Nestled in the northeastern part of the U.S., Vermont is a unique home for birds facing its challenging winters. With a mix of forests, lakes, and hills, the state tests its winged residents. Winter in Vermont can be demanding, but it’s this rigorous weather that sifts out the less resilient birds, making room for those that thrive despite the challenges. From birds that are adept at handling winter to those skilled at surviving, these hardy residents make Vermont their winter home, showcasing how nature can adapt and endure.
In this article, we’ll discuss 12 such birds, some of which are common year-round, while others are exclusive winter residents in the snowy landscapes of the Green Mountain State.
1. Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Scientific name: Sitta canadensis
- Length: 4.3 in
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
- Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in
These little nuthatches have a dark gray back, rusty (ranges from boldly colored to pale) chest and belly, and a boldly black and white striped face. They are quick and active birds most commonly found hopping around on tree trunks and branches looking for insects beneath the bark. They nest in tree cavities, and will even use backyard nest boxes.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are found year-round in Vermont, but their population often “follows the food” and may head south during winters when food (conifer seeds) is less abundant.
2. Downy Woodpecker
- 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 very common backyard birds that love to visit bird feeders. They are the smallest woodpeckers in North America and are always one of the first species I see at a new bird feeder.
They are easily identifiable by their all white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and the red spot on the back of their heads (in males, females have no red). Though they do closely resemble the Hairy Woodpecker, another common Vermont woodpecker, Downy’s are noticeably smaller.
Downy Woodpeckers in Vermont forage for insects, seeds, and berries in winter. Their diet shifts in winter compared to summer, as they rely more on seeds and berries when insects are scarce.
Their feathers do not change color in winter, as they have adapted to maintain their appearance year-round. It’s beneficial to continue feeding them in winter to aid their survival, offering suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
3. Dark-eyed Junco
- 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 to the bottom of the tail is white. Females may look similar or appear a buff-brown instead of gray.
Two good things to look for when recognizing juncos are their pale pink beak and roundish body shape. They’re common in forests and wooded areas where they can be seen foraging on the ground. Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout Vermont all year.
During winter, Dark-eyed Juncos gather in loose flocks, bringing activity to open woodlands, gardens, and backyard feeders. These social birds usually migrate south from their breeding grounds, finding shelter to avoid harsher northern climates.
4. American Goldfinch
- Scientific name: Spinus tristis
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
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.
During winter they will molt and their bright yellow fades out to a more dull brownish or olive tone. 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 Vermont.
Despite the seasonal shift, the American Goldfinch remains a common sight, particularly in areas with open fields and scattered shrubs. Unlike some migratory species, this adaptable bird copes with Vermont’s winter by adjusting its diet.
While it may not migrate to warmer climates, it focuses on readily available seeds, showcasing its ability to find sustenance even in the colder months.
5. Northern Cardinals
- Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
The Northern Cardinals are among the most recognizable and common backyard birds in North America. Males have bright red feathers and a black mask, and females have duller colors and are more pale brown with some reddish coloring. Both males and females are easily recognized by their “mohawks” and reddish orange beaks.
Northern Cardinals are found in Vermont year-round. They are well-adapted to winter conditions, foraging for seeds and insects amidst the snow-covered surroundings.
Its ability to find sustenance in colder temperatures makes it a common and recognizable presence, providing both visual appeal and a reminder of nature’s adaptability in Vermont’s winter months.
6. Hairy Woodpeckers
- Scientific name: Leuconotopicus villosus
- Length: 7.1-10.2 in
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
There’s not much to differentiate Hairy Woodpeckers from Downy Woodpeckers, aside from the Hairys larger size and a few other key features. They both have very similar markings and are almost always found in the same places in the country as each other. I have found though that the Hairy Woodpecker does not visit bird feeders as often as Downys do.
The Hairy Woodpecker lives in Vermont all year and adjusts to winter by finding insects and seeds in tree bark. With black and white feathers, they make homes in leafy trees, giving them a snug spot in the cold. Some travel south in winter, showing how well they handle different weather.
7. Common Redpoll
- Scientific name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
The Common Redpoll, also known as a “winter finch,” is a small bird that nests in the Arctic and sometimes flies to southern Canada and the northern states, including Vermont.
These tiny and active birds are always moving around, eating seeds in trees and weeds. Despite being small, they can handle cold weather well, and they migrate south when there’s not enough food in the North, not just because it’s extremely cold.
In Vermont winters, you can see Common Redpolls near bird feeders, and they are surprisingly friendly. They play an important role in the winter ecosystem by adjusting their diet to eat available seeds. They show off their acrobatic skills as they flutter and climb to find food.
