Snow Birds: New York’s Winter Bird Population

There are many species of birds that do not migrate to warmer or more temperate climates, but remain to take advantage of available local food sources.

For some of these smaller birds, specifically chickadees, spending the winters here in the frigid Northeast is possible due to a short-term hibernation state called torpor. During this period, energy expenditure is reduced due to exposure to extreme cold, food shortages, or severe droughts. Throughout this process of thermoregulation (maintenance or regulation of internal body temperature), metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate are decreased in order to help conserve energy and maintain body heat during the harsh winter months.

All of our fine feathered friends depend on specific habitats to obtain food and provide a safe place to nest and nurture their young. By protecting and conserving a wide range of habitats throughout our State Parks, we are ensuring the health and viability of New York State’s resident bird populations.

OPRHP has partnered with Audubon New York in efforts to enhance awareness regarding the conservation of state priority birds within designated New York State Parks. The “Audubon in the Parks” initiative concentrates its efforts on maintaining and conserving essential habitat in Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for the over 300 bird species that reside on Park lands.

Currently, 67 out of the 136 IBA sites that have been identified in New York State are located inside our Parks, and 25 out of 59 statewide designated BCA’s also fall within park boundaries. These programs provide activities ranging from bird walks to data entry, and even larger habitat restoration projects.

This joint partnertship fosters public engagement through outreach, environmental interpretation, and habitat restoration in several NYS Parks. In addition, this initiative encourages members, volunteers, birders, and  “citizen scientists”  to participate in these programs by identifying, monitoring, and conserving essential bird habitat.

Audubon New York and OPRHP are focused on restoring and improving existing bird habitats in State Parks with designated bird BCAs and IBAs sites through partnerships, education, and habitat improvement efforts.

Below are examples of some winter birds commonly found in New York State that you might see in our State Parks. Most commonly you will find these birds perched in a tree, gliding over a open field or even enjoying a snack at your backyard feeder.


The term passerine refers to perching song birds. The vocalists of the bird world, these birds have a repertoire of song, calls and voices; each used for specific  purposes. All members of this group have similar physical characteristics. The foot of a passerine has three toes facing  forward and one toe directed backwards, which allows them to hang on to tree branches, reeds or any vertical surface. These common bird species can often be heard and seen visiting backyard feeders.

Chickadee black-capped 2-6-05 - 0012
Black-capped chickadee.


Black-capped Chickadee: Poecile atricapilla

Habitat: Common to mixed wooded areas. Mixed wooded refers to tree species that shed their leaves annually (deciduous) and evergreens or conifers (coniferous).

Diet: Mostly seeds, insects, spiders, berries and small fruit.

Auditory recognition: Chickadee dee dee dee.

Identifying characteristics: Small and fluffy with distinguishing black cap and throat, and white cheeks.

Cardinal close 3-5-05 - 0039
Northern cardinal


Northern Cardinal: Cardinalis cardinalis

Habitat: Commonly found in brushy areas next to the edges of woods.

Diet: Seeds, fruit and insect larvae.

Auditory recognition: Teeooo, teeeooo, whoit whoit whoit.

Identifying characteristics: Both have large triangular shaped bills. Male cardinals have bright red plumage with a black face and red bill. Females have reddish-brown plumage and red-orange bill.

Tufted Titmouse-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Tufted titmouse, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Tufted Titmouse: Baeolophus bicolor

Habitat: Commonly found in mature deciduous (shed leaves annually) wooded areas.

Diet: Mainly seeds and insects.

Auditory recognition: Peter peter peter peter.

Identifying characteristics: Pale grey color with orange flanks, small pointed grey crest, black forehead and a broad tail.

Tree Sparrow  close 3-5-05 - 0037
American tree sparrow.


American Tree Sparrow: Spizella arborea

Habitat: Brushy or weedy areas in proximity to trees, open fields, woodland edges, marshes, and suburban areas.

Diet: Seeds from grasses and plants, few insects and berries.

Auditory recognition: A series of high-pitched sweet whistles and trills. Swee swee ti sidi see zidi zidi zew.

Identifying characteristics: Bicolored bill, white bands on wings and a dark spot on center of chest area.

Dark Eyed Junco post 3-5-05 - 0052
Dark-eyed junco


Dark- Eyed Junco: Junco hyemalis

Habitat: Common to open woodland and brushy areas, along the roadside and at backyard feeders.

Diet: Mainly seeds and insects. Usually seen foraging on the ground beneath feeders.

Auditory recognition: High-pitch trill resembling the ring of an old rotary dial phone.

Identifying characteristics: Grey to grey-brown in color, pale pinkish-white bill, white underbelly, and white outer tail feathers.


All species of Woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers which are used like props, allowing the birds to cling to tree bark while in search of food. Another common characteristic that is shared among woodpeckers is a strong chisel like bill which is used to tap and excavate insects from beneath the bark of trees. They are the percussionists in the world of birds. During a walk in a State Park, Woodpeckers can often be heard tapping on trees as they look for insects to eat.

