11 Winter Birds In Illinois (With Pictures!)

In this article I’ll be going over 11 winter birds that can be found in the state of Illinois so continue reading to learn more about these birds below.

  • Bald Eagle
  • Snowy Owl
  • Red Tailed Hawk
  • Eastern Screech
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Black Capped Chickadee 
  • Northern Flicker 
  • Sharp Shinned Hawk
  • Northern Cardinal

11 Winter Birds In Illinois

1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus)

Bald eagle

  • Size: 90 – 108cm
  • Weight: 3 – 6.3kg
  • Wingspan: 180 – 250cm

Bald eagles are winter residents in the all of Illinois. 

A bald eagle’s plumage consists of dark brown around its wing and body, with white feathers on its tail and head along with the trademark yellow beak and feet. Both male and female bald eagles look relatively the same.

As for where you can find these eagles, it will often be around lakes and reservoirs with lots of fish and surrounding forests. You’ll often find them around unfrozen lakes and hunting along coastlines, reservoirs, and rivers during the winter months

These eagles are birds of prey meaning they hunt other birds, medium sized mammals like rabbits, hares, other animals like reptiles, fish and even eat carrion when their options are limited. Sometimes bald eagles are recognised as fish eagles as their diet consists of fish and as meat is the only thing they eat these eagles would ultimately be regarded as carnivores too.

Bald eagles can live for around 20 years in the wild.

2. Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus)

Snowy owl

  • Size: 52 – 71cm
  • Weight: 1.1 – 2kg
  • Wingspan: 125 – 164cm

Snowy owls can be found in Illinois throughout their non-breeding months, which will often be around the winter months. 

These owls are recognised by their mostly white plumage with brown dots throughout the body. Females on the other hand are generally less white than the males as the brown spots encompass more of their body.

Snowy owls tend to spend their time within arctic tundra or open grasslands and fields, whilst avoiding forested areas. 

As for what they eat, it includes lemmings and a variety of small mammals. Nevertheless, they will still occasionally eat larger mammals like like hares, rats, rabbits, etc.

Snowy owls have been observed to live for around 28 years in captivity and between 10+ years in the wild.

3. Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis)

Red tailed hawk

  • Size: 45 – 60cm
  • Weight: 1.25 – 1.47kg
  • Wingspan: 100 – 150cm

Red tailed hawks are year round residents within Illinois which includes the winter months. 

These hawks are recognised by their brown torso and wings, white breast and red tails. The main difference between the male and females is that the females are a third larger than the males.

These red tailed avians spend their time at a variety of places within the state including deserts, grasslands, forests, agricultural fields and urban areas.

Red tailed hawks are carnivorous birds of prey where they feed on small mammals, rodents, other smaller birds, fish and even carrion.

In the wild red tailed hawks are known to live between 15 – 20 years whilst captive red tails can live on the upper end of that spectrum around 20 years.

4. Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops Asio)

Eastern Screech Owl

  • Size: 16 – 25cm
  • Weight: 121 – 244 grams
  • Wingspan: 49 – 61cm

You’ll be able to spot eastern screech owls across all of Illinois on a year round basis which would include the winter. 

Eastern screech owls are recognised by their mostly gray plumage. Females are generally larger and have a feathers that are brown in color.

These owls can be found around open mixed woodlands, deciduous forests, parklands, wooded suburban areas, riparian woods along streams and wetlands.

Eastern screech owls eat a variety of foods from small animals, including birds and mammals as well as earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and lizards.

As for how long these owls are known to live for, it’s typically around the 14 year mark in the wild.

5. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii)

Cooper's hawk

  • Size: 35 – 51cm
  • Weight: 400 – 700 grams
  • Wingspan: 73 – 94cm

These hawks can be found in all of Illinois on a year round basis which includes the fall and winter months.

Cooper’s hawks are recognised by their gray back and upper head with a orange and white patterned breast, legs and underside of the wing. The females and males look very much the same but, the females are around 30% larger than the opposite gender.

You’ll often find a cooper’s hawk around pines, oaks, Douglas-firs, beeches, spruces, and other tree species, often on flat ground rather than hillsides, and in dense woods.

As for what they eat, it includes mainly medium-sized birds including robins, jays, flickers, among other smaller and even larger birds. Small mammals like chipmunks, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, mice, bats, etc. are included in their diet too.

Cooper’s hawks tend to live for around 10 – 12 years on average whilst the oldest recorded hawk surpassed the 20 year mark.

6. White Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta Carolinensis)

White Breasted Nuthatch

  • Size: 13 – 14cm
  • Weight: 18 – 30 grams
  • Wingspan: 20 – 27cm

White breasted nuthatches can be found in all of Illinois on a year round basis, including the winter months. 

These white breasted nuthatches are recognised by their gray back, wings and the upper head with white breast feathers. Females look the same as the males.

