The Most Common Backyard Birds In Wisconsin: The Ultimate Guide

Wisconsin is one of the best states in the US to go birdwatching. This upper Midwestern state is ideally located next to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, allowing for an array of native wildlife to explore the area. Plus, with Wisconsin being so close to the Canadian border, it’s also generally one of the best places to catch local wildlife before they migrate south in the winter. 

If you live in Wisconsin and you’ve seen a multitude of bird species that you’ve never seen before, you’ve probably come to this guide to help you identify them. Due to the location of Wisconsin, you’re more likely to see some of the most unique and lesser-known bird species compared to any other state in the country. 

Whether you’re a budding ornithologist, bird enthusiast, or you simply want to get to know your local wildlife, we’ve got you covered. Here is the ultimate guide to the most common backyard birds in Wisconsin, including photos and breed profiles. 

List Of The Most Common Backyard Birds In Wisconsin

  • American Robin
  • American Goldfinch
  • American Crow
  • Black-Capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • House Sparrow
  • House Finch
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • House Wren
  • Common Grackle 
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Gray Catbird
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • European Starling
  • Dark-Eyed Junco
  • Red-Breasted Nuthatch 

While these are the most common backyard birds to see in Wisconsin, there are some additional species that you might be lucky enough to spot depending on where you live in the state. Keep reading to find out about these fascinating birds!

American Robin

Possibly one of the most common backyard birds found across North America is the American robin with a population of approximately 370 million birds.

Named after the European robin for its distinctively similar red breast, the two species aren’t actually related. Where the European robin is part of the Old World flycatcher family, the American robin is a member of the wider thrush family. Plus, the American robin is the state bird of Wisconsin!

American robins found in Wisconsin have an average length of 9.1-11.0” and a wingspan of 12-16”, making them a fairly small species.

As mentioned earlier, these birds are most recognizable for their reddish-orange breasts, which range in color intensity. The rest of their body is comparatively dull, as the upper parts, head, neck, and wings are a brownish-gray.

The only other colorful bit about this species is the yellow bill with a significantly dark tip. Both females and males look fairly similar, but in most cases the female is slightly duller in comparison to the male. 

The distribution of the American robin spans across the whole of North America – from Canada all the way to Florida and Mexico. This is a migratory species, which means that in a lot of cases, the birds will migrate south in the winter in search of warmer temperatures and better access to food.

However, this doesn’t mean that it’s rare to see one or two robins in your backyard in winter! In terms of habitat, the American robin is fairly adaptable and likes to reside in woodland areas, open land, farmland, and urban areas – including backyards. 

American robins are omnivorous eaters whose diet consists of around 40% insects and 60% fruits and berries. These insects vary from grasshoppers to earthworms, which is why you’ll often see a robin or two in your backyard after cutting the grass.

The ability to exist on berries and fruits over insects is the reason some American robins can spend winter in the northern part of their range, including Wisconsin. To attract American robins to your backyard, fill your bird feeders with animal fat suet and mealworms. 

American Goldfinch

Another small common backyard bird found across North America is the American goldfinch. Surprisingly, not many people know enough about this brightly-colored species other than their distinctive lemon-yellow bodies.

For example, did you know that the American goldfinch is the only finch species to molt? Or did you know that this species actually benefits from deforestation? 

With an average length of 4.3-5.5” and a wingspan of 7.5-8.7”, the American goldfinch would be a “blink and you’ve missed it” bird if it wasn’t for their spectacular coloration.

As mentioned before, the American goldfinch undergoes two molts in a year. The first molt is in winter, wherein the bird sheds all of its feathers. The second molt is in spring, wherein the bird sheds all of its feathers except for the wings and tail.

After the second molt, male American goldfinches are left with a lemon-yellow plumage (due to the plant pigments in its diet), complete with a jet black cap and bars on the wings and tail. The females are less brightly colored, exhibiting an olive-yellowish coloration. 

As the American goldfinch prefers open lands to dense woodlands, this species actually benefits from deforestation. They are commonly found residing in open fields, meadows, roadsides, orchards, and backyards.

The species is a short-distance migratory bird, meaning it will only travel short distances in search of food during winter. You’re most likely to see a bunch of American goldfinches during this time as they migrate in large flocks. 

