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26 Winter Birds in Massachusetts

In the heart of New England, Massachusetts boasts its unique charm and rich heritage. It has a diverse landscape with coasts and forests, making it a great place for birds. During the winter months, the state experiences snow, ice and cold temperatures, leaving only the true cold-hearty bird species to tough it out. In this article, we take a closer look at the tough species that call Massachusetts home for the winter months, and how you can help some species by offering them food. 

1. Bald Eagle

  • Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Length: 27.9-37.8 in 
  • Weight: 105.8-222.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 80.3 in

The Bald Eagle is a majestic bird of prey, known for its white head and tail contrasting with a dark brown body. With a wingspan reaching up to 7 feet, it is a symbol of strength and freedom in the United States. Bald Eagles are skilled hunters and fishers, often seen soaring high in the sky or perched near bodies of water. Their diet primarily consists of fish, but they also hunt small mammals and birds.

In Massachusetts, Bald Eagles are year-round residents, though their numbers increase during the winter months due to migration from northern regions. They continue to hunt for fish in unfrozen bodies of water and may scavenge for carrion when necessary. While they do not change color, their thick feathers provide insulation against the cold.

2. American Crow

American crow
American crow | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay
  • Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
  • Length: 15.8-20.9 in
  • Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in

The American Crow is a familiar sight in the United States, sporting glossy black feathers and a robust build. Known for their distinctive “caw” calls, these birds often gather in groups and demonstrate impressive problem-solving abilities, including tool usage. Their diet varies widely, encompassing insects, small mammals, fruits, and carrion. Crows have even been known to pick through trash.

In Massachusetts, American Crows are year-round inhabitants, braving the winter months by scavenging for berries, seeds, grains, and small animals. While they don’t change color, their adaptability and social behaviors aid in surviving harsh conditions. Feeding them with offerings like peanuts, suet, meat and grains can supplement their diet during winter, supporting their survival during colder spells.

3. American Goldfinch

  • Scientific name: Spinus tristis
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in

American Goldfinches are among my favorite birds to see at feeders, especially when they have their bright yellow feathers in the spring and summer. During this period they are mostly yellow, or “gold”, with black-tipped wings and males have a black cap on top of their heads.

Before winter they will molt and their bright yellow fades out to a more dull brownish or olive tone. Even their orange summer beak turns dark for the winter. You can always recognize them any time of year by the black on their wings, and their finch-like beaks. Goldfinches can be found year-round throughout Massachusetts.

4. American Robin

  • Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
  • Length: 7.9-11.0 in
  • Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in

Highly common in backyards, robins are mostly seen hopping around the grass looking for worms and other invertebrates to eat. While they will occasionally visit bird feeders, they do not typically eat seeds. Their bright red, round bellies, and yellow beaks make them easy to identify.

In many areas some of the population will head south for the winter, while others will stay and retreat to the woods. Their diet shifts heavily to berries during winter, and they don’t frequent yards again until spring when the ground has thawed enough to hunt worms again. This gives the illusion that they all migrate out of the state, but in many robins will choose to stay in Massachusetts all year.

5. Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped chickadee
Black-capped chickadee | Image:
  • Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in
  • Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in

Chickadees are tiny birds with rounded bodies that are very easy to recognize because of their “black cap” and black bib. Their cheeks are solid white, their wings and backs are blackish gray, and their underbodies are fluffy and light.  

Chickadees are common at bird feeders. You’ll often see them grab a seed then fly to a nearby branch where they hold the seed between their feet and peck at it to break it apart.

In Massachusetts, Black-capped Chickadees are a familiar sight year-round. During the winter months, they sustain themselves by foraging for seeds, berries, and insect larvae nestled within tree bark. Unlike some birds, they maintain their plumage color, relying instead on their dense feathers to insulate against the cold. Offering bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds, suet, and mealworms can be a lifeline for them during the harsh winter season.

6. Blue Jay

Image: Graham-H |
  • Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
  • Length: 9.8-11.8 in
  • Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in

Another very well-known bird species in North America and the U.S. is the Blue Jay. They have a large blue crest on top of their heads with mostly blue feathers along their back and white feathers on their chest and belly. Their wings and tail have black stripes. They also have a black ring around their neck. 

Blue Jays often announce their presence with a variety of loud vocalizations. They are also among the first to alert all the birds in the area of a predator such as a hawk.