As for where you would find these white breasted nuthatches, it would be around mature woods and woodland edges, where they’re most commonly located by deciduous stands that have maple, hickory, basswood, oak and are even found in some coniferous forests.

They mostly consume nuts, seeds and insects, which can include hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and suet.

As for how long white breasted nuthatches live in the wild, it tends to be around 2 years with the longest lifespan recorded around 12 years.

7. Great Horned Owl (Bubo Vrginianus)

Great horned owl

  • Size: 57 – 63cm
  • Weight: 1.4 – 1.5kg
  • Wingspan: 1.35 – 1.5m

Great horned owls can be found all across Illinois year round including the winter months.

These large horned owls are recognised by their brown/gray plumage with their defining feature being the tuft of feather on the top of their head resembling a horn or ear like feature. Male and female great horned owls look relatively the same with the females slightly larger in size.

At night these birds will perch on a branch or a tall building to look around for prey and once the desired prey has been found they will fly towards it with folded wings, grab the prey with their talons piercing through their body and in most cases killing  them immediately.

As for what these birds eat it includes smaller prey like rodents, frogs or scorpions. Even other larger predators like geese, ducks, hawks, and smaller owls can be eaten by these carnivorous birds.

Great horned owls are most commonly found in deserts, wetlands, forests, grasslands, backyards, cities and they can also be found in semi-open habitats between the Arctic and the tropics.

As for a great horned owls lifespan, it can be anywhere from 15 -25 years.

8. Black Capped Chickadee (Poecile Atricapillus)

Black capped chickadee

  • Size: 10 – 15cm
  • Weight: 10 – 12 grams
  • Wingspan: 15 – 20cm

You can spot black capped chickadees year round in the majority of Illinois. This also means they can be found in the state throughout winter.

Black capped chickadees are recognised by their mostly white plumage from breast to tail with gray wings, black throat and upper head. Females look very much the same as their male counterparts.

Your typical chickadee will spend their time within open woods and forest edge, especially where birches or alders grow. They also avoid coniferous forests. 

As for what they eat, it mostly consists of insects, fruits, seeds among other berries. The diet does change based on the weather. A large portion of a chickadees diet consists of insects in the summer whilst in winter it tends to be a seed, fruit and vegetable based diet that makes up around 50% of what they eat.

Black capped chickadees are known to live for around 2 – 3 years in the wild although, the longest recorded lifespan is said to be around 11.5 years.

9. Northern Flicker (Colaptes Auratus)

Northern Flicker

  • Size: 30 – 35cm
  • Weight: 115 – 125 grams
  • Wingspan: 50 – 55cm

These northern flickers can be found in all of Illinois year round, which inlcudes the winter months.

Northern flickers are recognised by their mostly cream colored body with black spots, orange and black tail feathers and elements of red on the lower part of their face. Females look very similar to the males minus the red elements on their face.

You’ll often find northern flickers around woodlands, forest edges, and open fields with scattered trees, as well as city parks and suburbs. 

As for what they tend to eat, it includes mostly insects along with smaller fruits and berries.

Northern flickers are known to live for around 5 – 7 years on average with the longest recorded to be 9 years and 2 months.

10. Sharp Shinned Hawk (Accipiter Stratus)

Sharp shinned hawk

  • Size: 23 – 37cm
  • Weight: 82 – 220 grams
  • Wingspan: 42 – 68cm

Sharp shinned hawks are year round residents across Illinois, which includes the winter months.

These hawks are recognised by their gray wings and back, brown and white breast and belly with a pair of yellow feet. Females look very similar to the males but are roughly a third larger.

Sharp shinned hawks can be found around mixed or coniferous forests, open deciduous woodlands, thickets, edges

These hawks will often eat birds from the size of a sparrow up to that of a robin’s size and in rare occasions some birds that are the size of quails too. They also eat the occasional rodent, bats, squirrels, lizards, frogs, snakes, and large insects.

Sharp shinned hawks will typically live for around 5 – 6 years on average, although some are able to live 10+ years in the right environment.

11. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis Cardinalis)

Northern cardinal

  • Size: 21 – 23cm
  • Weight: 42 – 48 grams
  • Wingspan: 30 – 35cm

You’ll find northern cardinals in the majority of Illinois on a year round basis, which includes the winter months.

Northern cardinals are recognised by their mohawk-like head feathers, red exterior and beak with elements of black across the face. Females also have elements of red on their beaks and their body but, in smaller amounts, with the majority of their plumage a light brown color.

These cardinals can be found in woodlands, gardens, shrublands, wetlands and backyards if the sugar water or seeds in the feeders satisfy their taste buds.

As for the food they eat, it consists of small insects like beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, flies, spiders, centipedes, and snails. Seeds of weeds, berries among other smaller fruits are part of their diet too.

Northern cardinals are known to live for around 15 years in the wild although the actual number probably a lot less.

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