American goldfinches are strict vegetarians, only ever eating insects when their young needs protein. Their diet mostly consists of seeds from annual plants including grass seeds, thistles, cosmos, trees, alder, sunflower, dandelion, ragweed, and more.

You’re most likely to attract American goldfinches to your backyard in winter if you fill your bird feeders with fatty seeds, such as Niger seeds. 

American Crow

You’re most likely to hear an American crow before you see one. With their classic and distinctive “Caw-Caw-Caw!” call, crows are certainly one of the most distinguishable birds in the world.

The American crow is a highly intelligent bird, known for its ability to mimic the calls of other bird species (particularly owls) and how they work together to steal food from other animals. Despite their intelligence, crows are seen as a sign of death and bad luck amongst humans. 

The American crow is a large bird, with an average length of 16-21” and a wingspan of 33-39”. These birds have a simple yet effective plumage, as their entire bodies are covered in iridescent black feathers. Their feet, legs, and large bill are also jet black.

There are no key physical differences between the sexes, though males tend to be larger than females. These birds are often misidentified for the common raven, which is distinctly larger than the American crow. 

American crows are widely distributed across North America, particularly across Canada and the northern states of the US (including Wisconsin) and the southern states into northern Mexico.

Due to their intelligence, the species has adapted to living amongst human settlements including farmland, orchards, and backyards, but they are also found amongst wilderness and woodlands.

Some American crows in Canada are migratory birds who will often migrate to warmer temperatures in Florida or Mexico in the winter, but for the most part, you’ll find American crows all year round. 

The American crow is a notorious omnivorous feeder, with their diet consisting of unattended eggs in nests, insects, seeds, berries, carrion, fish, and human food scraps. They will occasionally visit bird feeders in backyards, but in most cases, you’ll probably find them attempting to scavenge around trash cans.

American crows also inhabit fields of crops like corn and wheat, which is why they are considered a nuisance to farmers – however the birds eat the insect pests on these crops, leaving the crops mostly unharmed. 

Black-Capped Chickadee

A member of the tit family, the black-capped chickadee is a non-migratory bird found across North America. The reason this species doesn’t migrate is because of their unique ability to regulate their body temperature in the cold months, meaning they can be seen in backyards throughout Wisconsin all year round. 

This species is a small one, with an average length of 4.7-5.9” and a wingspan of 6.3-8.3”. Black-capped chickadees, as their name suggests, are most recognizable for their distinctive black caps and bibs, complete with white markings on their cheeks.

The upper parts, including the wings and tail, are grayish while the underparts are white with hints of rust on the flanks. Both males and females look similar to each other, with the species mostly exhibiting sexual monomorphism, but the male is often larger than the female. 

Due to their ability to lower their body temperature, black-capped chickadees can survive in virtually any habitat. This includes deciduous and mixed forests, open areas like fields, parks, cottonwood groves, and backyards.

During windy weather conditions, this species tends to fly lower than usual and reside underneath vegetation due to their small size and lack of strength against harsh wind. 

Black-capped chickadees are foragers, with their diet consisting of a range of insects, seeds, berries, and grains. As most insects migrate or disappear in winter, berries and seeds become the most important part of the species’ diet, which is why they frequent bird feeders filled with these food items in winter.

The black-capped chickadee will also cache their food due to their unique cache-located memory that lasts for around 28 days. They will store seeds, berries, and often insects amongst cavities in trees or underneath a cluster of dead leaves. 

Blue Jay

Native to the majority of eastern and central United States, the blue jay is a common resident found in backyards across Wisconsin. These birds are most distinguishable for their impressive blue coloring and their noise levels, as the blue jay is a notorious chatty bird.

It belongs in the same family as crows and ravens, after all, which is why you’re more likely to hear a blue jay before you see one. 

As their name suggests, the blue jay is a predominantly blue bird. The plumage ranges in intensity, with some birds appearing more lavender-blue and others appearing more vivid. This coloration covers the back, crest, tail, and wings.

The face of a blue jay is white alongside the underparts, with the black barrings on the wings posing a stark contrast. Their necks, bill, legs, and feet are also black.

The most fascinating part about the blue jay’s body is the crest which moves according to the bird’s mood – for example, the crest is elevated when the bird is excited or aggressive, and flattened when feeding or relaxed. In terms of size, the average length of a blue jay is 9-12” with a wingspan of 13-17”. 

