Thursday, July 25, 2019

26 Backyard Birds to Know | New York

[2022 Rewrite]

I've put this resource together for you to answer your question: What birds are in my backyard in New York?

This article lists and discusses the identification of the most common birds in your backyard. The birds chosen in this article are compiled from actual data from the citizen science program eBird. Thus, it is more accurate than some other similar articles you may find on the web. I provide pictures of each bird species mentioned. I tell how to attract them to your backyard.

These are the most common backyard birds in New York State:

  1. Blue Jay
  2. American Robin
  3. Northern Cardinal
  4. American Crow
  5. Black-capped Chickadee
  6. Mourning Dove
  7. American Goldfinch
  8. European Starling
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. Downy Woodpecker
  11. Red-winged Blackbird
  12. House Sparrow
  13. Common Grackle
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. White-breasted Nuthatch
  16. Tufted Titmouse
  17. Dark-eyed Junco
  18. Gray Catbird
  19. White-throated Sparrow
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. House Finch
  22. Rock Pigeon
  23. Cedar Waxwing
  24. Barn Swallow
  25. Chipping Sparrow
  26. House Wren




What's in this article?

  • State overview of birds and bird watching in New York
  • Photos and identification of common backyard birds
  • Most common birds by season
  • Common birds of New York City, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany




New York Birds and Birding in New York State


eBird lists over 510 types of birds as occurring in the state of New York.

The most common bird: the most frequently seen bird in the state is Blue Jay. It is reported on 44% of bird watching lists.

The official State Bird of New York is Eastern Bluebird.

If you are serious about knowing the birds native to New York, then check out eBird for New York. It has recent sightings and photos, illustrated checklists with weekly abundance bar charts for state, counties, and individual hotspots of the best birding locations.

If you want to know about other people interested in birds in your area, join a local bird group. The American Birding Association maintains a list of bird watching clubs for each state.



My other pages for birds in New York:

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of New York

Feeding Winter Birds in New York





New York Bird Identification (Pictures of backyard birds of New York)


This section is the species accounts. These are designed to help you to recognize birds you see in your backyard. I have used eBird to select the birds that are most common. “Common” means the birds seen most often throughout the year, not necessarily the most numerous.

Each species account starts with an image. I have tried to use my own personal photographs of each species, if I have them. But I've done my bird photography mostly in the West. Thus, I've had to rely on others for pictures of some common Eastern birds. I always make sure the bird images (mine and others) are correctly identified.

In the identification section I am using size and shape and bill type before considering the color or patterns on the birds. I find these more reliable when trying to identify an unknown bird. Pay attention to body and tail shape and especially bill shape of birds you see, not just plumage color.

I have written an article on how to identify birds, it is slightly different from other popular identification methods. Check it out if you wish: 7 Steps to Identify Birds.

In the section on bird feeders and foods I tell how to attract each species. Not all types of backyard birds will come to feeders. But all backyard birds can be attracted with water. So don't forget to add a birdbath to your bird feeding station.

Do you live in New York City or Long Island? Upstate New York? Northern New York? Western New York? Central New York? To appear in this article, most birds are widely distributed throughout the state and are often year-round residents. However, for those birds that are more localized in place or time, I list the general region and seasonality. Please see the section following these species accounts for the lists of common species by season.

Even if a species is found in a general area, they occur only in the habitat they prefer. So the exact habitat of your neighborhood is important for the presence of absence of certain kinds of birds.



1. Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata

A common and well-known backyard bird in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in New York: Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: About that of American Robin. 

Shape: Fluffy, large crested head, ample tail. Large strong legs. 

Bill: Black, long and stout. 

Color: Blue above, white below. Black neck collar. White patches in wing.

Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands and towns in the eastern half of the United States. In summer into southern Canada.  

Bold and brash. May bully smaller birds. Jays gulp lots of seeds or other food at once, storing it in their crop. Then they fly off and bury food items in a hidden cache.

