About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Identifying Brown Birds: Do birds change colors in the winter?

I’m new to bird watching. Do you have a book that shows the backyard birds in their winter colors? We have a lot of brown birds and I’m having a hard time telling the difference. ~ Birch Run, Michigan

Most of our backyard birds in Michigan go through only one full molt a year in the fall. They replace their tired old feathers with a new set that will last until next fall. Most of the brown birds you are seeing at the feeders are probably just that, little brown birds that are brown their whole life. The two exceptions are the European Starlings and the American Goldfinches.

Starlings molt their feathers in the fall too, but their new feathers are black with white tips giving the bird “stars”. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

The American Goldfinches are the only mid-Michigan finch to go through a molt in the fall and one in the spring. The male goldfinches molt into duller winter colors that resemble the female's soft olive green and subdued yellow tones. And just when it seems as though winter will last forever, the male goldfinch forecasts spring’s arrival with the reappearance of its glamorous buttery yellow.

Color can be confusing. Any of our Birds of Michigan books can help you identify birds as well as any of the North American field guides we have at Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan.

So what are all the brown birds you are seeing at the feeders? The most common backyard winter brown birds in Michigan are: House Sparrows, Dark-eyedJuncos, Carolina Wrens, female House Finches, Pine Siskins, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Creepers, Common Redpolls, female Northern Cardinals, European Starlings and American Goldfinches.

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