The distribution of the blue jay spans from southern Canada to throughout the eastern and central states of the US all the way down to Florida and Texas.

Their range stops towards the Rocky Mountains where pine forests begin, as this is the range of the Steller’s jay (who they will often hybridize with). The species appears in a variety of habitats, including mixed woodlands, parks, residential areas, and backyards.

It’s common for the species in the northern range to migrate southwards in winter, as they migrate in flocks over the Great Lakes, however these migratory patterns are unpredictable. Some might migrate one year and not the next. 

The diet of the blue jay is omnivorous but primarily consists of vegetable matter, including seeds, grains, nuts (especially peanuts), and berries. Blue jays will also eat human food scraps, small invertebrates, meat, bread, and sometimes unattended eggs in nests.

To attract blue jays to your backyard, fill your bird feeders with a variety of seeds and grains – particularly shelled peanuts. 

House Sparrow

One of the most widely distributed birds in the world, the house sparrow is native to most of Europe and Asia and appears all over Australasia, Africa, and the Americas.

If you’ve ever spotted birds in your backyard in Wisconsin (or any other state, for that matter), you’ve most likely come across the humble house sparrow. There are 12 recognized subspecies of the house sparrow, but North America is mostly home to the nominate species. 

With an average length of 6.3” and a wingspan of 7.5-9.8”, the house sparrow is a small bird. This species doesn’t exactly have the most spectacular coloring, as their plumage mostly ranges from gray to brown tones all over the body. The house sparrow is sexually dimorphic, with the male exhibiting far more patterns than the female.

Males exhibit dark gray crowns that travel down to its back with brown flanking on either side of its head. Separating the gray between the crown and the neck is a distinctive white line, and the males also feature a white dot either side of its eyes. 

The house sparrow isn’t fussy when it comes to their habitat. After generations of adaptations, they are well accustomed to living amongst humans, which is why they are commonly seen in parks, barns, backyards, and even open public attractions like zoos.

Due to their ability to consume water through eating berries, these birds are well-adapted to living in drier and colder conditions, which is why the sparrows don’t generally migrate. Even if they were to migrate, these trips are short-distance. 

House sparrows are opportunistic feeders who predominantly consume berries and seeds. Like with their habitat, these birds can adapt to a diet of human food scraps, insects, and nectar.

You can attract house sparrows to your backyard by filling your bird feeders with seeds and grains, but they will frequent backyards regardless of the food available in bird feeders. If you have recently cut the grass or if it has been raining, they will search for clean grass to feast on the earthworms below. 

House Finch

Native to western North America, the house finch is local to the entire country after having been introduced to eastern North America and Hawaii.

Like with the house sparrow, the house finch is the most commonly found finch species in backyards across the states. Unlike the house sparrow, however, house finches are easily distinguishable for their unique appearance. 

Sizing at 5-6” long and with a wingspan of 8-10”, the house finch is a moderately small bird. While the majority of the adult male is covered in a dull brown plumage, including some darker streaks on the wings and flanks, their heads, necks, and shoulders are covered in a reddish blush.

The intensity of this color depends on the season and how many berries are in the individual’s diet. However, females don’t exhibit this blush coloring, and instead are a dull-to-light brown with streaks throughout the body. 

House finches are mostly permanent residents of their local areas, so they don’t tend to migrate unless for short distances due to lack of food. Their habitats vary due to their adaptability, meaning they can happily live in urban and suburban areas in the same way as they can live in open woodland areas.

As there is said to be between 267 million and .7 billion individuals in the world, you’re definitely likely to spot a house finch or two in your backyard every day. 

As for food, house finches are foragers who search for food amongst vegetation. They will eat anything from small insects like aphids to weeds, seeds, and berries. They especially love to frequent bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds. 

Hairy Woodpecker

If you happen to have a tree or two in your backyard, you might come across a hairy woodpecker. Hairy woodpeckers are found all over North America, and with an estimation of over 9 million individuals, you’re very likely to see one or two of these interesting birds in your backyard. 

The hairy woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker species with an average length of 7.1-10.2” and a wingspan of 13-17”. These birds are often misidentified for the downy woodpecker due to their remarkably similar plumage, but the two species aren’t even related.