Food and feeder preference: Diet: Omnivorous. They can quickly empty your feeder! Because they are also aggressive toward other feeder birds, some people put mesh cages around smaller bird feeders. Small birds can go through, squirrels and larger "pest" birds are prevented entry. Some people feed jays peanuts, perhaps away from the seed feeders.


2. American Robin

Turdus migratorius

This familiar backyard bird is a resident in the northern half of the United States and a common winter visitor in the southern half.


Photo of American Robin
American Robin. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: American Robins are a summer resident in the northeastern portion of New York, a year-round resident in the rest of the state.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: 10 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the same size as a Blue Jay or one of the Scrub-Jays. Larger than Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. 

Shape: Very plump with a fairly long tail. 

Bill: Straight and fairly slender, curved at the tip. 

Color: Gray-brown upperparts, rusty orange breast.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands, farmlands, urban parks and lawns. 

Migratory, breeds north across Alaska and Canada. Resident in most of the United States (lower 48). Winters in the United States, Mexico, to central America. 

Hops on your lawn turning head this way and that looking for food. Their caroling song is one of the early signs of spring in the north.

Food and feeder preference: Worms and other invertebrates in the lawn are their main diet. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.


3. Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

This is one of the most common and popular backyard birds in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixaby


Range in New York: Northern Cardinals are year-round residents throughout New York except they are absent in mountains in the northeastern corner of the state.

Identification: 

Size: Cardinals are a bit smaller than American Robins, about the same size as Red-winged Blackbirds. 

Shape: Plump body with fairly long full tail. Wispy crest. 

Bill: Short, heavy, conical, pink. 

Color: That bright red color is matched by few other birds. Black face. The female is grayer, but with hints of red in wings and tail, and has a crest, too.

Habitat, range & behavior: Cardinals are year-round residents in shrubby woodland edges from the eastern United States to Texas and Arizona south into Mexico. 

That large conical bill is made for chewing seeds. Watch them crack open sunflower seeds, spit out the hulls, and pluck the kernel with their tongues!

Food and feeder preference: Attract with black oil sunflower seeds. Their diet includes many types of seeds, berries, nuts in larger hopper or tray feeders.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Northern Cardinals.


4. American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

This larger all-black bird is common in cities and country. Its cawing call is familiar to most people.


Photo of American Crow
American Crow. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: American Crows are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 17-1/2 inches long from bill tip to tail tip, though there is much size variation throughout its range. Larger than blackbirds and grackles. Smaller than ravens. 

Shape: Thick neck, large head, rather short square-ended tail. Longer legs. In flight has rounded wing tips with each primary feather separated from others forming "fingers." 

Bill: As long as head, thick, black. 

Color: Glossy black throughout.

Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer open areas with trees, fields, farms, cities. 

They are common across most of the United States lower-48, except in the desert southwest. They move into southern Canada in summer. 

They gather in evening communal roosts in large flocks that may number into the thousands and then move out at dawn into the surrounding area.

Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous, they feed on large insects, grain, small mammals, carrion. You probably don't want these large entirely black birds in your backyard feeders. So don't feed table scraps to birds.


5. Black-capped Chickadee

Poecile atricapillus

This is a common backyard bird in the northern half of the United States.


Photo of Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: Chickadees are small birds, the same general size as an American Goldfinch. 

Shape: Round body, big round head, long tail with rounded tip. 

Bill: Short, straight, stout. 

Color: Gray above, buffy below. Black cap and bib with white lower face. White edges on wing feathers.

Habitat, range & behavior: Deciduous and mixed forests. 

They range from the northern half of the United States, southern half of Canada, and most of Alaska. 

Small flocks flit actively from tree to tree acrobatically gleaning insects from twig tips. In winter chickadees make up the core of mixed-species flocks also containing nuthatches, kinglets, creepers, woodpeckers and others.

Food and feeder preference: Seeds, insects, berries. They eat at tube, hopper and tray feeders. They love black oil sunflower seeds and suet.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Black-capped Chickadees.


6. Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.


Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout New York except summer residents only in the mountains of the northeastern part of the state.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 12 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About same size as Northern Flicker. Larger than American Robin. Slightly smaller than domestic city pigeon. 