Blue Jays stick around in Massachusetts all year long, managing the winter by finding nuts, seeds, fruits, insects, and even small animals to eat. They keep their colorful feathers no matter the season, staying warm by fluffing their feathers during the cold winter months.

7. Canada Goose 

Two Canada geese
Two Canada geese | image by:
  • Scientific name: Branta canadensis
  • Length: 29.9-43.3 in
  • Weight: 105.8-317.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 50.0-66.9 in

The Canada Goose is a large bird with a distinctive black head and neck, white cheek patches, and a brownish-gray body. Their V-shaped flying formations are a common sight during migration periods. Canada Geese are known for their loud honking calls and their strong family bonds, often nesting in close-knit groups. They primarily graze on grasses, sedges, and grains found in fields and wetlands.

In Massachusetts, Canada Geese are year-round residents, enduring the winter by foraging for plant matter, seeds, and grains. They may also feed on aquatic vegetation in ponds and marshes. While they don’t change color, their thick down feathers and fat stores provide insulation against the cold.

8. Carolina Wren

  • Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in
  • Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 11.4 in

These little birds are mostly reddish-brown on top and a lighter orangish color on bottom. Their longish, slightly curved beak and bold white “eyebrow” are good identifiers. They like to hide in brush and may be hard to spot, however their loud “teakettle-teakettle” song is likely one you would recognize.

Some Carolina Wrens are year-round residents in Massachusetts, especially in the southern parts of the state. However since they are not quite as cold-hearty as some of the other northern songbirds, some may choose to travel a little ways south during the winter.

This wren species was once only found in the southeast, but they have slowly expanded their range north all the way to New England. They primarily feed on insects, spiders, and seeds found in shrubs and leaf litter. While they don’t change color, their thick plumage helps them stay warm during colder months. They may visit your suet feeders!

9. Cedar Waxwing 

Cedar waxwing
Cedar Waxwing | image by Ron Knight via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Bombycilla cedrorum
  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in
  • Weight: 1.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in

The Cedar Waxwing is a sleek bird with a silky blend of brown, gray, and yellow plumage. It features a distinctive black mask across its eyes and waxy red tips on its secondary wing feathers. Cedar Waxwings are social birds often found in small flocks, moving together with graceful flight patterns. They are primarily fruit-eaters, known for their ability to pass berries from one bird to another in a behavior called “gifting.”

In Massachusetts, Cedar Waxwings are present year-round, although their numbers may fluctuate during the winter months. They rely heavily on fruit, especially during colder periods when insects are scarce. While they don’t change color, their adaptable nature helps them survive winter conditions. Providing fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can attract Cedar Waxwings to yards and gardens during winter, supporting their diet and aiding their survival.

10. Dark-eyed Junco

Image: Paul Hurtado / Flickr/ CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
  • Length: 5.5-6.3 in
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in

Juncos in the eastern U.S. are dark gray on their head, chest, back, wings and tail. This is called the “slate-colored” variety. Their belly all the way to the bottom of the tail is white. Females often appear a buffy brown-gray while males are a darker gray. Two good things to look for when recognizing junco’s are their pale pink beak and round body shape.  They are most common in forests and wooded areas where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground. 

Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout Massachusetts during the winter. In fact they travel south from their summer breeding grounds in Canada and show up in great numbers across New England in the winter. Because they show up right in time for winter weather to start, they are sometimes nicknamed “snowbirds”. Setting up bird feeders with seeds like millet, cracked corn, and sunflower seeds can help dark-eyed juncos do well in winter. 

11. Eastern Bluebird

  • Scientific name: Sialia sialis
  • Length: 6.3-8.3 in
  • Weight: 1.0-1.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 9.8-12.6 in

True to their name, bluebirds are royal blue on top with rusty reddish-orange chests and white bellies. Females and males share the same coloration, however the females colors appear much duller and more faded, especially the blue. They are just about the most sought after tenants of birdhouses in the U.S. They are very common in backyards, though not so much at feeders unless you offer mealworms.

During winter, eastern bluebirds face challenges due to colder temperatures and fewer insects available. Even though they live in the state year-round, they still have trouble finding enough food when it’s cold. They might eat more berries and fruits during this time since insects are harder to find. While they don’t change color in winter, they look for sheltered spots to stay warm.

