Birds at Your Feeder in Wisconsin

small brown birds
Song Sparrow by Imogen Warren

Last Updated on January 27, 2024 by Greg Gillson

 What birds come to feeders in Wisconsin?

This article discusses the most common birds at bird feeders in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin feeder birds and then provide more information if you are so interested.

Feeding birds in Wisconsin can bring much joy!

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

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

Black-capped Chickadee

The most common feeder bird in Wisconsin 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.

Mourning Dove

Photo of Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson

The mournful summer song of Mourning Doves is familiar to most, even if they don’t know what bird makes the sound. 

They are found across the United States as year-round residents. Birds summer in the northern Great Plains and south central Canada, but withdraw in winter. 

These birds are found in towns and farms, and open country with scattered trees, often along rivers. 

In spring they sing from power lines in residential areas. They may puff out their chests while cooing from the peak of your roof. 

These birds are much larger than European Starlings, but also much smaller than American Crows. These birds have large powerful breasts, a tiny round head on thin neck, and long pointed tail. Their wings are somewhat pointed in flight. The bill is small as typical for all pigeons. Genders are identical. 

These birds are warm tan or brown colored. The breast has a pinkish hue. The wings are gray. They have a few large black spots on the wing coverts. They have a black spot on the side of the neck below the cheek that sometimes shows some iridescent green feathers. The tail has white edges, best seen in flight. 

At your bird feeder Mourning Doves eat all types of seeds. They are also attracted to water for drinking and bathing.

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.

Recommended Products for feeding birds in Wisconsin

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

Watching birds in your Wisconsin backyard offers a multitude of benefits, both for you and for the feathered friends themselves. Here are some reasons why you might enjoy this activity:

For you:

  • Relaxation and enjoyment: Observing the diverse colors, behaviors, and songs of birds can be a calming and peaceful experience. It’s a mindful activity that allows you to disconnect from the stresses of daily life and connect with nature right from your own home.
  • Educational opportunities: Backyard birdwatching provides a fantastic learning opportunity for all ages. By observing different species and their habits, you can learn about their unique adaptations, migration patterns, and roles within the ecosystem.
  • Sense of connection to nature: Birdwatching fosters a deeper appreciation for the natural world and creates a sense of interconnectedness with the environment around you. By attracting birds to your yard, you contribute to the biodiversity of your local area.
  • Potential pest control: Some bird species, like chickadees and nuthatches, help control insect populations that could otherwise damage your garden or trees.
  • Photographic opportunities: If you’re interested in photography, birdwatching can provide excellent opportunities to capture stunning images of these beautiful creatures.
  • Fun family activity: Birdwatching can be a fun and engaging activity for the whole family, encouraging children to develop an interest in nature and spend time outdoors.

For the birds:

  • Supplemental food source: By providing bird feeders and water sources, you offer valuable sustenance, especially during harsh winter months when natural food sources become scarce.
  • Shelter and refuge: Your backyard can be a safe haven for birds escaping predators or seeking refuge from extreme weather conditions.
  • Contribution to biodiversity: By creating a bird-friendly environment with diverse plants and food sources, you attract a wider variety of bird species, enriching the local ecosystem.
  • Educational tool for humans: Birds serve as living examples of nature’s wonders, encouraging humans to learn about and appreciate the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main bird in Wisconsin?

The state bird of Wisconsin is the American Robin (Turdus migratorius)! It was officially designated as the state bird in 1949 through a vote by Wisconsin school children. Here are some reasons why the robin was chosen:

  • Popularity and familiarity: Robins are widespread across Wisconsin and easily recognizable with their bright red breasts on males (though females and juveniles have brown and red markings). Their familiar presence makes them well-loved by many residents.
  • Symbol of spring: Robins are one of the first birds to return in the spring, signaling the arrival of warmer weather and renewal. This connection to the changing seasons resonates with many Wisconsinites.
  • Adaptability: Robins thrive in various habitats, including forests, urban areas, and backyards, representing the diversity of Wisconsin’s landscapes.
  • Melodious song: Their sweet and recognizable song adds to the natural soundscape of Wisconsin, bringing joy to many people.
        American Robin by andrew-patrick

What is the most common bird in Wisconsin?

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

By Abundance:

  • Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus): This blackbird with a conspicuous red shoulder patch reigns supreme in terms of sheer numbers. Their populations explode during breeding season, forming large colonies in marshes, wetlands, and even agricultural fields. Their loud, distinctive calls are a familiar sound across the state.
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura): This abundant dove thrives in various habitats and is frequently seen throughout the state. Their gentle cooing is a familiar sound in Wisconsin backyards and fields.

By Sightings:

  • American Robin (Turdus migratorius): While not necessarily the most numerous, their familiarity and widespread presence throughout the year make them one of the most frequently seen birds in Wisconsin. Their cheerful song and friendly disposition often make them backyard visitors, endearing them to many residents.
  • House Sparrow (Passer domesticus): These ubiquitous introduced birds are abundant in urban and suburban areas.
        House Sparrow by Rhododendrites

What is the big bird in Wisconsin?

Finding Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin is a fantastic birding experience, especially during their migration periods. Here are some of the best places to observe them:

Fall Migration:

  • Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge: This vast wetland area in Dodge County is a renowned hub for Sandhill Crane migration. From mid-September to mid-December, tens of thousands of cranes gather here before continuing their journey south. The refuge offers guided tours and observation platforms for prime viewing opportunities.
  • Crex Meadows Wildlife Area: Located in Burnett County, Crex Meadows boasts open marshes and grasslands, providing ideal staging grounds for cranes. From late September to late November, witness thousands of cranes gather for roosting and feeding, offering spectacular aerial displays.
  • Sandhill Wildlife Area: Situated in Wood County, this aptly named area offers diverse habitats frequented by cranes during their fall migration. Look for them in marshes, fields, and open woodlands from late September to mid-November.
  • Necedah National Wildlife Refuge: This wetland complex in Juneau County provides essential stopover habitat for cranes. Witness their impressive gatherings from late September to mid-December, with guided tours available for enhanced exploration.
  • Wisconsin River Valley: Throughout the river valley, especially areas near the Leopold Center for Conservation Research in Sauk County, thousands of cranes gather in fields and along the riverbanks during their southward journey.
Sandhill Crane by joshua-j-                              cotten

Spring Migration:

  • White River Marsh State Wildlife Area: Lying in Marquette County, this marsh attracts cranes returning north from mid-March to mid-April. Observe their graceful movements and communal interactions in this scenic wetland environment.
  • Kenosha Sand Dunes: This unique coastal habitat in Kenosha County offers a stunning backdrop for witnessing northward-bound cranes from late February to early April. Enjoy breathtaking views of the cranes against the sandy dunes and Lake Michigan.
  • Fox River Valley: Along the Fox River, particularly in Waukesha and Green Lake counties, thousands of cranes stage during their spring migration. Witness their synchronized movements and aerial displays in open fields and marshes.

Related Articles:

Backyard Birds of Wisconsin

Feeding winter birds in Wisconsin

Red, Orange & Yellow Birds in Wisconsin

Setting up your bird feeder



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