Shape: Very plump with a small round head. Tail is long and pointed. Legs are short. 

Bill: Small and rather slender. 

Color: Pale brown-pink body, darker wings and tail. White edges on side of tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Semi-open areas such as urban areas, farmlands, woods. Often seen perched on wires, fences. 

It is a resident across the lower-48 states and Mexico, with some movement out of northern areas in winter. 

Their mournful cooing is a familiar spring birdsong.

Food and feeder preference: Mourning Doves eat seeds almost exclusively. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds on a large sturdy tray feeder or on the ground.


7. American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

A beautiful tiny finch familiar to many in its bright yellow summer plumage. Colloquially called a "wild canary."


Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: American Goldfinches are year-round residents in New York.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: Very small at about 5 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Similar in size to a chickadee. Larger than hummingbirds. Smaller than juncos and House Finches. 

Shape: Tiny, somewhat plump with larger head and short tail. 

Bill: Short, conical, pink. 

Color: Males in summer are bright lemon yellow with black forehead and black wings and tail with white bars. White under tail coverts. Females are dull olive, wings and tail browner. Winter birds are pale grayish-yellow with tan and brown wings and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: This species is found in weedy fields and similar clearings with thistles and similar plants. 

It is found coast-to-coast throughout the year across most of the middle lower-48 states. In summer moves north to the Canada border. In the winter found south to the Mexico border. 

The flight is highly undulating, rising and falling as they flap in short bursts. 

Besides a long, sweet lilting song, they call in flight a lilting 4-part: "potato chip!"

Food and feeder preference: Feeds on weed seeds, thistle seed. May eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeder. Attract with Niger seed in a feeder called a "thistle sock."

You may like my in-depth article on attracting American Goldfinches.


8. European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Introduced to North America in the late 1800's, they crossed the continent, often to the detriment of native cavity-nesting birds. The prime example of an invasive species.


Photo of European Starling
European Starling. Greg Gillson


Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. 

Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. 

Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. 

Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. 

Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. Native range is Europe to Pakistan, north Africa. 

Often viewed as a pest, starlings often bully other backyard birds, taking over bird feeders, and stealing nest cavities from smaller native birds. In winter they can form into flocks of tens of thousands.

Food and feeder preference: Primarily insects when available, often feeding on the ground. Discourage them from your backyard hopper and tray feeders by never feeding birds table scraps (including bread or meat). They have weak feet and do not perch well on tube feeders. A cage mesh around smaller hopper feeders may keep them out.


9. Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia

A common bird, but variable, and similar to many other streaked brown sparrows.


Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout most of New York, except found in summer only in the mountainous northeastern portion of the state.

Identification: 

Size: A smaller bird, similar in size to House Finch and juncos. Larger than chickadees and goldfinches. Smaller than White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. 

Shape: Plump with round head, long rounded tail. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Highly variable in darkness and color saturation across its range (dark rusty to pale gray). Generally gray-brown above with dark brown streaking on back. Complicated head pattern. Streaking on sides and breast converge into dense central breast spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: Thickets, especially near water. Backyard shrubbery. 

Resident in western United States, western Canada, coastal southern Alaska, northeastern US. In summer also moves into mid-Canada and northern half of US. In the winter found in most of the US lower-48. Also, a population in central Mexico. 

Forages on ground, never far from low cover to which they fly if startled.

Food and feeder preference: They feed on seeds and insects near the ground. Will visit hopper and tray feeders for mixed bird seed.


10. Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens

This tiny woodpecker is found in backyards across the United States.


Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents in New York.

Identification: 

Size: Bigger than a junco or House Finch. Smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird. About the same size as a White-crowned Sparrow, but with a much shorter tail. 

Shape: Stocky with large head and short stiff tail. 

Bill: Short, chisel shaped. 

Color: Black-and-white striped head. Black wings with white spots. Solid white back. White under parts. Black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. Male with small red spot at back of head.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in small deciduous trees, willows, and even weed stocks such as teasel, especially near water. 