Hairy woodpeckers are mostly black on their back and wings with a white or pale underside. Their faces feature black and white stripes, with a black stripe covering the eyes like a blindfold. Their tails are also black with white spotting.

Most notably, the hairy woodpecker exhibits either one red cap or two red patches either side of its head. Females do not possess this red mark. 

The habitat of a hairy woodpecker is deciduous forests, which is why you’re not likely to see one of these birds if you live in densely populated urban areas.

If you live near such deciduous forests and if you happen to have a deciduous tree in your backyard, like an oak or birch tree, then you might spot one of these woodpeckers. They aren’t likely to migrate, so you can see them year round. 

As with most woodpecker species, the hairy woodpecker forages for food while scaling the trees. Aside from the plant materials and insects they find climbing on the bark, they will use their pointed beaks to find insects and tree sap within the tree itself. These birds will also eat seeds and berries when available. 

Song Sparrow

Another species native to North America, the song sparrow is one of the most abundant and thriving sparrow species in the whole continent.

The birds in the northern part of the range, including Wisconsin, use their northern habitats for breeding purposes before migrating southwards to warmer states in winter. This means that the best time to see a song sparrow in your backyard is any time of the year except for winter. 

Song sparrows are predominantly varying shades of brown. Their upperparts are mostly brown while their underparts are white, and the entire body is patterned with dark brown streaks throughout.

As adults, they develop a dark brown cap and a brown streak that crosses through both eyes on their gray faces. The average length of a song sparrow is 4.3-7.1” with a wingspan of 7.1-10.0”. 

Due to the abundance of song sparrows, they are habitat generalists and will live happily in virtually any environment. However, they do favor marshes and brushland the most. Humans are most likely to see song sparrows in backyards, on roadsides, and around urban areas like parks. 

The reason song sparrows prefer brushland and marshes is that low vegetation is the best environment to forage for food.

They like to rummage around underneath low-hanging bushes and plants in search of seeds, plant materials, and insects, which is why you’re most likely to see a song sparrow rummaging through your backyard plants rather than on a bird feeder.

They aren’t a nuisance to your plants, however, as they will happily eat the insect pests that live on plants and flowers!

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows are slender with long tails and most distinguishable for their distinctive rusty crowns. Native to North America, you can find a chipping sparrow in virtually any environment.

There are two recognized subspecies – the western chipping sparrow and the eastern chipping sparrow – that are characterized by their habitats rather than their appearances. 

Speaking of appearances, chipping sparrows are small birds with an average length of 4.7-5.9” and a wingspan of 8.3”. They have a clean and crisp patterned plumage, with their underparts possessing whitish-gray plumage compared to light-brown and rusty colored wings that are marked with dark streaks.

Their heads and necks are similarly whitish-gray, but with a black line running through the eyes and a distinctive reddish-brown cap. There are no physical differences between the sexes. 

Chipping sparrows are habitat generalists that can be found in a variety of environments, including forests and woodlands with open grassy areas like meadows. They can also be found in urban and suburban areas including backyards, roadsides, and parks.

Those situated in the northern part of the range generally migrate southwards to overwinter in Mexico before flying northward in the breeding season, so it’s less likely to spot a chipping sparrow in your backyard in Wisconsin during winter. 

Chipping sparrows mostly eat seeds found from the ground, which is why they’re often seen foraging underneath bushes in parks, woodlands, and backyards.

It’s also common for these birds to eat insects, especially in winter when they require more protein for migration. Chipping sparrows appreciate bird feeders that are filled with a variety of seeds, particularly sunflower seeds. 

Mourning Dove

Also known as the turtle dove or the rain dove, the mourning dove is an abundant species of bird found across North America both in the wild and for hunting purposes.

There are said to be over 20 million mourning doves shot for sport and meat every year in the United States, and despite such a high figure, the conservation status of the species is still at “Least Concern”.

This is because of the extensive breeding the doves go through each year, with some reaching six broods of two chicks a year. 

With an average length of 12” and a wingspan of 14.5-17.7”, the mourning dove is a medium-sized bird. These birds are slim and graceful both in flight and standing still thanks to their elegantly long tails and classic dove-shaped elliptical wings.

