Birds at Your Feeder in Minnesota

Black-capped Chickadee by Alan D. Wilson

Last Updated on January 27, 2024 by Greg Gillson

 What birds come to feeders in Minnesota?

This article discusses the most common birds at bird feeders in Minnesota throughout the year. Other feeder birds may be more common seasonally, but these should be present most of the year.

I start with a quick list of Minnesota feeder birds and then provide more information if you are so interested.

Feeding birds in Minnesota can bring much joy!

Here are 10 birds that you are most likely to see at your bird feeder in Minnesota:

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • American Goldfinch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker

Black-capped Chickadee

The most common feeder bird in Minnesota is the Black-capped Chickadee. Read more about it, below.

Photo of Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson

The cute Black-capped Chickadees must be one of the favorite birds at feeders across much of North America. 

They are year-round residents in Alaska and across Canada south across the northern half of the United States. 

These birds are found in deciduous and mixed woods, orchards, and backyards. They feed in small flocks acrobatically on the end of twigs, searching for invertebrates and small seeds. 

In winter they make up the core of roaming mix feeding flocks. These flocks include chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches, and often include Brown Creepers, Downy Woodpeckers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and wrens. 

These are small birds, smaller than House Finches. They are about the same length as American Goldfinches. The bodies of chickadees are round and plump. They have big heads and long tails that flit about. They have long legs and big feet. The bills are short and stout. This allows them to eat both seeds and invertebrate foods. 

These birds are gray above and buffy below. They have striking black caps and bibs, offset by their white face. You may also notice the white secondary wing edges of the folded wing. Genders are identical in appearance. 

 At your feeder, Black-capped Chickadees love black oil sunflower seeds. They take these one-at-a-time to a nearby branch. They hold the seed with their feet and pound the shell open with their bill to get the kernel inside. In fall they often take the whole seed away and store it for the winter, in what is called a cache.

Northern Cardinal

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. Greg Gillson

Northern Cardinals are one of the most popular birds in the United States. Even people who haven’t seen one in life have seen their image on logos and advertisements.

These birds are year-round residents from the northeastern United States south to Florida, west to the Midwest, southern Great Plains to Arizona.

They are found in woodlands, hedgerows, and dense backyard shrubs.

Both males and females sing, a series of repeated whistles.

These birds are less bulky than European Starlings, but just as long. The have a very long tail and big head with tall crest.

The bill is very thick at the base, short, with curved edges. It is usually obviously orange.

Males are bright red throughout, with hints of blue on the wings, tail, and back. They have a black throat patch that reaches to the eye and over the bill.

Females are dull brown or buffy yellow in coloration with red highlights on the edges of the wings and tail. Their crest isn’t quite as pronounced as the males. They still show the black around the bill.

Northern Cardinals eat larger seeds at your feeder, including black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

Red-winged Blackbird

Photo of Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson

Red-winged Blackbirds are common birds across North America. 

In summer they are found from Alaska, across Canada, south into Mexico. In winter they abandon much of Canada and the northern Great Plains and Midwest. 

They nest in marshes in summer, where there are cattails and similar plants. In winter they spread out into fields, cattle lots, and residential neighborhoods. These birds are colonial nesters in cattail marshes. 

In fall and winter, they form very large flocks composed of many young-of-the-year, starlings, grackles, cowbirds, and other blackbirds. Such flocks can number in the hundreds of thousands, especially in the East. 

These birds are about the size of American Robins, perhaps a bit smaller. They are stocky with a fairly long tail. They have rather flat foreheads that accentuate the long bill. The bill is fairly stout at the base, long, pointed, and straight on the upper and lower edges. 

Males are glossy black with yellow-edged red shoulders that can be hidden in the scapular feathers when the wings are at rest. 

Females are a bit smaller than males. They are pale with heavy brown streaks on the under parts. Some populations show buff on the face. They may confuse beginners into thinking they are some kind of streaky sparrow. The flat crown and very straight and sharply pointed bill point to their identification as blackbirds. 

 At your feeder they will eat black oil sunflower seeds and suet.

American Goldfinch

Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson

The American Goldfinches are favorite backyard birds across North America. Many people call them “wild canaries.” 

These active birds are year-round residents coast-to-coast across northern and mid-latitudes of the United States. 

In summer birds move into southern Canada. In winter birds are found throughout the United States.

They are found in weedy pastures and brushy clearings. In town, they favor parks and residential areas with lawns and scattered trees. They often feed on thistles or dandelion seeds on the ground. But they also fly over open spaces between trees with a bounding roller-coaster flight and a lilting “potato chip” call. 

These are small birds, smaller than House Finches. They are rather plump birds with small round heads and short tails. The bill is small but it is conical for eating seeds. It is colored pink. 

Summer males are striking with their brilliant yellow and black plumage. The body is yellow and they have a black crown. The wings and tail feathers are black and white. 

Females are duller olive-green without the black crown. They have thin white wing bars. 

Juvenile birds in fall show striking tan wing bars on the black wing. 

In winter both genders are pale gray and tan with brown wings and tail. They may only show a hint of yellow on the head and throat. 