12. European Starling

  • Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
  • Length: 7.9-9.1 in
  • Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in

100 European Starlings were set loose in New York in the 1890s and they have since spread across the country in huge numbers. Unfortunately these non-native birds are aggressive and often out-compete our native species for food and nesting sites.

Starlings are mostly all dark with white specks on their backs and wings, and have yellow beaks and feet. Starlings can also be a purple and green iridescent color and in the right light can actually be quite pretty. They grow in new feathers before winter that have white tips. So during the colder months they will appear heavily speckled. As the year goes on, these white tips will break off giving them a smoother, glossier appearance in the summer.

During Massachusetts winters, European Starlings face cold temperatures and limited food. They cope by changing what they eat, looking for shelter, and huddling together for warmth. They’re adaptable birds, forming big groups to pool their resources in finding food sources.

13. Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker | image by NPS | N. Lewis via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
  • Length: 5.5-6.7 in
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in

Downy’s are the smallest woodpeckers in North America and are relatively easy to attract to backyard seed and suet feeders. They have all white underbodies, black wings with white spots, and black and white striped heads. Males have a red spot at the back of their head. Though they do closely resemble the Hairy Woodpecker, another common Massachusetts species, Downy’s are noticeably smaller. 

These woodpeckers remain in the state year-round. Their insulating downy feathers help to keep them warm, and they may use tree cavities to roost away from wind and weather. Despite the tough conditions, these woodpeckers adapt well to survive winter in Massachusetts.

14. Common Grackle

Image: diapicard |
  • Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
  • Length: 11.0-13.4 in
  • Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in

Grackles often appear black in color, but in the right light you can see hues of blue, green, brown and purple. They are easy to identify by their solid coloring, long narrow body and tail, and yellow ringed eye. They may visit backyard feeders for seed and suet. 

Even during winter in Massachusetts, Common Grackles remain in the state year-round. They tackle challenges like colder weather and less food by joining huge flocks of other blackbird species. With strength in numbers, these large groups can work together to evade predators and find the best food sources. You’ll often see them looking for seeds and grains in large agricultural fields, taking advantage of what’s left after the harvest.

15. Song Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
  • Length: 4.7-6.7 in
  • Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in

These sparrows are mostly brown on the back and wings, with heavy brown streaks on a white breast that often culminate in a central brown spot.  Song Sparrows are very common throughout most of North America and their plumage can vary a bit from region to region. The male of the species uses his song to attract females as well as to defend his territory. 

In Massachusetts, some Song Sparrows may choose to move a few states south to avoid the harshest of the winter weather. Others though, choose to remain in the state year round. They will often join mixed-flocks of other sparrow species where they can work together to forage for food.

16. House Finch

Male and Female House Finch
  • Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
  • Length: 5.1-5.5 in
  • Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in

House Finches are very common backyard birds in Massachusetts and frequent visitors to bird feeders. You’ll often see a male and female pair traveling together, and several finch pairs showing up together at feeders. House finches are mostly brown with a light chest heavily streaked. Males have a red wash on their head and chest while females do not. Unfortunately, they can be prone to transmittable eye disease, so that is something to keep an eye out for at your feeders.

House Finches stick around all year throughout Massachusetts. During the winter season, they can fluff up their feathers until they look like little puff balls. Separating their feather layers like this helps them trap more warm air against their body.

17. American Kestrel

american kestrel
American Kestrel | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Falco sparverius
  • Length: 8.7-12.2 in
  • Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in

The American Kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon, is known for its vibrant plumage and exceptional hunting skills. They’re often seen perched or hovering over fields, hunting insects, small mammals, and birds. Female kestrels are larger and more streaked than males. Some will migrate south for winter, while others will remain in Massachusetts year-round.  

During the fall season, kestrels adjust their territories to optimize access to winter food sources. If abundance of small mammals and birds remains good, kestrels typically remain within their established ranges throughout autumn and winter. But if there is a steep decline in those food sources during the winter, many relocate to regions with more abundant winter food resources.

18. Herring Gull

herring gull
Herring Gull | image by ianpreston via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Larus argentatus
  • Length: 22.1-26.0 in
  • Weight: 28.2-44.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 53.9-57.5 in

Herring Gulls are one of the most populous and familiar gull species in North Atlantic waters. You can find them along the Massachusetts coast year-round, but further inland you’ll spot them more often during the winter months. These full-bodies gulls have a gray back, black wing-tips, pink legs and yellow bill. Breeding adults will have an all white head, neck and chest while non-breeders will have various levels of pale brown streaking on these white areas. Juveniles change their plumage a lot during the first few years, which can make them hard to identify until they gain their adult coloring.