Mourning doves are mostly pale all over, with varying tones of light brown, gray, and often pink. Each dove will vary in appearance, with some having lighter underparts than upperparts.

Their legs and feet are pink, the beaks are gray or pale, and their eyes are strikingly dark with a white ring around them. It’s more common for males to exhibit pinkish coloration than females, who are mostly light-brown all over. 

Mourning doves are widely distributed across the whole of North America, as well as the Greater Antilles, Mexico, and even Bermuda.

Due to this expansive range, they are fairly generalist when it comes to their choice of habitat, but they stay away from densely wooded areas, swaps, and thick forests. Instead, they reside in open areas such as fields, farmland, parks, urban settings, lightly wooded areas, and backyards.

Some mourning doves migrate to southern regions to overwinter, but a lot of mourning doves remain even in the northern parts of their range if there is an adequate amount of food nearby. 

Speaking of food, for the mourning doves who don’t migrate, they rely heavily on the presence of bird feeders in backyards to fuel their bodies during the colder months. Seeds make up for 99% of their diet, with their favorites being corn, sunflower, safflower, rapeseed, and millet seeds.

When there is a lack of seeds, mourning doves might eat insects and will also settle for smartweed, buckwheat, rye, and goosegrass seeds. 

Northern Cardinal 

It would be hard to miss a northern cardinal! Known for their impressive bright red plumage, the northern cardinal is found across the eastern part of North America, from southeastern Canada all the way to Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

As Wisconsin is located just before the edge of their range, it’s quite common to see a northern cardinal appear in your backyard. 

In terms of their appearance, it would be impossible to describe the northern cardinal without addressing the elephant in the room.

Male northern cardinals feature a brilliant bright red plumage that covers their entire body including the beak, with the only non-red parts being a black mask over the face and duller wings. This fantastic coloration is a result of carotenoid pigments found in their diet.

They also exhibit upright feathers on their heads, making them look like they have a funky hairstyle. Unlike the males, female northern cardinals are fawn-colored with a slight hint of pinkish-red on their wings and crest. 

Northern cardinals are native to and found across eastern North America. Their preferred habitat includes woodlands, parks, fields, and backyards all with light wooded areas.

Shrublands and wetlands are also a favorite habitat of the northern cardinal. While it’s not uncommon for some individuals in the northern part of the range to migrate some distances in winter, most of the time, these birds are permanent residents of their local area, meaning you can see a northern cardinal in your backyard all year round. 

Northern cardinals are mostly vegetarians, with 90% of their diet consisting of weeds, seeds, grains, and fruits. However, they are also known to eat insects like snails and grasshoppers when they need protein, especially if they have a clutch.

To find their food, northern cardinals forage underneath and amongst low-lying vegetation. You will either find a northern cardinal underneath bushes or plants in your backyard, or picking off sunflower seeds in your bird feeder. 

House Wren

House wrens are the most widely distributed native bird in North America, Central America, and South America. With its impressive range, these birds are found virtually everywhere – from floodplain forests to backyards. 

The house wren is tiny, reaching an average length of 4.3-5.1” with a wingspan of 5.9”. As there are several subspecies of the house wren, appearances differ slightly. However, generally speaking, the house wren’s plumage features varying shades of brown.

Some house wrens are grayish-brown, while others are darker. Dark brown or blackish barring on the wings and tails occurs across all subspecies, alongside a pale eye ring and a faint line that marks an eyebrow. These birds typically stand in a “U” shaped position, with their tails held cocked. 

Due to their vast distribution, you can find a house wren in almost any environment. They typically like to breed in open forests, but they will build a nest in any small space, including underneath overhanging roofs, inside plant pots, and even old boots.

They don’t mind living amongst humans – especially when backyards and public spaces offer a variety of food. Those in the northern part of the range migrate southwards to overwinter. 

Speaking of food, the diet of a house wren consists mostly of foraging for insects. It’s quite easy to miss these birds in your backyard as they dash in and out of shrubs and plants in search of insects like spiders, snails, and butterfly larvae.

They will sometimes eat seeds and grains in a bird feeder, but they are most likely to frequent backyards with bird feeders filled with mealworms. 

Common Grackle

From afar, it’s somewhat easy to misidentify the common grackle for an American crow. Both species, after all, are jet black with iridescent feathers. However, despite their similar appearances, the common grackle isn’t even distantly related to the American crow.