Downy Woodpecker very close vertical best master
Downy Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker (Smallest Woodpecker in North America): Picoides pubescens

Habitat: Common to deciduous wooded areas consisting of patches of smaller trees and brush.

Diet: Variety of insects (beetles, ants, gall wasps and caterpillars), seeds, berries.

Auditory recognition: High-pitch whinny with a distinctive high-pitched pik.

Identifying characteristics: Both males and females have a white patch on their back and white spots on their wings. Only males have a red patch on the back of their heads, females do not have this added patch of color.

Pileated Woodpecker-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Pileated woodpecker, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Pileated Woodpecker (Largest Woodpecker in North America): Dryocopus pileatus

Habitat: Mature hardwood and mixed forests and woodlots.

Diet: Creates a distinctive oval or rectangular hole while foraging on dead trees and logs searching for carpenter ants, termites, larvae of wood-boring beetles, other various insects.

Auditory recognition: Series of 6-8 high-pitched wuks. Wuk, wuk-wuk-wuk, wuk-wuk.

Identifying characteristics: Large in size with a long neck, black plumage on wings, chest and back, notable red crest, and white patch on underside of wings.


Owls belong to the Raptor family, also commonly known as birds of prey. Due to their carnivorous appetites which consists of small mammals (rabbits, moles, ground sqirrels, and mice), these skilled and efficient hunters have razor sharp talons, a hooked beak with sharp edges, acute eyesight, and distinctive facial disks which allow them to search for prey.

Snow Owl_Lilly Schelling
Snowy Owl, photo by Lilly Schelling


Snowy Owl (Heaviest Owl): Bubo scandiacus

Habitat: Perches on ground or fence posts in open fields and marshes.  Snowy owls migrate to New York State from Canada and Alaska (also known as the Taiga region of North America).

Diet: Often hunts during the day for small rodents and birds in open fields. Have been known to feed on prey as large as geese.

Auditory recognition: Brooo brooo brooo.

Identifying characteristics: Large and sleek, mostly all white plumage. Face and underwing always white.

Barred Owl-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Barred owl, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Barred Owl: Strix varia

Habitat: Prefers hardwood swamps, woodlands or mature forests consisting of both evergreen and deciduous trees in close proximity to water, and wooded river bottoms.

Diet: Most active at night but has been known to hunt for small mammals and rodents during the day in fields and forests.

Auditory recognition: Hoo hoo ho-ho, hoo hoo ho-hooooooooaar (“who cooks for you”, “who cooks for you-all”).

Identifying characteristics: Brown in color with lighter spots, wings and tail barred brown and white, bold streaks on chest and distinguishing dark eyes.

Barn Owl-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Barn owl, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Barn Owl: Tyto alba

Habitat: Woodlands, groves, farmland, marshes, and cliffs.  Prefer to nest in old barns and man-made structures.

Diet: Hunts at night in search of small mammals and rodents (voles, mice, small rats, shrews, and juvenile rabbits).

Auditory recognition: Shiiish or kschh (screech).

Identifying characteristics: Long legs, pale tawny and white plumage with dark eyes surrounded by a white heart shaped border.

Even in the wintertime, these birds depend on specific habitats to obtain food and provide a safe place to nest and nurture their young. By protecting and conserving a wide range of habitats throughout State Parks, OPRHP is ensuring the health and viability of New York State’s resident bird populations.

For more information on the birds depicted here and additional species:

Audubon New York

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Click here for more information about Audubon in the Park.

Click here for more information about Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) within New York State Parks.


Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. 2003. New York.

Peterson, Roger Tory. Peterson Field Guides: A Field Guide The Birds of Eastern and Central America. 1980. New York.

Nature Instruct. Dendroica: An aid to identifying Western Hemisphere birds. 2013. USGS. Web.

Post by Melyssa Smith.




8 thoughts on “Snow Birds: New York’s Winter Bird Population”

    1. Good question about why your feeder is still full. The temperatures have been variable but overall it has been a mild winter, meaning there are lots of natural sources of feed for the birds and they do not need as much feed to stay warm. Check to be sure the sunflower seeds in the feeder has not become damp in the rain we have received. If it has become damp, replace the seeds. And scatter some seeds on the ground and in an old tray or 9″ x 13″ pan. This will help the birds see the feed and bring them into your feeders.

      Hopefully these tips will help to bring the birds back to your feeders.

  1. You left out the Morning Dove. Here in Southern NY State (Rockland County) it’s Nov 9th, and our doves are still plentiful, around the feeder.

    Also crows.

  2. Near the Canadian border we also have Mourning doves, crows, nuthatches and my favorite Bald Eagles. Besides black oil seeds they love unsalted peanuts.

  3. We have a bird that visits our feeder in Niagara Co. every winter. I do not see it here nor in any of my bird books. It is shaped very much like a chickadee (chubby, small head) but is much larger. Almost black on head and back with a snow white chest. They only appear in the winter. Any suggestions?

  4. No titmice or chickadees this winter…. last winter we had many appearances by the chickadee and a few by the titmice..we are in Throggs Neck, the Bronx near to the Eastchester Bay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.