Whether along the coast, circling around fishing boats or soaring over the local trash dump, Herring Gulls are known for their loud vocalizations and bold attitudes. 

19. Mallard

Mallard swimming in the river
Mallard (male) swimming in the river
  • Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos
  • Length: 19.7-25.6 in
  • Weight: 35.3-45.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 32.3-37.4 in

Male Mallards are probably one of the first ducks we learn to recognize. Their iridescent green heads and yellow beak make them stand out, along with their prevalence in urban areas in parks and ponds. They exhibit strong sexual dimorphism, with males displaying vibrant colors compared to females mottled brown hues. Mallards are adaptable omnivores, feeding on aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. While they can be found year-round in many regions, some migrate south during winter to escape harsh conditions.

During colder months, they seek open water sources and supplement their diets with grains and seeds found in agricultural fields. Mallards’ ability to adapt to diverse environments and forage opportunistically contributes to their survival throughout the year.

20. Mourning Dove

  • Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
  • Length: 9.1-13.4 in
  • Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 17.7 in

About the size of a robin, Mourning Doves are very common in backyards and will often sit perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. Their soft “cooing” is a common backyard sound. They are also common at bird feeders, although their large size tends to mean they do most of their foraging on the ground below the feeders. Mourning Doves are mostly gray with black spots on top, a pale peachy color below, and pink legs.

Mourning Doves are year-round residents in Massachusetts, hanging on even through the winter months. Their survival during winter relies on their ability to find suitable shelter and food sources, often congregating near bird feeders or agricultural fields where seeds are abundant. With their adaptability and resourcefulness, mourning doves continue to thrive across diverse landscapes throughout the year.

21. Northern Cardinal

  • Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
  • Length: 8.3-9.1 in
  • Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
  • Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in

Northern Cardinals are among the most recognizable and common backyard birds in North America. Males have bright red feathers and a black mask, females are a tawny brown with red highlights. Both males and females are easily recognized by their “mohawks” and reddish orange beaks

During winter, Cardinals rely on their thick feathers and efficient metabolism to survive cold temperatures. Their diet primarily consists of seeds, fruits, and insects, making them adaptable foragers. Their ability to adapt to various habitats and find food sources allows them to thrive even in harsh winter conditions. They will readily visit your backyard all winter long if you supply them with a steady stream of sunflower seeds!

22. Northern Mockingbird

Northern mockingbird with berry
Northern mockingbird with berry | image by Tim Sackton via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
  • Length: 8.3-10.2 in
  • Weight: 1.6-2.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 12.2-13.8 in

Mockingbirds get their name from their ability to mimic the songs of other species of birds. It’s estimated that a male mockingbird can learn up to 200 different songs in its lifetime. These medium-sized backyard birds are gray with white wing patches, and can also be recognized by their rather long tail feathers. They have a somewhat bad reputation for being aggressive to anything that comes close to their nest. 

The Northern Mockingbird opts to stay in Massachusetts throughout the year. Their diverse diet turns mostly to berries and fruits during the winter. They are one of the only bird species in New England that will defend territory in the winter. Shrubs or trees with plentiful winter fruits and berries are usually their targets, but they will even chase other birds off from bird feeders if they view them as a valuable winter food source. 

23. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
  • Length: 9.4 in
  • Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in

These medium-sized woodpeckers are fairly common at feeders and backyards in the eastern U.S. Though they are described as “red-bellied” you may first notice the bright red streak along the back of their heads. They have a plain white breast with an area of pinkish red lower down in their “belly” area which is often not visible. Their wings are what really makes them easy to identify though, horizontally barred in black and white.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers live year-round in Massachusetts but may be more likely to be found in the southern portion of the state. They continue their year-round diet of insects foraged from inside tree bark, but also eat nuts and berries. Many even have caches of nuts that they stored earlier in the year to help them get through the winter months. Putting out a suet feeder is a good way to attract these woodpeckers to your backyard.

24. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted titmouse
Tufted titmouse | Mel’s pic
  • Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
  • Length: 5.5-6.3 in
  • Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.9-10.2 in

These little birds are very common at feeders and in backyards within their range. Like Cardinals, they have a small crest (mohawk) that helps you tell them apart from other birds. Titmice are silver-gray on top and lighter on bottom, with a black patch just above their beaks. 

