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13 Pennsylvania Birds That Endure the Winter (Photos)

As winter blankets Pennsylvania, the state’s feathered inhabitants undergo remarkable adaptations to thrive in the cold. From plumage changes to unique feeding habits, Pennsylvania’s winter birds prove just how amazing nature truly is. 

Pennsylvania’s winters are not for the faint of heart, and this state can experience an abundance of snow and even temperatures below zero, especially when you consider the windchill. Despite this sometimes harsh weather, many different bird species happily stay or even migrate to the state for the winter. The Northern Cardinal, for example, is just one such bird that thrives in the state’s cold winter. 

The following list will give you all the information you need to identify and understand these avian creatures better. 

1. Northern Cardinal

cardinal on bath
Male Northern Cardinal perched on bird bath | image by Kim Taylor Hull via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Even though they are now a common sight in Pennsylvania, the Northern Cardinal was rarely seen before 1900. It has been in the last century that they have moved northward, becoming extremely common throughout the state. 

  • Appearance: Male cardinals boast stunning red plumage, while females have a more subdued brown color with some touches of red. Both of them, however, feature a crest and sturdy bills.
  • Diet: Cardinals primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and insects, and they are extremely easy to entice to backyard bird feeders
  • Habitat: Northern Cardinals love dense shrubby areas, and can often be found in woodlands, gardens, overgrown fields, and parks.
  • Migration: Cardinals are non-migratory birds, staying in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: The oldest recorded Northern Cardinal was actually found in Pennsylvania. It was a female who was 15 years and 9 months old. 

2. Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-eyed junco perched
Dark-eyed junco perched

Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis

Dark-eyed Juncos are often considered a sign that winter is on its way. That is because these little creatures are some of the first winter birds to be seen in Pennsylvania. 

  • Appearance: Dark-eyed juncos are small sparrows with gray bodies and white underparts. One way to easily identify these birds is by their pale to pinkish bills.
  • Diet: Juncos primarily feed on seeds, especially those found on the ground. During their breeding season, these birds will also consume various insects
  • Habitat: These birds inhabit forests, gardens, and suburban areas.
  • Migration: Dark-Eyed Juncos are migratory birds, and will arrive in Pennsylvania during the winter months.
  • Interesting Fact: Eggs laid by Dark-Eyed Juncos can vary in color. They can be gray, white, pale greenish-white, or pale bluish-white. They are sometimes unmarked, but more often than not are speckled with green, gray, or brown.

3. American Goldfinch

american goldfinch
American goldfinch

Scientific Name: Spinus tristis

Goldfinches are found throughout most of the state of Pennsylvania, except for small areas in major cities and places with large blocks of forests. 

  • Appearance: Male goldfinches have bright yellow plumage with black wings and a black cap. Females have more subdued colors, but both have short tails and a conical bill. The intensity of the yellow plumage will vary depending on whether they are a breeding or non-breeding male.
  • Diet: Goldfinches primarily feed on seeds, especially thistles, asters, and sunflowers.
  • Habitat: These birds are commonly found in fields, meadows, and gardens.
  • Migration: American goldfinches are non-migratory and can be found in Pennsylvania all year round. 
  • Interesting Fact: Goldfinches are found throughout most of North America, except for areas of deep forests. 

4. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawk

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

The Red-Tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawks in North America, and this raptor can be seen throughout Pennsylvania. 

  • Appearance: Red-tailed Hawks are large raptors with reddish-brown tails and distinctive dark belly bands. Their undersides are pale, and their throats are white. 
  • Diet: Hawks are carnivorous, and prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
  • Habitat: They are commonly found in open areas, such as fields, and are sometimes seen perched on trees or utility poles.
  • Migration: Most Red-Tailed Hawks stay in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: These birds of prey have a raspy scream that is associated with what most people think a raptor should sound like. If you hear a hawk or eagle on a movie or tv show, it is almost always the sound of a Red-Tailed Hawk, no matter what the actual species on screen is. 

5. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted titmouse
Tufted titmouse | Mel’s pic

Scientific Name: Baeolophus bicolor

The Tufted Titmouse wasn’t always as prevalent throughout the state as it is today. In fact, in the early 1900s, this bird was not found in the northern parts of Pennsylvania

  • Appearance: The Tufted Titmouse is a small bird with gray, almost bluish, plumage and a matching crest. The sides of this bird are washed in a peachy hue and they have a black forehead.
  • Diet: These agile birds thrive on seeds, insects, and berries. They are a common visitor to feeders, especially during winter when food can be scarce.
  • Habitat: Tufted Titmice inhabits woodlands, parks, and suburban areas.
  • Migration: These birds are year-long residents of Pennsylvania, which means they stay around in the winter months. 
  • Interesting Fact: It is not uncommon for the Tufted Titmouse to line the inner cup of their nests with the hair/fur of animals. Sometimes, they will even pluck the hair directly from the animal. Mice, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, and even humans and pets are just some of the fur that have been found in old nests.

6. Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker facing right clinging to wood
Image by Veronika Andrews from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the United States, and it is almost as big as a crow. 

  • Appearance: Pileated Woodpeckers are large, striking birds with black bodies, red crests, and white stripes on their faces.
  • Diet: They feed on insects, especially carpenter ants, and fruits.
  • Habitat: Pileated Woodpeckers are found in mature forests and wooded areas. They need areas that have large trees in which they can nest in.
  • Migration: These woodpeckers are non-migratory, residing in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: Pileated Woodpeckers will sometimes visit backyard feeders for suet. However, if you want to entice them to your property, leave any dead or dry trees in place, as these make wonderful places for them to roost and nest.

7. Blue Jay

blue jay crest
Blue Jay | image by David A Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata

Larger than a robin, Blue Jays are impressive birds that belong to the same family as crows and ravens. 

  • Appearance: Blue Jays are vibrant birds with blue plumage, a crest on their heads, and white markings.
  • Diet: Blue Jays feast on various items, including nuts, seeds, insects, and occasionally small vertebrates.
  • Habitat: These birds inhabit a wide array of environments, including forests, parks, and urban areas.
  • Migration: Blue Jays generally do not migrate, and stay in Pennsylvania all year round.
  • Interesting Fact: The oldest wild Blue Jay was first banded in 1989 and wasn’t seen again until it was found dead in fishing gear. This bird was a whopping 26 years and 11 months old!

8. American Tree Sparrow

American tree sparrow
American Tree Sparrow | Image: Fyn Kynd / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Spizella arborea

The American Tree Sparrow is a winter visitor to the state of Pennsylvania. This winter resident is sometimes called a “winter chippy” because of its similarities to the Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina.)

  • Appearance: American Tree Sparrows have a rusty cap, gray face, and a dark spot on their breast.
  • Diet: These bird’s diet consists of seeds, insects, and berries.
  • Habitat: American Tree Sparrows are found in open areas that are filled with shrubs and trees.
  • Migration: American Tree Sparrows migrate to Pennsylvania during the winter months. This means you won’t normally see them in the state during the spring or summer seasons.
  • Interesting Fact: Their name makes it seem as if these birds spend a lot of time in trees, but they are ground forgers that also nest on the ground.

9. Red-bellied Woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker
red-bellied woodpecker

Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are winter birds that can often be seen placing large nuts into the crevices of tree bark and then whacking them with their beaks. This breaks the nut into smaller, easier-to-eat pieces. 

  • Appearance: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers with a red cap, a zebra-like pattern on their back, and a faint red wash on their belly.
  • Diet: Like other woodpeckers, the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers feed on insects, fruits, and seeds.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are commonly found in woodlands, parks, and suburban areas.
  • Migration: These non-migratory birds stay in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: Despite their name, the red on their belly is often not visible or very noticeable. 

10. Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker | image by NPS | N. Lewis via Flickr

Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens

Downy Woodpeckers are an all-season resident in Pennsylvania. While they may be smaller than most other woodpeckers, they still provide a splash of color during the winter months. 

  • Appearance: Downy Woodpeckers are small birds with black and white plumage, a spotted pattern on their wings, and a short bill.
  • Diet: They primarily feed on insects, such as beetle larvae and caterpillars, but will also eat grains, acorns, and berries. 
  • Habitat: Downy Woodpeckers are found in various deciduous wooded habitats, including parks and gardens.
  • Migration: These woodpeckers are non-migratory, residing in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: Despite their smaller size, Downy Woodpeckers are often confused with the larger Hairy Woodpeckers. 

11. White-Throated Sparrow

White-throated sparrow branch
White-throated Sparrow

Scientific Name: Zonotrichia albicollis

Large and plump, the White-Throated Sparrow may not live in Pennsylvania all year, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get to see these cute little birds.

  • Appearance: The White-Throated Sparrows has a white throat, black and white striped head, and brownish-gray plumage. Their tail is long and they have a short bill.
  • Diet: They mostly consume seeds of grasses and weeds, but will also eat insects and berries. 
  • Habitat: These sparrows are found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands and shrubby areas, but can also be found at the edges of ponds. During the winter, look for these birds in wooded lots, thickets, suburbs, city parks, and backyards.
  • Migration: White-Throated Sparrows migrate to Pennsylvania during the winter months.
  • Interesting Fact: These birds are well-known for their whistle-like call that is described as sounding like “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.”