At your feeder, American Goldfinches love black oil sunflower seeds and Niger seed. They are especially common at feeders in summer and fall.

Downy Woodpecker

Photo of Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson

Downy Woodpeckers are tiny and common visitors to backyards across the United States. 

These woodpeckers inhabit nearly all of North America south of the tundra and away from the driest deserts. 

Often found near water, they like small deciduous trees, willows, and brush. Common in backyards. 

Like other woodpeckers, these birds hitch up small trees. However, they often cling to the small outer branches. They even hang on twigs and small bushes such as wild rose and teasel. 

They are bigger than House Finches, smaller than Red-winged Blackbirds, but shaped differently than either. These birds have stocky bodies and big heads. They have short, stiff, pointed tails. The legs are short. The feet are large with strong claws. The bills of these woodpeckers are chisel shaped but especially short and petite. 

The overall pattern of these birds is black-and-white stripes. The wings are black with numerous white spots and bars. The back is white. The underparts are white or tinged with buff. The face is white; the crown and nape is black, the ear covert black, and there is a black malar stripe. The tail is black with white outer tail feathers. Males have a red spot on the nape that females lack. 

Downy Woodpeckers eat suet at your feeder.

Blue Jay

Photo of Blue Jay
Blue Jay. skeeze Pixabay

Blue Jays are one of the most well-known birds in the United States. 

Birds are found year-round east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to Texas and eastward. There is a noticeable migration of some of their population in most of their range. Birds move northward into the Great Plains of Canada for the summer. 

Though they are found in woodlands of all type, they are especially attracted to oak trees. They are common in residential areas, too. 

Brash and conspicuous, Blue Jays have a complex social structure. The more the crest is raised, the more excited or agitated the bird is. 

Jays are fairly large backyard birds. They are just a bit larger than American Robins. These are stout birds with large rounded or wedge-shaped tails. They have large legs and feet. They have a bushy crest. The bill is fairly long, strong. 

Genders are similar in plumage. They are blue above, including the crest. They are gray below with a black necklace across the throat. The wings are barred with black, with white wing bars and trailing edges. The blue tail is barred with black and has white tail corners. 

At your feeder, Blue Jays love whole peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker. skeeze. Pixabay

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of the common woodland birds in the East. 

These birds are year-round residents from the Northeast to the Midwest, and south from Florida to eastern Texas. 

They aren’t too picky in their choice of trees. They are found in deciduous and conifer forests. They may be found in parks and neighborhoods with mature trees. Learn and listen for the loud rolling churr call of these woodpeckers. You may find they are more common than you first thought. 

These birds are a bit larger than European Starlings. They a stocky with large head and short wedge-shaped tail. The bill is long, straight. and chisel shaped. 

The upper parts, including the back and wings are covered with thin black-and-white bars. The head and under parts are pale tan or gray. They have white rumps and black tails with barred outer tail feathers. 

Males have red crowns from their bill to their back. Some also show a reddish wash to their belly. 

Females have red crowns from the top of their head back, with gray fore-crowns. 

 At feeders, Red-bellied Woodpeckers love suet, and also eat peanuts.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson

White-breasted Nuthatches are the largest of 4 nuthatch species in North America. 

These birds are year-round residents across southern Canada and all but deserts and treeless areas of the United States, south into the mountains of Mexico. 

They are found primarily in mature deciduous woods, but also dry pine forests in the interior West. 

As with all nuthatches, these active little birds crawl over the trunk and limbs looking for bark insects. Their strong feet allow them to hang on to the bark in any position. You will frequently see them crawling head first down the tree or upside down around a branch. 

These birds are a bit smaller than House Sparrows. They are chunky birds with big heads on short necks. They have stumpy little tails. Their legs are strong and feet large. The bill is fairly slender and sharp pointed. 

They are blue-gray on the upper parts with black crown and hind neck. The upper parts, including the face, are white with rusty feathers in the vent area. Males are more blue on the upper parts and have blacker caps. Females are more gray and have paler caps. 

At your feeder White-breasted Nuthatches love suet and peanuts. They may take seeds from the feeder to cache away in the bark of trees to eat later in the winter.

Song Sparrow

Photo of Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson

Song Sparrows are widespread across North America. 

These birds summer from southern Alaska and across Canada to the Ohio River Valley and in the West to southern California and Arizona. In winter most birds leave Canada and the northern Great Plains, except for a population in western Canada. The winter birds push south to Florida and Texas into northern Mexico. 

These birds are found in a wide variety of brushy habitats. They are found in open woodlands, marshes, and backyards landscaped with large bushes and brambles. 

They spend a lot of time hopping on the ground looking for food. They eat insects and invertebrates in summer, but mostly seeds in winter. 

They are a bit smaller than House Sparrows. They have a round body, round head, and longer tail with a rounded tip. The bill is triangular, short and thick at the base. 

Across their range these birds show much variation. Desert birds are paler. Northwestern birds are dark and reddish. Alaskan birds are much larger. In general, they are gray, streaked with brown, with breast streaks forming a center spot on the breast. The pattern of the head is complex but rather diagnostic. The white throat is bordered by a flaring lateral throat stripe. Genders are identical. 