These birds are found throughout North America, but most specifically all the areas east of the Rocky Mountains. There are three recognized subspecies depending on their appearance. 

Common grackles are fairly large birds with an average length of 11-13” and a wingspan of 14-18”.

As mentioned earlier, the common grackle is a jet black bird with little color variation in their plumage, other than the black iridescent feathers that offer hints of purple, blue, or bronze. They have pale yellow eyes, marking a striking contrast with the rest of their body.

Unlike the male, female common grackles tend to be slightly shorter and don’t exhibit as many iridescent feathers. Any iridescence is usually bronze rather than blue or purple. 

The common grackle is a bit of a habitat generalist, easily making itself feel at home in open and semi-open areas. When they nest, however, they prefer to build their nest amongst dense trees to protect their young from any potential predators. The common grackle is a permanent resident of their area, meaning they don’t migrate. 

Common grackles are omnivorous opportunistic feeders who will find their food in any way possible – from foraging along the ground to taking food directly from other birds and animals.

Their diet consists of grains, seeds, berries, insects, small invertebrates, human food scraps, eggs, and often small fish and rodents. You’re not as likely to see a common grackle at a bird feeder as you are to see them on the ground, as they tend to appear in backyards after the grass has been cut or hydrated in search of insects. 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker species found in North America. Often misidentified for the hairy woodpecker (as mentioned earlier in this guide), downy woodpeckers are surprisingly common in backyards across Wisconsin – especially if those backyards have trees.

If you have trees in your backyard, you’re more likely to hear a downy woodpecker before you see one due to their shrill call and constant drumming on trees with their pointed beaks. 

With an average length of 5.5-7.1” and a wingspan of 9.8-12.2”, the downy woodpecker sits between a sparrow and a robin in terms of size.

These tiny woodpeckers are known for their distinctive plumage, made up of black upperparts and wings contrasting with white underparts, throats, and backs. Their heads are mostly black with a white bar above and below the eyes.

The males are easily distinguishable from the females thanks to their bright red caps. The key physical difference between a downy woodpecker and a hairy woodpecker is that the former is far smaller than the latter, including their beaks. 

Downy woodpeckers are most commonly found in deciduous forests in North America, but they are also known to frequent the edge of such woodland areas including parks and backyards.

It’s quite common for individuals in the northern range to migrate southwards in winter, especially those in mountainous regions who fly to lower elevations.

For those who do migrate – or at least the ones who migrate small distances in search of food – bird feeders become a vital food source, which is why you might see a downy woodpecker frequent your backyard in Wisconsin. 

The diet of a downy woodpecker consists of insects, seeds, and berries found in and amongst trees. Despite their short beaks, they will drill holes into trees like other woodpecker species to search for sap and insects inside the bark. They like to eat a mixture of suet and shelled peanuts in mesh bird feeders, particularly during winter. 

Gray Catbird

Gray catbirds are the only member of their genus (Dumetella), making them a rather special bird to see in your backyard. These birds are aptly named due to their gray plumage and their unique calls that sound vaguely like – you guessed it – a cat. These birds are native to North America and Central America, and are often referred to as the slate-colored mockingbird. 

The gray catbird is a medium-sized bird with an average length of 8.1-9.4” and a wingspan of 8.7-11.8”. It’s not hard to describe their physical appearances, as these birds are pretty much gray all over, with the tops of their heads and their tails usually being slightly darker than the rest of their body.

Some of the undertail coverts are rusty and it’s quite common to see flickers of white bands when the bird is in flight. Unlike most of the birds on this list, there are no physical differences between male and female gray catbirds. 

Gray catbirds are native to North America (east of the Rocky Mountains) including parts of Central America. For those in the northern part of the range, migration often occurs to reach warmer temperatures for overwintering.

The habitat of the gray catbird is unique, because while they dislike dense woodlands (specifically pine), they enjoy dense vegetative substrate like scrublands, the edges of woods, abandoned orchards, and overgrown farmland. So, if you’ve got a particularly overgrown backyard, it’s a haven for the gray catbird. 

The diet of a gray catbird is almost 50% berries, seeds, and grains, and 50% insects and other small invertebrates. Due to their expansive dietary options, the gray catbird will sometimes frequent bird feeders filled with seeds.

