Like all New England states, Massachusetts gets cold in the winter, so plenty of its feathered residents set out for warmer climates in the fall. However, a surprising number of birds – usually those that feed primarily on seeds – make Massachusetts their home year-round or in the winter months.
Here are 15 birds that stay in Massachusetts in the winter:
- Sparrows (Various)
- Downy woodpeckers
- American goldfinches
- Black-capped chickadees
- Blue jays
- Eastern bluebirds
- Snowy owls
- Carolina wrens
- Northern cardinals
- Tufted titmice
- Mourning doves
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Northern mockingbirds
- Dark-eyed juncos
- Sea birds (Various)
1. Sparrows (Various)
There are a variety of sparrows that stay in Massachusetts in the winter. These are:
- White-throated Sparrows
- American Tree Sparrows
- Chipping Sparrows
- Song Sparrows
- House Sparrows
Because most sparrows have similar features, it can be hard to tell them apart. The Birds of North America website has a great guide listing all the different sparrow breeds. The site includes pictures of each bird to aid in identifying them.
2. Downy Woodpeckers
While downy woodpeckers aren’t the most common species of birds found in Massachusetts in the winter, you can occasionally spot one pecking away at a tree.
Downy woodpeckers resemble hairy woodpeckers, but they’re much smaller. Usually, they’re about 6.75 in (17.15 cm) long and have beaks that are much shorter than hairy woodpeckers’ beaks. They’re black and white and have a bright red spot on the backs of their heads.
3. American Goldfinches
It’s easy to spot American Goldfinches during Massachusetts winters, but you may not recognize them right away.
The birds, ranging from butter yellow (females) to bright, golden yellow (males) in the spring and summer months, turn a dull grayish-brown color in the winter. They do, however, retain their distinctive dark wings.
4. Black-Capped Chickadees
If there’s one bird you can expect to see year-round in Massachusetts, it’s the Black-Capped Chickadee, Massachusetts’ state bird.
They’re small birds with disproportionately large, black-capped heads, short, strong bills, long tails, and short, rounded wings. They have a very distinctive two-note call, which Mass Audubon describes as “swee-tie.”
5. Blue Jays
Blue jays are another permanent, year-round species of Massachusetts bird.
They’re beautiful birds with bright blue feathers on top of white or gray ones. Their faces are usually white, but they have blue crests on their heads and black bands around their faces and necks.
Despite their beauty, many people don’t like Blue Jays because they’re big, loud, and sometimes aggressive at the feeder. They’re intelligent birds and social within their species.
6. Eastern Bluebirds
Once rare in Massachusetts, Eastern Bluebirds are now readily found in fields and other open spaces throughout the state.
They’re smaller than blue jays, and the males’ blue feathers are much brighter than blue jays’ feathers. The females have paler, bluish-gray feathers, and both sexes have reddish, rusty-colored breasts.
Some Eastern bluebirds migrate south for the winter, but several remain in Massachusetts, sticking close to their breeding territories and feeding on soft fruits.
7. Snowy Owls
If you’ve ever watched Harry Potter, you’ve seen a gorgeous Snowy Owl in the form of Harry’s beloved pet Hedwig.
If you take a trip to Massachusetts in the winter, you might get to see one for real.
These gorgeous, yellow-eyed owls are ferocious hunters and somewhat territorial. The males are primarily white, while the females often have dark bands of color splashed across their feathers.
8. Carolina Wrens
Carolina Wrens are a somewhat recent addition to New England, becoming regular residents sometime in the mid-1900s.
These birds are small – about 5 in (12.7 cm) long – and mostly round. Carolina Wrens’ topcoat of feathers is a warm, rich brown; beneath them are lighter, almost tan-colored feathers. Their tails are short and usually pointed upwards, and they have a unique white eyebrow stripe that gives them a “grumpy old man” appearance.
Despite their small size, Carolina Wrens are incredibly vocal birds.
9. Northern Cardinals
Often referred to simply as “red birds,” Northern Cardinals have powerful, bright orange bills.
The males are brilliantly red with black faces; the females are brown or tan with splashes of red on their wings, tails, and crests.
Northern Cardinals do well in Massachusetts’ winters because they can crack open tough, frozen seeds and fruits. These birds aren’t social, but they often keep the same mates from one season to the next.
10. Tufted Titmice
Tufted Titmice are related to chickadees, and they look like cardinals on a miniature scale. Their black eyes are almost startling in their pale faces, and they have small, thick bills.
They have a unique, echoing call, and despite their small size, they are tough, brave little birds.
Tufted Titmice will loudly scold intruders and have even been known to steal fur off sleeping mammals to use in their nests.
11. Mourning Doves
Of all the various doves, Mourning Doves probably have the most distinctive appearance and call.
Their heads are disproportionately small against their large bodies, and their tails are long and straight. They’re usually gray or light brown and may have black spots on their wings.
Mourning Doves’ most distinctive feature is their sad, lonely cooing, which almost sounds like an owl’s hooting.
They’re graceful and elegant while walking and extremely quick and agile while flying.
12. White-Breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatches are bluish-gray and white birds with powerful beaks and a remarkably interesting way of moving around trees.
The birds can fly, but you’ll often find them crawling around tree limbs, moving up, down, around, and even upside-down. They’re known for clinging to branches and crawling down tree trunks head first!
White-Breasted Nuthatches eat mainly nuts and seeds and get their name from their tendency to lodge nuts in crevices and use their bills like hatchets to slice them in two.
13. Northern Mockingbirds
Despite their name, Northern Mockingbirds live pretty much everywhere from the mid-United States down to Mexico and Guatemala. They also inhabit most of the New England states year-round.
They’re plain gray birds with lighter undersides and darker wings. Northern Mockingbirds are about 10 in (25.4 cm) long and have no unique or memorable physical attributes.
Mostly, people know them by their songs, which mimic – or “mock” – the calls and songs of various other birds in the region.
14. Dark-Eyed Juncos
Although native to Alaska and Canada, Dark-eyed Juncos like to winter in Massachusetts and other New England states.
They have dark gray, nearly black, top feathers and white bellies and are often confused with Black Phoebes. Dark-eyed juncos are slightly smaller, though, and they forage for food on the ground, whereas black Phoebes catch flying insects.
15. Sea Birds (Various)
During the winter, Massachusetts’ coastal regions see an influx of sea birds from as far away as the Arctic. They come to Massachusetts seeking warmer temperatures.
Some of the birds most commonly seen in Massachusetts’ coastal regions during winter include:
- Long-tailed ducks
- Harlequin ducks
- Goldeneye ducks
It’s not even entirely unheard of to spot a bald eagle now and then. Coastal Massachusetts becomes a popular destination for bird watchers in the wintertime because of all these exciting birds.