Ranges coast-to-coast across all but northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska south to the southern US. Absent in the desert southwest. 

Interestingly, I learned today that the males may more often be found in smaller plants and twigs, while females are more likely on tree trunks.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, fruits, and seeds. Gleans arthropods from the bark of trees. Attract with suet feeder. Will also eat black oil sunflower seeds.


11. Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

These noisy flocking birds are most often found in marshes. But in winter they are found in backyards.


Photo of singing Red-winged Blackbird
Male Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Photo of female Red-winged Blackbird in tree
Female Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: Red-winged Blackbirds are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird.

Size: About 8-3/4 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the size of a Northern Cardinal. Smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Pot-bellied with a longer bill and flat forehead. Tail average.

Bill: Long and sharp pointed.

Color: Males are black with red and yellow shoulder patch. Females are streaked brown and rusty (sparrow-like but pointed bill and flat forehead).

Habitat, range, and behavior: Cattail marshes and wetlands are their summer habitat. In winter they feed in grain fields.

They breed across most of the North American continent. In winter they withdraw from most of Alaska and Canada.

They are found in colonies in summer and large flocks in winter.

Food and feeder preference: They eat insects in summer. In winter they eat grain and seeds. They visit feeders, more often in large winter flocks, and eat most seeds and suet.


12. House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

Like the starling, this is another bird introduced from Europe in the 1800's. This sparrow is commonly found in cities and farmlands. It is considered a pest in most areas where it has been introduced.


Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: The size of a House Finch or Dark-eyed Junco. 

Shape: Chunkier than native North American sparrows with large head, barrel chest, short neck, medium tail, short legs. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Males are brown and gray with a black mask. Females lack the black and are tan and brown with a pale line back from the eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: Cities and farms. 

Range in North American from southern Canada through Central America. In summer northward through Canada to southern Alaska. Originated in Middle East and spread to most of Europe and Asia. Introduced in South America, Africa, Australia--nearly anywhere there are people and cities. 

They tend to be messy... and have a good appetite and may occur in large noisy chirping flocks. They are aggressive toward other feeder birds.

Food and feeder preference: They eat grain, seed, and insects. To discourage them from your hopper and tray feeders do not feed birds human food scraps. They have a bit of difficulty eating from tube feeders.


13. Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula

Sometimes considered a pest to crops, grackles are longer and lankier than very similar blackbirds.


Photo of Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle. GeorgiaLens from Pixabay


Range in New York: Common Grackles are year-round residents across southern New York, summer residents only in the northeastern mountains.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than Red-winged Blackbirds, they are near the length of Mourning Doves. 

Shape: Long, with long full keel-shaped tail, long legs, flat crown. 

Bill: Longer than head, pointed, but stouter than other blackbirds. 

Color: Glossy black with hint of bronze or green on head (depending upon population). Yellow eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found in agricultural areas, woodland edges, city parks and lawns. 

Resident in the southeastern United States. In summer they migrate northward and west to the central United States and Canada. 

They monopolize feeders and are bullies toward other birds.

Food and feeder preference: Grain, corn, acorns, small aquatic fish and amphibians. To discourage them, use tube feeders, rather than hopper or tray feeders. Don't over-feed, keep spilled seed picked up.


14. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

This is one of the most common backyard species in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker climbing a tree
Red-bellied Woodpecker. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in New York: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents in most of New York except absent in the northeastern mountains.

Identification: 

Size: Fairly large for a backyard bird. Between a Starling and American Robin in size. Smaller than a Northern Flicker. 

Shape: Stout with large head and short tail. Clings to tree trunk on strong short legs propped up with short stiff tail. 

Bill: Long, chisel shaped. 

Color: Pale gray body, many thin black-and-white bars across back and wings. Red nape, extending forward on crown on male.

Habitat, range & behavior: These birds are found in many woodland types, including oak, hickory and pine. 

They are found from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the lower-48 states from Texas to extreme southern Canada, and eastward from Florida northward just to the southern edge of the New England states. 

