26 Birds That Spend Their Winters in Kentucky

Written by Rebecca Mathews
Published: November 23, 2023
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According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, over 350 bird species make Kentucky their home. There’s lots to spot if you fancy some cold weather bird watching. Here are 26 birds that spend their winters in Kentucky.

1.     House Finch

House finch lifting off from mullein with wings spread.

House finches live in noisy groups. Only males have red markings.

©Jeff Caverly/Shutterstock.com

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Redheaded and breasted house finches are not native to Kentucky but they thrive there and spend their winters in parks, forest edges, and backyards, chattering in noisy groups.

Female house finches don’t have the red branding, they’re simply brown-streaked.

2.     European Starling

European starling one single bird perching sitting on bare tree branch during winter snow closeup in Virginia isolated with plumage pattern

European starlings create huge murmerations at sunset.

©Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com

Another non-native to Kentucky is the European starling. These iridescent beauties live in all of North America and flock in large numbers. At sunset, you might spot giant murmurations of swooping starlings before they roost.

3.     Northern Flicker

Eastern northern flickers have red throat flashes.

©iStock.com/DawnKey

Northern flickers are 10-12-inch-long brown woodpeckers with yellow and red flashes on the tail and wings. In the eastern states, flickers have yellow flashes, but in the western states, they’re red!

Flickers eat a wide variety of foods including seeds, nuts, fruits, and hatchlings.

4.     Blue Jay

A blue jay sits in a pine with fresh flocked snow in Algonquin Canada

Bright blue jays eat seeds, nuts, insects, and nestlings.

©Matthew Jolley/Shutterstock.com

Blue jays spend winter in Kentucky in large noisy family groups. These intelligent corvids have blue crests, blue backs, and bright white undersides.

Anything goes when it comes to a blue jay’s diet, especially in Kentucky winters when temperatures drop and food is scarce.

5.     Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal Mates Perched

Male northern cardinals are much brighter than brown females.

©Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com

Cheerful red northern cardinals brighten up Kentucky winters. Males appear bright red, but females are duller. Both are tremendous nest defenders – they’ll even attack their reflections in chick season.

6.     Eastern Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird eating a mealworm on a china plate bird feeder.

Eastern bluebirds predominantly eat insects. Meal and wax worms are good supplemental winter foods.

©Melody Mellinger/Shutterstock.com

Eastern bluebirds spend winters in Kentucky’s yards and meadows. They love to hunt insects by standing stock still on wires and posts before dive-bombing the hapless bugs.

As per their name, these attractive birds have blue plumage with red underbellies. Males are brighter than females and juveniles.

7.     American Goldfinch

American goldfinch eating thistle seeds

Weed seeds are popular American goldfinch foods in winter.

©gary powell/Shutterstock.com

American goldfinches are common winter birds in Kentucky. The bright males and duller females prefer weed-filled arable land, but take advantage of backyard feeders too.

Help cold goldfinches out with sunflower seeds and crushed peanuts.

8.     Northern Mockingbird

northern mockingbird

A northern mockingbird can recall over one hundred different songs.

©iStock.com/cmcneill17

Gray-brown northern mockingbirds have a wide song repertoire. Some males have been recorded singing over 100 different songs.

Mockingbirds are ground feeders, they search out fruit and seeds from woods, forests, arable land and back yards.

9.     Mourning Dove

Mourning doves on branch

Mourning doves pair up for life. They’re often spotted in twos.

©Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com

9-13 inch long mourning doves usually show up in pairs. When Kentucky’s winter arrives they’re often spotted in bird baths and forging back yards for seeds.

Gentle mourning doves’ bobbing heads and chubby plumpness make them one of the most adorable birds around.

10. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Perched on a Branch

Small red-bellied woodpeckers have very faint red breast markings.

©rck_953/Shutterstock.com

Red-bellied woodpeckers have faint red bellies, but bright red caps, so they’re often confused with red-capped woodpeckers. However, the rosy bellied ones are much smaller. They don’t get larger than 8-10 inches long.

This woodpecker uses a barbed tongue and sticky spit to extract insects from tree crevices!

11. Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow perched on a branch and singing.

Song sparrows sing during nearly all their waking hours.

©iStock.com/PaulReevesPhotography

Gray and brown striped song sparrows blend into their environment like masters of disguise. Most Kentucky folks hear them, rather than spot them, because these diminutive 4-6 inch long birds sing almost constantly.

12. Dark-eyed Junco

Male Dark-eyed Junco in Winter

In Kentucky, dark eyed juncos have brown, black, and white stripes.

©Brett Swain/Shutterstock.com

In the eastern states dark-eyed juncos have slate-colored foliage, whereas in the east, they’re brown, black, and white striped.

Dark-eyed juncos live in Kentucky all year round foraging seeds, nuts, and insects from partially wooded areas and tree-filled backyards.

13. Red-tailed Hawk

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks scan the ground for small prey such as rodents and lizards.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

With a distinctive wide, but short, red tail, this magnificent hawk is unmissable. It patrols Kentucky winter skies searching for small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

If you take a car journey, look over the passing fields and you may spot a red tailed hawk circling or perched on a fence post.

14. American Robin

American robin, Turdus migratorius, single bird on branch with berries, British Columbia, Canada, December 2022

Common American robins eat seeds, nuts, and berries in winter.