8. Purple Finch
- Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 4.7-6.3 in
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 in
The Purple Finch is a delightful bird found in Vermont, easily recognizable by its vibrant plumage. The males boast a striking raspberry hue, while females display a mix of brown and white feathers.
These finches are medium-sized with a stout beak, perfect for cracking seeds. Their sweet, warbling song adds a pleasant melody to the winter landscape.
During the colder months in Vermont, Purple Finches adapt to survive. They switch their summer diet of insects to a heartier one, primarily consisting of seeds. Commonly seen at bird feeders, these finches rely on sunflower seeds and other offerings from backyard feeders to sustain them through winter.
9. Tufted Titmouse
- 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.
During Vermont winters, tufted titmice are resilient, adapting their diet to survive the cold months. They often visit backyard bird feeders and enjoy sunflower seeds, but they also munch on suet, peanuts, and different seeds. This mix of food helps them gather the energy needed to endure the harsh winter conditions. What makes these birds even more interesting is their habit of hoarding food.
10. Evening Grosbeak
- Scientific name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.6 oz
- Wingspan: 11.8-14.2 in
Evening Grosbeaks are vibrant birds in Vermont, recognized for their bright yellow feathers and sturdy beaks. They often gather, displaying a chunky build and a distinct black-and-white pattern on their wings.
These social birds are commonly seen, especially during winter. In summer, they forage for insect larvae in treetops, while in spring, they target buds. Winter brings a shift to their diet, focusing on seeds, berries, and small fruits.
11. Pine Grosbeak
- Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 7.9-9.8 in
- Wingspan: 13.0 in
Pine Grosbeaks, with their chubby bodies and rosy-red color for males, bring winter charm to Vermont. These birds are visitors during the cold season, often seen at bird feeders and munching on grit along roadsides near evergreen forests. In winter, they form flocks and stick around trees with lots of fruit until they finish their feasting.
Surviving chilly Vermont winters, Pine Grosbeaks adapt by eating a mix of berries, crabapples, and seeds. While they aren’t around all year, understanding their habits and the role they play in the local ecosystem adds to the appreciation of these winter visitors.
12. Bohemian Waxwing
- Scientific name: Bombycilla garrulus
- Length: 6.3-7.5 in
- Wingspan: 1.6-2.4 oz
The Bohemian Waxwing, with its brown color, sometimes visits Vermont in winter. These birds aren’t always here but come during migration and winter, usually in the northern United States and Canada from September to March.
It’s hard to predict when they’ll show up, but you can attract them by planting fruit-bearing trees or shrubs. Bohemian Waxwings really like fruit, and in Vermont’s winter, they often hang out in wooded areas with lots of plants, especially in towns with fruiting trees.
Vermont Winters and Bird Adaptations
Vermont winters are known for their cold temperatures and snowy landscapes. From December to February, the state experiences sub-zero temperatures, with snow covering the ground for an extended period. This chilly climate creates a serene winter wonderland, with frozen lakes and snow-laden trees. Residents and wildlife alike adapt to the colder months, engaging in winter activities and relying on well-insulated homes.
Birds in Vermont showcase remarkable adaptations to thrive in diverse ecosystems. Some species migrate during winter to avoid harsh conditions, while others stay and endure the cold. These birds adapt by adjusting their diets, relying on available seeds and berries.
Additionally, they fluff up their feathers for insulation and seek sheltered areas to roost. Vermont’s avian inhabitants exhibit resilience and adaptability in coping with the challenges posed by the state’s changing seasons.
How Winter Birds Survive in Vermont
Winter in Vermont poses challenges for birds, and they employ various strategies for survival. Many species adjust their diet, shifting towards seeds that remain available in colder months.
To conserve energy and warmth, birds fluff up their feathers, creating an insulating layer against the cold. Seeking shelter in evergreen trees or other protected areas shields them from harsh winds and extreme temperatures.
Forming small flocks provides communal warmth and facilitates the sharing of information about food sources. These practical adaptations collectively enable winter birds in Vermont to navigate and endure the challenging conditions, ensuring their survival until the arrival of spring.
Why do some birds in Vermont not migrate?
Certain birds in Vermont choose not to migrate, adapting to the challenges of the state’s winters. Migration requires significant energy, and these birds have evolved to find alternative strategies for survival. Some species have developed specialized feeding habits, relying on seeds and berries that remain available during winter.
Additionally, these resident birds adapt by growing thicker plumage to withstand the cold, and they often find shelter in protected areas like dense foliage or crevices. By conserving energy, adapting their diets, and seeking shelter, these non-migratory birds navigate the winter months in Vermont without the need for long-distance migration.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.