The Tufted Titmouse is common all year in Massachusetts. During winter, Tufted Titmice stays in the state, adapting to the cold weather with ease. Their diet includes seeds, insects, and berries, and they are often observed visiting bird feeders for supplementary nourishment. They join mixed flocks of other small birds during the winter, including chickadees, to increase success of foraging.

25. White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch in woodland
White-breasted nuthatch in woodland | Image by Hans Toom from Pixabay
  • Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
  • Length: 5.1-5.5 in
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in

The White-breasted Nuthatch gets its name from the fact that they stuff nuts and seeds under tree bark, then use their sharp beaks to hatch the seed from the shell. These birds also can walk vertically on trees better than many other types of birds. White-breasted Nuthatches have a thick black stripe on top of their heads, with white on either side and their bellies. Their wings are mostly gray and black.  

White-breasted Nuthatches are found year-round throughout Massachusetts and are common backyard birds. Adapting well to cold weather, these nuthatches display remarkable agility as they navigate tree trunks and branches, foraging for food throughout the winter months. Their preference for seeds and nuts makes them frequent visitors to bird feeders, offering a glimpse of their resourcefulness in finding sustenance.

26. White-throated Sparrow

White-throated sparrow branch
White-throated Sparrow
  • Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis
  • Length: 6.3-7.1 in
  • Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in

For most of the country, White-throated Sparrows are only winter birds, but not so in Massachusetts where they can be found year-round. The summer population of white-throated sparrows in Massachusetts tends to head further south in the winter, but are replaced by the large number of sparrows that come south into the state from Canada to spend the winter.

Due to their focus being on foraging rather than nesting, and the large number that travel to the U.S. from Canada, you’ll tend to see much more of these birds during the winter months. They will visit backyard feeders, especially during snowy weather where they are often seen foraging for seed on the ground with other sparrow species, including juncos.

How Winter Birds Survive in Massachusetts

Winter in Massachusetts presents unique challenges for birds, and their survival strategies are grounded in practical adaptations that enable them to navigate the cold and snowy conditions. These strategies encompass a diverse array of behaviors and physiological changes that collectively contribute to their resilience in the face of winter challenges.

Fluffing Feathers

Birds have several layers of downy feathers they can fluff up to trap warm air against their body. Some birds may grow extra down feathers for the winter, but many birds just carefully clean and maintain their down feathers all year. Many species molt (drop old feathers and grow new ones) at the end of the summer so by the time it gets cold, they have a fresh set of new feathers in tip top shape for the winter.

Fat Storage

To sustain themselves during lean winter months, some birds store extra fat reserves. These reserves serve as energy stores when food sources become scarce, helping them maintain their body temperature and survive through colder periods.


Migration is a widespread tactic among birds facing harsh winters. Many species fly south to warmer climates where food is more abundant and temperatures are milder. This annual journey allows them to escape the freezing conditions and ensures their survival until spring.

Finding Shelter

Birds seek out sheltered locations to shield themselves from harsh winds and extreme cold. They utilize dense foliage, tree cavities, and man-made structures like birdhouses as safe havens where they can roost and rest without being exposed to the elements.

Dietary Adjustments

With the scarcity of insects in winter, birds adapt their diets to include seeds, berries, and other readily available resources. This shift in diet allows them to sustain themselves when their usual summer food sources are limited, ensuring they have enough energy to endure the colder months.

Some species form flocks

Some bird species adopt a communal strategy by forming flocks during winter. This collective behavior enhances their chances of finding food and staying warm. The combined effort of a group allows for more efficient foraging, as individual birds share information about food locations and create a more formidable presence against potential predators. They may also huddle or roost together in extreme cold.

Why do some birds in Massachusetts not migrate?

While many birds in Massachusetts embark on long journeys to warmer regions during winter, some choose to stay put. This decision is often influenced by the availability of food. Certain bird species have adapted to the local environment and have access to food sources even in the colder months. Additionally, competition for resources in warmer regions during migration can drive some birds to remain in their familiar territories.

While staying behind requires some adjustment, it gives these birds an advantage in the spring. They get to maintain or choose their preferred breeding territory before all the spring migrants return. First choice means less energy expended at the start of the breeding season duking it out with other males.

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