©Erni/Shutterstock.com

Worms, insects, and snails provide American robins with plenty to eat, but winter times are hard. Pop a few meaty flavored cat biscuits, suet, or sunflower seeds outside to keep this common United States’ native happy.

15. Nuthatch

white breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatches prefer deciduous woods and leafy backyards.

©Jim Nelson/Shutterstock.com

Busy little nuthatches usually appear upside down. They run up fences and tree trunks in search of insects and seeds at great speed.

Nuthatches live across the United States and two species live in Kentucky. The red-breasted nuthatch prefers coniferous forests, but the white-breasted tends to prefer deciduous woods.

16. Tufted Titmouse

tufted titmouse bird standing on tree branch in autumn

A feisty tufted titmouse will fight and bully songbirds for food.

©ND700/Shutterstock.com

A gray and white tufted titmouse is pretty adorable, but this little bird is hardcore. It has no problem chasing chickadees and finches away from food and stealing it for themselves.  Despite their cute appearance, a tufted titmouse munches down on wasps and ants!

17. American Crow

American crows

American crows live in family groups in Kentucky’s treetops.

©iStock.com/Karel Bock

Corvid American crows live in Kentucky all year round. They eat most foods from nuts to rodents to picnic remains.

Crows live in treetops and call “caw-caw” plus many clicks and purrs to communicate with extended family members.  

18. Mallard

Pair of Mallard Ducks

Male and female mallards both have a blue wing flash.

©Robert Adami/Shutterstock.com

Mallard ducks live on Kentucky’s waterways year-round. The males have iridescent green heads, bright blue wing flashes (called speculums), and cheerful yellow bills. Females are mottled brown with orange bills but they have the blue speculum too.

These often friendly ducks eat aquatic weeds and invertebrates. Rather than bread in winter, help them out with sweetcorn and peas.

19. House Sparrow

house sparrow

House sparrows live in noisy family groups. They spend winters in Kentucky.

©Nick Vorobey/Shutterstock.com

Introduced house sparrows spend winters in trees and hedgerows chattering and warning the group of danger. They eat seeds and nuts and benefit from backyard feeders.

Identify house sparrows by their brown and gray heads, white cheeks, and gray bellies

20. Northern Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture Sitting on Branch

In flight, turkey vultures create a “V” shaped wing pattern.

©James-Paul Jacob/Shutterstock.com

Northern turkey vultures are easy to recognize with their bright red bald heads and massive body size. These birds reach 32 inches long and prefer to live near cliffs and hilltops to help take off. When flying, their wings form a distinctive “V” shape.

Carrion-eating turkey vultures roost in woodland, scrublands, and wetlands across the United States.

21. Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpeckers only reach 5-7 inches long. They flock with small songbirds.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Black and white 5-7 inch long downy woodpeckers have red heads and fluffy, downy foliage as per their name.

They eat acorns, insects, seeds, and snails, and enjoy flocking with songbird groups like titmouses and chickadees.

22. Chickadee

A very close shot (selective focus) of a Black-capped Chickadee in its habitat

Black capped chickadees prey on insects and larvae, but visit birdfeeders, too.

©Manu M Nair/Shutterstock.com

Tiny chickadees only reach a diminutive four inches long. Their white cheeks and bellies contrast with gray feathers and black caps, so they stand out in backyards.

Chickadees eat insects, larvae, seeds and nuts. In colds winters, suet and seed feeders are a lifeline.  

23. Carolina Wren

Carolina wrens courting on a branch high in a tree

Carolina wrens make a distinctive “tee-kettle” call.

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

Mini Carolina wrens spend winters in Kentucky, and their distinctive round bodies with vertical short tails make them an easy-to-recognize yard bird. If in doubt, listen out for their “tee-kettle” call note. Wrens are shy birds, but in the winter months, they’ll leave hedgerows to investigate seed feeders.

24. White-throated Sparrow

A Little White-Throated Sparrow on a Fence

White-throated sparrows have a distinctive yellow flash above their eyes.

©Fiona M. Donnelly/Shutterstock.com

These pretty little sparrows have white throats, black and white striped heads, and yellow face flashes. They spend winters in Kentucky seeking out insects, berries, and grass seeds.

25. Brown-Headed Cowbird

Birds that lay eggs in other birds' nests: Brown-headed Cowbird

The brown-headed cowbird lays eggs in other birds’ nests.

©iStock.com/BrianEKushner

Brown-headed cowbird males have glossy black plumage and deep brown heads, but females are all dark brown. This blackbird-sized brood parasite lays its eggs in other birds’ nests to avoid the stress of raising youngsters.

26. Common Loon

Nesting Loon

Common loons hunt fish underwater and sometimes swallow them whole before surfacing.

©SteveOehlenschlager/iStock via Getty Images

This Kentucky water bird is a fast swimmer that chases fish with a high success rate. Their bones are solid to help weigh them down on fish dives. To stop other birds stealing their hard-won dinner, loons swallow fish whole whilst still underwater!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Lester Graham/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Rebecca is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants and geography. Rebecca has been writing and researching the environment for over 10 years and holds a Master’s Degree from Reading University in Archaeology, which she earned in 2005. A resident of England’s south coast, Rebecca enjoys rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to support the stray cat population.

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