Song Sparrows will visit platform feeders, but more likely stay under dense bushes, venturing out on the ground below the feeder.

Hairy Woodpecker

Photo of Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Hairy Woodpeckers are larger and longer-billed versions of Downy Woodpeckers and even more widespread. 

These birds are year-round residents from Alaska and across Canada south through the United States and Mexico. 

They are found in larger diameter trees, both coniferous and deciduous. They are absent in deserts and grasslands. These birds move into forests infested with bark beetles. They also reach high numbers in recently burned forests. 

They hop up the trunk of trees, using their tail as a support. They proclaim their territory by drumming their bill rapidly on dead tree trunks or even metal pipes. 

They are a little bigger than a starling. They have a stocky body and big head. They have short stiff wedge-shaped tails. Their bills are long and chisel-shaped. 

These birds have black-and-white striped faces. Their backs are white. The wings are black with extensive rows of white spots. The black tail has white outer tail feathers. The under parts are white. Males have red feathers on the back of the crown which females lack. 

Hairy Woodpeckers will visit feeders for suet.

Recommended Products

The hopper feeder is just the right size and durable. The best high quality mixed bird seed for this bird feeder that I highly recommend is Wagner’s Songbird Supreme. This combination attracts the widest variety of feeder birds.

I really like how this iBorn copper tube feeder looks in my yard. It is best for finches and chickadees when filled with black oil sunflower seed.

For attracting woodpeckers and chickadees, and keeping out jays, starlings, and grackles, I love my Nature’s Way Upside-Down Suet Feeder. I also buy St. Albans Bay suet.

Wrapping Up

There are many benefits to having a backyard bird feeder in Minnesota, both for the birds and for you! Here are some of the good things about attracting feathered friends to your yard:

Benefits for the birds:

  • Supplemental food source: Especially during harsh winters or periods of low natural food availability, bird feeders provide vital sustenance for a variety of species. This can be crucial for insectivores during winter when insects are scarce.
  • Shelter and refuge: Bird feeders often attract birds searching for safe areas to rest, preen, and socialize. This can be especially beneficial during extreme weather conditions, like the freezing Minnesota winters.
  • Habitat enhancement: Well-maintained bird feeders with diverse seed mixes, alongside plants offering additional food and cover, can create a mini-habitat that attracts multiple species. This can contribute to local biodiversity and provide valuable resources for birds.
  • Educational opportunities: Bird feeders offer fantastic opportunities to observe and learn about different bird species in your own backyard. This can be an engaging and educational experience for children and adults alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common bird in Minnesota?

Determining the “most common” bird in Minnesota can be tricky, as it depends on how you define “common.” Here are two leading contenders based on different interpretations:

1. By Abundance:

  • Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus): This blackbird with a conspicuous red shoulder patch reigns supreme in terms of sheer numbers. They are incredibly numerous during breeding season, forming large colonies in marshes, wetlands, and even agricultural fields. Their loud, distinctive calls are a familiar sound across the state.

2. By Sightings:

  • American Robin (Turdus migratorius): This charismatic thrush might not have the highest population densities, but its familiarity and widespread presence throughout the year make it one of the most frequently seen birds in Minnesota. Their cheerful song and friendly disposition often make them backyard visitors, endearing them to many Minnesotans.
                    American Robin by Mdf

What is Minnesota’s national bird?

Minnesota’s state bird, not national bird, is the Common Loon (Gavia immer). It was officially designated as the state bird in 1961 due to its deep connection with the state’s numerous lakes and its symbolic representation of Minnesota’s natural beauty.

The Common Loon’s haunting cries resonate across the state’s waterways, and its graceful swimming and diving skills have long captivated Minnesotans. Its presence symbolizes the importance of preserving Minnesota’s unique freshwater ecosystems and wild spaces.

           Common Loon by John Picken

What is the little brown bird in Minnesota?

Identifying “the little brown bird” in Minnesota can be tricky as many brownish bird species reside there. To narrow it down, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Size: How small is “little”? Is it roughly the size of a sparrow, robin, or something else?
  2. Habitat: Where did you see it? Was it in a backyard, forest, wetland, or somewhere else?
  3. Behavior: What was it doing? Was it hopping on the ground, flitting through branches, perched on a feeder, or something else?
  4. Distinguishing features: Did you notice any specific marks, patterns, or unique features, like stripes, wing bars, or a long bill?

Here are some common small brown birds in Minnesota to consider based on these details:

  • Song Sparrow: Found in various habitats, with brown streaking and a distinct white chest spot.
  • House Sparrow: Common in urban areas, with a stocky build and brown streaking, especially on the head.
  • Field Sparrow: Prefers grasslands and prairies, with a rufous-brown back and white underparts.
  • Tree Sparrow: Primarily found in winter, with a brown head and pale underparts.

Related Articles:

Backyard Birds of Minnesota

Red, Orange, & Yellow birds of Minnesota

Feeding winter birds in Minnesota

Setting up your bird feeder

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