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Winter Birding Opportunities

a woodpecker in a tree in the snow

Winter Birding Opportunities

Winter in Michigan is a great time to get in some birding. While many of our summer species have headed for warmer spots to spend the winter, for a number of species, Michigan is their warm spot. With some of our summer residents sticking around but changing their summer finery for more muted winter colors, there are plenty of fun challenges in winter birding.

Meet just a few of these winter bird species below.

Backyard feeder birds

Backyard feeder birds
yellow goldfinch perched on a birdfeeder

American goldfinch

The lemony yellow goldfinches at your feeder this summer will probably stick around for the winter, but look for them to be wearing brownish yellow plumage this time of year. They may even be joined by some of our winter finches like pine grosbeaks, pine siskins or common redpolls.

a dark eyed junco in the snow

Dark-eyed juncos

One favorite harbinger of winter is the arrival of the dark-eyed juncos. This slatey gray songbird with the snowy white belly is also sometimes called a snowbird from the way it arrives every winter. Watch for them to feed on the ground around your feeders.

a downy woodpecker eating a suet cake


If you put out suet cakes, you’re bound to draw woodpeckers. Our most common visitors are downy and hairy woodpeckers. With their black and white checkerboard plumage they look very similar, but with a little practice you can tell them apart by their size (downies are smaller with shorter bills). Here’s an easy suet recipe from the Audubon Society.

Destination birding

Many of our flashier winter birds won't often be found in backyards, but they can still be easy to see with a little work and a little luck. Snowy owls, bald eagles and snow buntings are regular winter residents.
snow bunting

Snow buntings

Snow buntings often travel in flocks and can be found in open areas where seeds are available. Look for them along the edges of large farm fields where crops have been harvested. They blend in with the snow on the ground, so watch carefully to spot them when they move.

A snowy owl in flight

Snowy owls

We don’t see snowy owls every winter. They only come south when there’s not enough food on their breeding grounds. They’re solitary birds and they hunt areas that remind them of the open tundra they usually call home - Great Lakes shorelines, large meadows, sports fields, parking lots or anything else that’s flat without tall vegetation. They’re regularly found hunting at airports (but check whether airport security allows access before heading out).

A bald eagle perched on a branch in the snow

Bald eagles

Bald eagles can be found where there is food. That means looking for open water, but it can also mean finding a deer carcass. Eagles aren’t territorial in the winter and it’s not unusual to find two, three or more eagles foraging along the same stretch of river or scavenging off the same carcass.

Winter bird science

Audubon Christmas bird count

Winter is a perfect time to get started helping with some science projects, too, and you don’t need to be a bird expert to help. The Audubon Society has been running Christmas bird counts for over 100 years. Find a count near you to get started and meet other bird fans in your community.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

You can help Project FeederWatch right from the comfort of your home. For over 30 years, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been running this study to track the birds people see at home and in their communities. There’s a small fee to participate, but you'll receive a research kit with instructions and some useful bird identification goodies.