12. White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch in woodland
White-breasted nuthatch in woodland | Image by Hans Toom from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Sitta carolinensis

White-Breasted Nuthatches are a common sight at feeders, happily eating alongside other winter birds, such as chickadees and cardinals.

  • Appearance: White-breasted nuthatches have a blue-gray back, a white face, and a black cap on their head.
  • Diet: White-Breasted Nuthatches mainly feed on insects, such as beetle larvae, weevil larvae, ants, stinkbugs, caterpillars, scales, and spiders. They will also consume various seeds and nuts.
  • Habitat: These nuthatches are found in mature forests, woodlands, parks, and suburban areas.
  • Migration: White-Breasted Nuthatches do not migrate, and stay in Pennsylvania for the entire year.
  • Interesting Fact: These birds are known for their “hitching” movement, which is where they move down tree trunks headfirst. 

13. Black-Capped Chickadee

Black capped chickadee
Black-capped chickadee | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay


Scientific Name: Poecile atricapillus

Black-Capped Chickadees are a common bird that is found throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania, except for the southern counties. In these locations, the Black-Capped Chickadee is replaced by the Carolina Chickadee. 

  • Appearance: Black-Capped Chickadees are named after their black cap. They are small and compact with white cheeks, gray back, buff underparts, and short bills.
  • Diet: These birds feed on insects, seeds, and berries. During the winter their diet consists of about half seeds, berries, and plant matter, while the other half consists of insects and potentially fat and pieces of frozen meat. 
  • Habitat: Chickadees are found in various wooded habitats, including forests and suburban areas.
  • Migration: Black-Capped Chickadees are non-migratory birds, and reside in Pennsylvania year-round.
  • Interesting Fact: Chickadees make a very distinctive “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call. This call will change in intensity, and they will adjust how many “dee” they sing depending on the threat perceived. 

Pennsylvania winters and bird adaptations

Pennsylvania experiences cold and snowy winters due to its location in the northeastern United States. During winter, temperatures can drop below freezing, sometimes reaching well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Snowfall is common, covering the landscape in a blanket of white. Pennsylvania winters can be harsh, with icy roads and chilly winds.

Birds in Pennsylvania have adapted to the diverse environments found throughout the state. They have developed various strategies to survive and thrive in different habitats, from forests to urban areas. One common adaptation is migration, where birds travel to warmer regions during the winter months to find food and avoid harsh weather conditions. Additionally, many birds have evolved specialized beaks and feet to help them find and consume different types of food, such as seeds, insects, and small mammals. Some birds also change their plumage to blend in with their surroundings, providing camouflage from predators.

How Winter Birds Survive in Pennsylvania

Winter poses challenges for birds in Pennsylvania, but they’ve evolved several survival tactics.

Finding Shelter

In Pennsylvania’s winter, birds seek shelter to shield themselves from harsh weather conditions. They utilize various natural and human-made structures such as dense foliage, tree hollows, shrubs, and even buildings. These shelters provide insulation against cold winds and help maintain their body temperature.

Finding Food

Winter birds adapt their feeding habits to ensure they have enough energy to endure the cold. They forage for available food sources such as seeds, berries, fruits, and insects. Some birds, like chickadees and nuthatches, cache food during the warmer months and retrieve it during winter. Others, such as birds of prey, hunt small mammals and other birds to sustain themselves through the season.

Locating Unfrozen Water Sources

Water is essential for birds to stay hydrated, even in freezing temperatures. They actively search for unfrozen water sources such as rivers, streams, and heated bird baths. Some birds even melt snow with their body heat to access water.

Conserving Energy

Winter birds conserve energy through various means. They reduce unnecessary movements and activity to preserve vital energy reserves. Many species roost together in groups to share body heat, minimizing heat loss during cold nights. Additionally, some birds lower their metabolic rate during periods of rest to conserve energy while remaining vigilant for potential threats.

Why do some birds in Pennsylvania not migrate?

Some birds in Pennsylvania choose not to migrate for several reasons. Firstly, they may have adapted to the local environment and found reliable sources of food and shelter year-round. These birds have evolved to withstand the colder temperatures and find sufficient resources during the winter months.

Additionally, competition for resources in their breeding territories may be lower during the winter, motivating them to stay rather than migrate. Some species also establish strong social bonds within their resident populations, which could influence their decision to remain in Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, migration can be energetically costly and risky, with long journeys and potential hazards such as predators, adverse weather conditions, and unfamiliar territories. Birds that have successfully found suitable habitats in Pennsylvania may see little reason to undertake such risky journeys. Ultimately, the decision to migrate or not depends on a combination of factors including genetics, environmental conditions, and individual behavior.


  • “Field guide to Common Winter Birds of Pennsylvania”, Pennsylvania Game Commission,

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