Their diet also means that not all gray catbirds have to migrate in search of food, because they can adapt to another food type during winter. 

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Found across Canada and the northeastern United States, the rose-breasted grosbeak is most distinguishable for their unique markings and thick beaks.

These birds have unique migratory patterns, because while they overwinter in tropical climates, they will happily spend the rest of the year in cold temperatures in North America. You’re most likely to spot a rose-breasted grosbeak in Wisconsin from spring to fall before they migrate southwards. 

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are fairly large birds in the cardinal family, with an average length of 7.1-8.7” and a wingspan of 11-13”. The males are far easier to identify than the females due to their unique plumage. Their heads, backs, and part of the wings are jet black, creating a striking contrast with the white underparts and rumps.

As their name suggests, the most prominent part of this species is the bright red breast. Females, however, have a comparatively dull plumage, which is mostly light brown with darker streaks. They don’t have a bright red breast, but it is often slightly blushed. 

The rose-breasted grosbeak’s breeding grounds are open deciduous forests, which is why they will often frequent other open areas like parks, meadows, farmland, roadsides, plantations, and backyards.

During migration, the residence in open areas is more frequently recorded. They will leave their breeding grounds in August and return in May, which is why they aren’t seen during this time in Wisconsin. 

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are foragers that rummage for food underneath vegetation. Their diet consists of insects, seeds, berries, and fruit. If they’re not underneath vegetation, they will be perched on tree tops and will often catch their food in the air. During winter, or when food sources are lacking, they will frequent bird feeders filled with a variety of seeds. 

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is known for its misleading name, because these woodpeckers don’t have a red belly at all.

Instead, the only distinctive red plumage is found on the bird’s head. However, this is not to be confused with the red-headed woodpecker, which exhibits an entirely red head and neck and is a completely separate species.

The red-bellied woodpecker is found and bred across eastern North America, with a distribution range spanning from Canada all the way to Florida. 

This species is roughly the same size as a hairy woodpecker, with an average length of 9.4” and a wingspan of 13.0-16.5” (sitting somewhere between a robin and a crow).

There are no subspecies of the red-bellied woodpecker, so it’s easy to identify the monotypic individuals. The majority of the body, including the face and underparts, is light gray which contrasts with the black-and-white barred wings, back, and tail.

The most distinctive part of the red-bellied woodpecker is the red cap that sits on their heads – for males, the patch covers the majority of the head, and females have two patches, one on the nape and one just above the bill. The only indication of a red belly is a reddish tinge located on their underparts, but this is only visible in flight. 

Red-bellied woodpeckers are most commonly found in and around mixed woodlands and forests, as they show preference for both oak and hardwood pine. It’s common for these birds to leave the boundaries of the forests to venture into backyards in search of new trees and backyard feeders. 

These birds are foragers that both catch and store food. Storing food amongst the cavities and tight crevices of trees and inside bark is characteristic of woodpeckers, as they will often store insects into these inescapable holes to keep their food away from predators.

As with most woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpecker will drill into the bark (or the tree itself) to get access to small insects like ants and sap. They will also frequent bird feeders that are filled with a range of seeds and mealworms. 

European Starling

Also known as the common starling (or simply a starling in the UK), the European starling is a bird native to Europe and parts of Asia, and has since been successfully introduced to North America, parts of Central America and South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Fiji.

European starlings are often considered a nuisance due to their constant calls and the mess produced in urban areas (especially if they roost in a flock), but they also help to control the population of invertebrate pests on crops. 

There are 12 recognized subspecies of the European starling. The average length of this species is 7.5-9.1” with a wingspan of 12-17”, making them a medium-sized bird. European starlings have a very simplistic plumage, as the whole body is covered in black iridescent feathers that often show hints of purple, green, and blue.

Sporadic white flecks are dotted around the body, usually on the wings and the tail. The key physical differences between the sexes are that males have longer and looser throat feathers than females, and females generally have lighter colored irises than males. 

In terms of habitat, European starlings prefer open land and both urban and suburban areas. Wherever there’s a sparse amount of trees, you’ll probably find a European starling or two.

Their most common habitats include parks, playing fields, farmland, golf courses, backyards, and occasionally forests and shrubland. Their adaptability to habitats is also present in the individuals who inhabit coastal areas.

