15 Common Backyard Birds to Know
New to birding? Learn to recognize 15 common backyard birds, and discover ways to attract them to your yard.
People love watching birds, there’s no doubt about it. There are 41 million backyard birders in the United States alone. If you’re ready to give this popular hobby a try, a good place to start is learning about the most common backyard birds you’re likely to spot. We’ve rounded up 15 common birds you can expect to see across the U.S. and Canada, along with tips on identifying and attracting them. Welcome to the world of birding!
More Backyard Birds Resources
- How to Identify Mystery Birds
- 5 Birding Apps to Give Your Skills a Boost
- Backyard Birding in Small Spaces
- Bird Feeder Types
- How to Maintain Backyard Bird Feeders
1. American Goldfinch
In the spring and summer, these bright yellow-and-black finches are impossible to miss. They visit thistle feeders in huge flocks, and also love to dine on seeds from plants in the garden. In the winter, their coloration is more muted, but they’re still around and active.
2. Mourning Dove
These plump gray birds are larger than some of the the other songbirds that visit your feeders. They often settle in and eat large amounts of seed, but make up for it with their sweet insistent cooing call. When they fly, their wings make a sharp whistling sound, which is especially noticeable on landing and take-off.
3. Blue Jay
Another large bird, blue jays have somewhat of a bad reputation. They’re sometimes called “bully birds” for their habit of scaring other birds away from feeders. But these handsome jays are very smart, and playful too. Keep your eye on them, and you may see them toting around shiny objects like bottle caps or foil. In the western U.S. and Canada, blue jays are displaced by Steller’s jays and scrub jays.
4. American Robin
Often considered a harbinger of spring, robins are actually year-round residents in most of the U.S. They eat mainly insects, so in the winter, they disappear into forests where they dig under bark for their meals. As soon as the ground thaws in the spring, they reappear in yards everywhere, foraging for worms and bugs.
5. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
These little sparkling gems are the favorite backyard bird of many, and for good reason. Their ability to hover on wings that move almost too fast to see makes them fascinating to watch. They don’t eat seeds; instead, attract them with sugar-water feeders or nectar-producing flowers. In the western U.S., ruby-throated hummingbirds are replaced by Anna’s hummingbirds and rufous hummingbirds.
6. Northern Cardinal
Northern cardinals, with their perky crests and black eye masks, are easy to identify. Females are a drabber brown, but their matching crests and bright orange bills make them special too. Their high-pitched chip calls and “what-cheer” songs are also distinctive. Attract cardinals with their favorite black oil sunflower seed.
7. Song Sparrow
Admittedly not the most striking bird in appearance on this list, the song sparrow is so incredibly common it’s worth being able to recognize. They can look quite different in parts of their range, and their songs vary a bit too. Their songs are sweet, but it’s the obvious “chimp” call that makes this bird easy to identify for beginners.
Learn more: Song Sparrow
8. Black-Capped Chickadee
Ever dreamed of a bird landing and eating seed from your hand? Then you’ll want to get to know the black-capped chickadee! This is one of the friendliest birds in America, and adorable to boot. Their “chickadee-dee-dee” call is one of the first many birders learn to recognize. There are six other chickadee species in North America, and all have winning personalities.
9. Tufted Titmouse
Speaking of cute, check out the tufted titmouse! Gray-backed with a white belly, this bird also boasts flashes of orange and a jaunty crest. Titmice (or titmouses? see the debate here) are fun to observe at feeders, as they hold one seed in their feet and pound it open to get the meat within. In fall, watch their hoarding behavior as they store up food for winter.
10. Downy Woodpecker / Hairy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens / Picoides villosus
One of the first challenges of beginning birders is learning to tell apart the downy woodpecker and hairy woodpecker. Both are small black-and-white birds with red on their heads, and love to visit suet feeders. Eventually, you’ll learn to look for the shorter beak on downy woodpeckers (shown above), but to start, know that the smallest woodpeckers you see are probably one of these two species.
11. Northern Mockingbird
The name is no joke – individual mockingbirds can have a repertoire of more than one hundred songs and calls. They mimic other birds, but they also copy car horns and alarms, squeaky doors, and more. Mockingbirds are insect and berry eaters, so you can attract them by offering mealworms or planting berry bushes in your yard.
12. White-Breasted Nuthatch
Nuthatches are often easy to spot due to their unique habit of hopping around upside-down. They eat just about everything, and have a special love for large seeds like peanuts and acorns. They jam these nuts into tree crevices and whack them to open and pry out the meat. There are three other nuthatch species found in North America, and all of them are amazingly acrobatic.
13. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
This is a confusingly-named bird, no doubt about it. The red head markings are much more obvious, but there’s already another bird named the red-headed woodpecker. Instead, this woodpecker takes its name from the faint red markings on its belly. It’s common in the eastern half of the country, and loves to visit both suet and seed feeders.
14. Eastern Bluebird
Bluebirds are beloved wherever they’re found. You won’t attract them with seed feeders though; bluebirds love insects. You can offer live or dried mealworms to draw them to your yard. They may also choose to nest in your area if you provide the right conditions. Eastern bluebirds are found in the east, as their name suggests. Mountain bluebirds inhabit the Rockies, and western bluebirds fill in the rest of the country.
15. Baltimore Oriole
It may take a little extra effort to attract orioles to your yard, but most birders definitely think it’s worth it. These bright orange beauties spend their winters in Central America, so lure them in when they return in spring with their favorite refreshments – oranges and grape jelly. In the western half of the country, Bullock’s orioles replace Baltimore orioles. They too love sweet treats.