In typical woodpecker fashion, it hitches up the tree trunk and larger branches.

Food and feeder preference: This species eats a diet of insects and nuts. They may eat peanuts from a tray feeder and eat from a suet block.


15. White-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta carolinensis

A favorite feeder bird for many for their active antics and fearlessness. Though small birds, they are the largest nuthatches in North America.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch head-first down the tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: About chickadee-sized in length. Smaller than a junco or House Finch. 

Shape: Appears large-headed, neckless, very short tailed. Short legs. 

Bill: Nearly as long as head, straight, thin. 

Color: Blue-gray above, white below. Black cap, wing tips, tail. Rusty feathers under tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Common in oak and oak-pine woodlands, wooded towns. 

Found across the United States, southern Canada, mountains of central Mexico. Absent from treeless grasslands, deserts in the west. 

Crawls over tree branches and head-first down tree trunks searching for insects.

Food and feeder preference: Their diet includes insects, seeds, acorns and other nuts. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds feeding on hopper and tray feeders. Suet blocks.


16. Tufted Titmouse

Baeolophus bicolor

Related to chickadees, they lack the black bib, but have a crest instead.


Photo of Tufted Titmouse in feeder
Tufted Titmouse. anne773 from Pixabay


Range in New York: Tufted Titmice are year-round residents in New York, except absent in mountains of northeastern part of state.

Identification: 

Size: A small bird, but a large titmouse, this species is larger than chickadees, about the size of a junco or House Finch. 

Shape: Rounded body, long full tail, big head, long legs. 

Bill: Short and stout, compressed (taller than wide), black. 

Color: Dark blue-gray above, pale below. Black feathers around eye accentuates its size.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lives in deciduous forests with heavy canopy, parks. 

Found in eastern and southeastern United States is expanding its range north and west. 

Food and feeder preference: Insects and seeds. At your hopper or tray feeder attract with black oil sunflower seeds and suet.


17. Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

Colloquially called "snowbirds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.


Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on snow-covered branch
Dark-eyed Junco. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in New York: Dark-eyed Juncos are year-round residents throughout most of New York. They are winter visitors only in the New York city area.

Identification: 

Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. 

Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. 

Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. 

Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over the head, brown back, and pink sides; females paler.

Habitat, range & behavior: Breed in coniferous forests. Avoids heavy brush, preferring widely spaced bushes.

Breeds in summer in Alaska and across Canada, in mountains of northeastern US, widely in the West in mountains and conifer forests.

Flashes white outer tail feathers as it feeds on the ground.

Food and feeder preference: Eats mostly seeds, also insects in summer. Readily feed at backyard feeders on mixed seeds on hopper or tray feeders and ground.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Dark-eyed Juncos.


18. Gray Catbird

Dumatella carolinensis

This bird is rather common where it occurs, but a bit secretive.


Photo of Gray Catbird in juniper
Gray Catbird. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: Gray Catbirds are summer residents in New York, absent in winter.

Identification: 

Size: About the length of a Red-winged Blackbird or Northern Cardinal. 

Shape: Long tailed, round head. 

Bill: Medium length, pointed. 

Color: Gray with a black tail and black cap. Rusty under tail coverts.

Habitat, range & behavior: Dense woodland edges, scrub, abandoned orchards. 

Breeds in eastern and central US and adjoining southern Canada. Winters in extreme south US Gulf states, southward in eastern Mexico to Panama. 

They spend much time hopping on the ground or in low bushes. They defend a winter territory, unlike most birds.

Food and feeder preference: Insects and berries. You may attract this species with jelly and fruit feeders, suet, and water.


19. White-throated Sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis

A fairly common bird of northern forests that visits backyards across much of the US.


Photo of White-throated Sparrow on birdbath
White-throated Sparrow. Greg Gillson


Range in New York: White-throated Sparrows are year-round residents throughout much of New York. They are found only in summer in the northern mountains. They are found only in the winter in the New York city area and also in the western parts of the state.

Identification: 

Size: Similar in size to White-crowned Sparrow. Bigger than a House Finch; smaller than a starling. 