In North America, most individuals in the northern part of the range will migrate southwards in winter, which sometimes includes Wisconsin. 

European starlings are mostly insectivorous, feeding on a range of insects and invertebrates including spiders, flies, dragonflies, wasps, beetles, and more. They will often inhabit crops and farmland to eat the pests.

It’s also common for European starlings to eat seeds, grains, berries, small amphibians and reptiles, nectar, and food waste. If you want to attract European starlings into your backyard, you can fill your bird feeders with virtually anything suitable for birds. 

Dark-Eyed Junco 

Another relative in the sparrow family, the dark-eyed junco is found across the majority of North America, with an expansive range that even reaches the Arctic during summer.

There are multiple subspecies of the dark-eyed junco that are split into six basic groups, which is why it’s often hard to identify the individual. The most commonly found group of dark-eyed juncos found in Wisconsin are within the slate-colored group. 

Dark-eyed juncos are small, sparrow-sized birds with an average length of 5.1-6.9” and a wingspan of 7.1-9.8”.

In most cases, depending on the subspecies group, adult dark-eyed juncos have gray heads, bodies, wings, and backs, which contrast with a white or lighter gray belly and tail. When in flight, you’re most likely to see a flash of white coming from the tail amongst dark gray.

As the name suggests, these birds feature dark eyes that contrast with the pale pink beak. There are no physical differences between the sexes, but it is often recorded that females have a duller coloration than males. 

The preferred habitat of the dark-eyed junco is mixed or coniferous forest areas across the continent. While those in the northern part of their range tend to migrate southwards in winter, it’s common for flocks to remain resident in their local area.

For these individuals, they will often migrate short distances to open areas such as fields, farmland, roadsides, towns, and backyards in search of food. Backyards with bird feeders are a particular favorite of the dark-eyed junco. 

Speaking of food, the diet of the dark-eyed junco predominantly consists of seeds, including weed, grass, ragweed, vetch, thistles, pigweed, smartweed, zinnias, cosmos, and chickweed seeds.

The rest of their diet consists of insects like beetles, ants, grasshoppers, wasps, spiders, and weevils. Insects are mostly consumed in summer due to the abundance of the food source, whereas seeds are mostly consumed in winter. 

Red-Breasted Nuthatch 

The red-breasted nuthatch is one of the most abundant birds in North America. Residing mostly in coniferous forests, it lives in abundance throughout Canada, Alaska, northeastern United States, and the western states.

Aside from their adorable appearances, red-breasted nuthatches are most infamously known for their nasal, high-pitched call that resembles something like a tin trumpet. 

Red-breasted nuthatches are small yet plump songbirds with an average length of 4.3” and a wingspan of 7.1-7.9”.

As with most nuthatch species, these birds have a plump figure, fairly large head, and no discernible neck, making them look far more rotund than they actually are. The back and majority of the upperparts are a bluish-gray, which contrasts with the rusty underparts (hence the name).

At first glance, you might mistake one of these birds for the American robin thanks to the rufous breast. However, the red-breasted nuthatch features striking markings on its face, including a black cap, a black stripe over the eyes, and two white lines surrounding the blackened eyes, creating something like a permanent frown.

The only difference between males and females is that females generally have duller coloring.

The red-breasted nuthatch’s breeding ground is mostly conifer forests, but due to their irregular migratory patterns, the habitats seem to range from dense forests to backyards. If you live near coniferous forests, or even mountains, you’re highly likely to catch a glimpse of these common birds.

It’s also common to see the species in deciduous forests (such as hickory, oak, maple, and birch) in the northeastern part of their range. The migratory patterns are sporadic, because while they are mostly permanent residents of their territory, they will migrate short distances in search of food. 

The feeding habits of the red-breasted nuthatch are interesting. They will scale trees by walking up and down them, including the trunks and branches, to find food. They can even walk upside down on branches without the use of their tail as a support.

These birds are opportunistic feeders who will eat anything depending on the season. Summer consists mostly of insect consumption, while winter is mostly about eating seeds.

You’re most likely to encounter a red-breasted nuthatch surrounding your bird feeders in winter as they search for the fatty seeds and food, such as sunflower seeds, suet, and peanut butter.