Local birds in Madison, WI

Learn how to identify these local birds by sound and sight.

two Goldfinches on birdfeeder

Which is which? This is a pair of male and female American Goldfinches. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

City Editor Ally here — I recently got a bird feeder that hangs outside of the window at my work-from-home station. Since I’ve been getting up close and personal with some local birds, I thought I’d do a little deep dive into the who’s who of the flighty friends we share the city with.

Black-capped chickadee

Sounds like: Two-noted, clear high-to-low whistle.
Buzzy “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” or clear “fee-bee”

Looks like: Black cap and bib, white cheeks, gray back, white underparts.

Enjoys: Suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees live for two to three years. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

House sparrow

Sounds like: Repetitive, high-pitched, single notes.
“Cheep” or “chirrup”

Looks like: Males — gray heads, white cheeks, black bib, black + brown striped back. Females — pale brown, grayish-brown underparts, black + brown striped back.

Enjoys: Millet, corn, and sunflower seeds.

Male house sparrow

This a male house sparrow. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Northern Cardinal

Sounds like: Loud, metallic two-noted whistles that speed up and end in a slow trill.
“What-cheer, cheer, cheer” or “purty-purty-purty-purty”

Looks like: Male — red, black face, red bill. Female — pale brown, red tinges on wings and tail, black face, red bill.

Enjoys: Sunflower seeds.

female northern cardinal

The female Northern Cardinal often sings while sitting on the nest. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

American Goldfinch

Sounds like: Long, even cadence.
Think: The bird is quietly saying “po-ta-to-chip”

Looks like: Males — bright yellow, black forehead, black and white wings. Females — dulled version of male colors, black and white wings.

Enjoys: Sunflower seeds and Nyjer

Now that you know which local feathered friends to keep an eye and ear out for — and their favorite snacks — check out our bird feeding guide to become the most popular house on the block.

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