Winter’s Quiet Bird Presence

Carolina Wren

Golden Crowned Kinglet


Although our spring and summer migrants have left for warmer climes and our woods contain fewer birds and fewer species of birds, our winter avian population remains large and diverse.  Winter residents include songbirds, of course, but also waterfowl and raptors.  Flocks are more diverse in the winter, challenging the dictum that “birds of a feather flock together.”

One of the most frequently seen species in winter months is the Dark-eyed Junco.  This smallish, slate-colored bird has a characteristic gray belly and feeds on the ground, on our decks, and on our bird feeders.  They tolerate the human presence well, often scurrying around our feet, and have been likened to small pigeons.

Less common than the Dark-eyed Junco but still fairly abundant are Carolina Chickadees, Pine Siskin, Song Sparrows, Blue Jays, and Northern Cardinals.  American Goldfinch are still abundant in December, the males’ winter plumage muted compared to their spring and summer black and canary yellow. 

Tufted Titmice and American Crow are common winter birds, as well as American Robins and both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch, depending on your elevation and locale.  Expect also to see Mourning Dove, Eastern Towhee, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and the occasional Purple Finch.

Winter woodpeckers include the Downy, Hairy, and majestic Pileated species as well as Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Northern Flickers.  Waterfowl are represented by Mallards, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser.  Expect to see Canada Geese, one of the most populous birds in North Carolina. 

Winter hawks include both the Red-shouldered and Red-tailed varieties, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. 

Occasional and infrequent winter sightings are made of the Fox Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, House Finch, Field Sparrow, Winter Wren, Belted Kingfisher, Brown Creeper, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

If this incomplete list of winter birds seems a bit tedious or exhausting, we can all be thankful that our winter aviary is still large and diverse.  Winter birding can be highly successful as leafless trees make bird spotting easy.  Don’t expect to hear them; songbirds are mostly silent during the winter months, not looking for mates or defending territory.  

With all this, the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society wishes you happy and successful winter birding.

The mission of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society is to provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about birds and other wildlife and to promote conservation and restoration of the habitats that support them.  HPAS is a 501 (c) (3) organization, a Chapter of the National Audubon Society.  Visit for information on membership and all activities.