigan all year but they are spotted more in summer than in winter.

Mourning Doves are graceful small-headed birds, plump bodies and long tails.  They are a soft brown with black spots on the wings. Mourning Doves are common over all of the lower 48 all year but may migrate after breeding from the far north.

They can be seen perching on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground in grasslands, fields, and backyards. Mourning Doves can be found in open areas or on the edge of woodland.

Doves prefer to feed near the ground and it’s best to keep ground feeders away from shrubs where cats and predators can hide so this covered feeder is great for keeping out the elements. A budget-friendly alternative that allows rain to drain out is this simple platform feeder.

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.

10. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

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. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more common in winter in Michigan and the second most common Woodpecker in Michigan.

They make a loud call in spring and summer 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 so try an upside-down suet feeder that can help stop squirrels and bully birds. These suet cakes come in a cheaper bulk pack.

Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your yard and if you combine them with suet in a great combination suet and hopper feeder then you get two feeders in one.

You can attract more Red-bellied Woodpeckers with suet feeders and they will sometimes feed from hummingbird feeders

11. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Tufted Titmouse are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

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.

They can be assertive over smaller birds and are found in woodlands, parks, and at backyard feeders. They eat mostly insects in summer including caterpillars, beetles, ants, and wasps as well as spiders and snails. They will also eat seeds, nuts, and berries and will hoard shelled seeds.

This Woodlink Hopper Feeder is not only squirrel-proof but protects the seed from rain and is really sturdy, making it last a long time. Tufted Titmice also prefer suet feeders with tail props to balance their long tails on.

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. You can also try putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair.

12. House Sparrow

House sparrow for identification

House sparrows are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

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 quite tame so will eat out of your hand.

House Sparrows can be found in most busy areas, especially around cities, towns, farms, or anywhere there are people. They eat mostly grain and seed as well as discarded food. They can be considered a pest as they are non-native but will be found in backyards even if you do not feed them.

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 set up and the Woodlink Caged feeder is super easy to clean and is a perfect feeder for small birds.

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

13. House Finch

house finch male

House Finch are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

House Finches have a red head and breast in the males and brown-streaked coloring in the females.  Originally only in western states it was introduced to the eastern states and has done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.

House finches can be found in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders. They can be found in noisy groups that are hard to miss. House finch feed on seeds, buds, and fruit including thistle, cactus, cherries, apricots, plums, strawberries, blackberries, and figs.

Nyjer seeds are a favorite food of finches and this easy clean finch feeder from Droll Yankees ensures your wild birds stay healthy.

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

14. American Tree Sparrow

American tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrows are winter birds in Michigan that arrive in late September and October and stay until April or May.

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.

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 set up and the Woodlink Caged feeder is super easy to clean and is a perfect feeder for small birds.

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.

15. European Starling

European Starling for identification

European Starlings are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

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. 

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.

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

16. Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker for identification in Ohio

Hairy Woodpeckers are common birds in Michigan in winter and summer.

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. They can be found in woods and forests and parks but also at backyard feeders.

Hairy Woodpeckers benefit from squirrel-proof suet feeders with a cage to stop larger birds from taking all the turns.  A bulk pack of suet cakes is a more economical way of buying them. Also, black oil sunflower seeds attract more Hairy Woodpeckers to your yard and if you combine them with suet in a great combination suet and hopper feeder then you get two feeders in one.

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

Woodpeckers are more common birds in winter in Michigan at feeders, especially for suet.

17. Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatches are common birds all year but they are spotted more often in winter in Michigan.

Red-breasted Nuthatches remain all year in Northern states and into Canada but may move south in winter if cone crops are poor. They are blue-gray birds with black and white stripes on the head and a rusty underside.

Red-breasted Nuthatches can be found in coniferous woods foraging for cones and they do visit backyard feeders.

Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds and this Droll Yankees feeder makes it so easy to clean, stopping food from going moldy and making birds ill.

You can attract more Red-breasted Nuthatches to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds, suet feeders, peanuts and mealworms.

18. American Robin

American Robin for identification

American Robins are very common birds in Michigan but they are less commonly spotted here in winter.

American Robins are a common sight on lawns eating earthworms.  They have black heads and back with red or orange breasts.  They tend to roost in trees in winter so you are more likely to see them in your backyard from spring.

American Robins can be found in many habitats, from woodlands, forests, and mountains to fields, parks, and lawns. They eat earthworms, insects, snails, and fruit.

You can attract more American Robins to your yard with sunflower seeds, suet and peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms.  Platform feeders are best or food scattered on the ground. Also try planting some native plants that produce berries such as juniper, sumac, hawthorn, and dogwood.

American Robins are the most common bird in summer in Michigan but much less common in winter.

19. Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeons are blueish gray with two black bands on the wing and black on the tail tip. They have iridescent throat feathers and orange eyes.

They are common in cities but also visit backyards to find food on the ground but some cities have ordinances against feeding pigeons as they are considered pests.

20. Eastern Bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern Bluebirds can be spotted in Michigan all year but they are less common in winter.

Eastern Bluebirds are small thrushes with big, rounded heads, large eyes, and big bellies. The males are deep blue on the back and a reddish color underneath. Females are grayer above with some blue in the wings and tail and a less vivid orange-brown breast.

They live in meadows and can be spotted perched on wires and posts or low branches looking for insects.

Bluebirds rarely visit feeders but they do especially love live mealworms it may sound gross but that little wiggle gets the Bluebirds doing their happy dance all the way to your yard! They may also use nest boxes so put one up early and keep it clean.

Get Free Printables, with pictures of the backyard birds in Michigan throughout the year, at the end of this article to create your own tally:

Best Bird Feeders to Attract winter Birds in Michigan

variety of different bird feeders will attract the most species of birds in winter in Michigan. Suet feeders are very 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 Backard in Michigan

If you would like to attract more birds to your backyard in Michigan here are some tips:

  1. Provide bird feeders for different types of birds to get the most species to visit your yard. During winter in Ohio try suet feeders especially.
  2. Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream.  Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant and try a heated birdbath in winter.
  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 Michigan

Here are some tips to help you identify birds whatever time of year you are bird watching:

  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