Western Birds and Their Eastern Counterparts

Updated: Apr. 24, 2020

Many western birds look somewhat familiar to eastern eyes. Take a look at some common western birds and their eastern cousins.

The United States is a big country, so when you travel to a new part of it, you’re likely to spot some new birds. On a recent trip to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains for the first time, I saw a handful of western birds that were new to me. However, most of them were also somewhat familiar, as they have similar-looking cousins back east. Here are four examples of western birds with eastern counterparts.

Western Birds Bluebird
Western Bluebird (inset, Eastern Bluebird)
Western Bluebird

There are actually three kinds of bluebirds found in the U.S.: Eastern, Western, and Mountain. The Mountain Bluebird is the easiest to identify, as it is nearly all blue and is usually found, as you would guess, in the mountains at higher elevations. The Eastern and Western Bluebirds can be a little harder to tell apart, and their range do overlap in a few places. If you’re not sure, look at the throat. The Western Bluebird has a blue throat, while the Eastern Bluebird’s orange belly extends all the way to its beak. Learn more about telling bluebirds apart here.

Western Birds Stellars Jay
Steller’s Jay, (inset, Blue Jay)
Steller’s Jay

You’re unlikely to confuse the Steller’s Jay with its eastern cousin, the Blue Jay. These western birds have distinctly different coloration, with black heads and completely blue bodies. However, their behavior is very similar. Steller’s Jays, like Blue Jays, love peanuts. They’re large birds with a tendency to act the “bully” at feeders, and they have harsh cries that sound similar to a Blue Jay. Both birds are excellent mimics, though, and frequently imitate other birds (like hawks) to scare off predators. Learn more about Steller’s Jays and Blue Jays here.

Western Birds Mountain Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee (inset, Black-Capped Chickadee)
Mountain Chickadee

Chickadees tend to be a favorite bird, no matter where they’re found. Mountain Chickadees are no exception, since they’re acrobatic and fun to watch, with a familiar “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call. Their range overlaps with the familiar Black-Capped Chickadee in northern areas, but these western birds are easy to identify. You’ll find them higher in the mountains, and the white stripe above their eyes sets them apart.

Western Birds Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker, female western form (inset, eastern form)
Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpeckers aren’t exclusively western birds; they’re found throughout most of the U.S. and Canada. However, in the west, these birds have some differences. They have fewer white spots on their wings, and tend to be darker overall. Don’t let these differences confuse you. Their heads look the same, they have the same rise-and-fall flight pattern, and they love to visit suet feeders no matter where they’re found. (Learn how to tell the difference between Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers here.)