Shape: Longer body. Round head on short neck. Long tail with notched tip. 

Bill: Short. conical. 

Color: Striped tan and brown above, pale gray below. White-striped form with black and white head stripes. Tan-striped form with tan and brown striped head. First year birds are similar to tan-stiped adults, but streakier overall. Yellow spot between eyebrow and bill. White throat strongly offset from gray breast and face.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in forests, brush, and open woodland edges. 

Breeds across Canada and northernmost Eastern United States. Winters in the eastern US, southern central US, and rare but regular along the West Coast. 

Found in small flocks on ground near brush into which they can flee. Kick up leaves to search under for food.

Food and feeder preference: Eat seeds and berries in winter, more insects and fruit in summer. In your feeder will eat mixed seeds on a platform feeder and on the ground.


20. Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

Of all the bird identification questions I get asked, this common larger backyard bird is the bird most people ask about. It doesn't occur to those unfamiliar with it that this could be a woodpecker.


Photo of Northern Flicker in tree
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout most of New York. However, they are only found in summer in the northern mountains.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Mourning Dove. Larger than a robin. 

Shape: Stocky with short legs, short tail, big head. 

Bill: As long as head, thin, slightly curved. 

Color: Back is brown with black bars. Under parts pinkish with black spots. Undersides of black wing and tail feathers are bright salmon red (West) or yellow (East). Head gray (West) or brown (East) and males with red (West) or black (East) whisker marks and nape marks (East). Black crescent across chest. White rump seen in flight.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in woodland edges and forests. 

Year-round resident from extreme southern Canada, across all of the lower-48 states and in the mountains of Mexico and Middle America. In summer breeds northward well into Canada and Alaska. 

Frequently noted hopping on ground pecking in the ground for insects. In late spring, males proclaim their territory by rapid pounding on a hollow tree branch, though the ringing of metal downspouts at dawn is louder and carries much farther, to the exasperation of anyone trying to sleep inside!

Food and feeder preference: Ants and beetles are their primary foods. Will eat black oil sunflower seeds and are attracted to suet.


21. House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus

These are one of the United States' most common backyard birds. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.


Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: House Finches are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 6 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Larger than goldfinches and chickadees. Smaller than a White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. 

Shape: Medium build with a medium-long notched tail. Round head. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Brown and gray above with streaks on the sides of the pale underparts. Males with red (sometimes orange or rarely yellow) crown, chest, rump.

Habitat, range & behavior: You'll find small flocks on wires, in short treetops and in bushes. Originally deserts and grasslands. Rural areas and towns are where they're now most common. 

Formerly found in the western United States and Mexico. Then introduced into the northeastern United States, but now found in nearly all of the lower-48 states and extreme southern Canada. Rare in plains states (Dakotas to Texas) and southern Florida. 

House Finches are not territorial, but males sing throughout the year--a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes.

Food and feeder preference: House Finches love sunflower seeds. Attract them with these seeds in tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting House Finches.


22. Rock Pigeon

Columba livia

These pigeons are especially common in urban settings. They are also known as Rock Doves or domestic pigeons.


Photo of Rock Pigeon on roof
Rock Pigeon. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: Rock Pigeons are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification:

Size: Larger than a Mourning Dove.

Shape: Large chest. Small round head. Pointed wings. Squared tail.

Bill: Short and fairly thin, with bump on nostril.

Color: Variable; may be white, rusty, or pied. "Wild" coloration has a blue-gray body with iridescent sheen on throat. Paler gray wings with two dark broad wing bars. Tail with dark band. White rump.

Habitat, range, & behavior: City streets, building ledges, and commercial parking lots; farms.

Resident across Canada, all of the United States, south into Mexico. Worldwide distribution.

Often seen perched on roofs and ledges in cities. Walk on sidewalks picking up scraps of food garbage dropped by humans.

Food and feeder preference: Eat grain and corn, and human food scraps, especially French fries and other fast-food garbage. May eat just about any food at platform and larger hopper feeders.


23. Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

Waxy red tips to the wing feathers give these backyard birds their unique name. Maybe it's the fancy crest. Maybe it's the bandit mask. Maybe it's the yellow band at the tip of its tail. But these are one of my favorite birds.


Photo of Cedar Waxwing on branch
Cedar Waxwing. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: Cedar Waxwings are year-round residents throughout New York.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than European Starling. Larger than House Sparrow.

Shape: Similar to European Starling. Rather stocky. Short squared tail, but long under tail coverts. Large head. Pointed wings. Wispy crest.

Bill: Rather short, small, wide.

Color: Warm brown above with wispy crest. Black mask. Yellowish belly. White under tail coverts. Gray wings. Gray tail with yellow tip.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Deciduous woods, wooded streams and lakeshores, residential shade trees, fruit orchards.

Resident across the northern US. Summer resident in Canada. Winter visitor throughout all of US and Mexico.

Keep in tight flocks. Feed in trees and large bushes for berries. Fly catch over ponds and streams.

Food and feeder preference: Berries and flying insects. Usually don't come to feeders unless fruit like cherries offered but will visit bird baths.


24. Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

These common swallows are widely distributed throughout the world, primarily breeding in the northern hemisphere, and wintering in the mid-latitudes and southern hemisphere.


Photo of a Barn Swallow on a barbed wire fence
Barn Swallow. Greg Gillson.

Range in New York: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a House Finch but with a much longer tail. 

Shape: Stocky, short necked but with long body and tail. Tail is forked, with very long outer tail feathers. Wings pointed. 

Bill: Short, wide. 

Color: Glossy dark purplish-blue above. Pinkish-orange below. 

Habitat, range & behavior: Barn Swallows live in open country, frequently near humans. Farmlands. Nest in barns, under small bridges. 

In North America breed from Mexico to northern Canada and Alaska, wintering from southern Mexico throughout most of South America. 

Frequently seen swooping low over the ground hunting flying insects. Perch on wires, fences. Voice is twitters and chirps with grating sounds. 

Food and feeder preference: Eat flying insects on the wing and are not attracted to backyard feeders.


25. Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

Chipping Sparrows are a widespread species adapted to human disturbance. They are rather tame. They are frequently found in cemeteries with large trees.


Photo of a Chipping Sparrow on a white headstone
Chipping Sparrow. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout New York.

Identification: 

Size: These are small sparrows, bigger than goldfinches or chickadees, but smaller than House Finches or Song Sparrows. 

Shape: Plump and fairly long tailed. 

Bill: Short and conical. 

Color: Striped brown and dark brown above. Grayish under parts. Black line through eye. Crown streaked in winter but in summer becomes solid chestnut. Two white wing bars. 

Habitat, range & behavior: Grassy open conifer woodlands with some shrubs, parks, orchards. 

Breeds from Alaska, across Canada and south into highlands of Middle America. In winter retreats from northern areas to southern United States and northern Mexico. 

In summer solitary or in pairs. In winter they forage in flocks of up to 50 birds. 

Food and feeder preference: Weed seeds, supplemented with insects in summer. They may eat black oil sunflower seeds in your feeder, but more likely will feed on mixed seeds on the ground under the feeder.


26. House Wren

Troglodytes aedon

These birds will readily use backyard nest boxes to raise their young.


Photo of House Wren in bush
House Wren. Greg Gillson.


Range in New York: House Wrens are summer residents throughout New York.

Identification:

Size: About the size of Black-capped Chickadee but with shorter tail.

Shape: Round body. Large head. Thin short tail.

Bill: Fairly long, thin, slightly down curved. Sharply pointed.

Color: Rather dull brownish-gray throughout. Paler throat and breast. Tail barred with black and pale bars along with the brown.

Habitat, range & behavior: Brushy areas, woodland edges, hedge rows, tree stumps in logged areas.

Breed across Canada and the northern and mid-latitudes of the United States. Winter to the southern United States and through Mexico. Found year round at southern edge of breeding range: California, North Carolina to northern Alabama, southern Arizona south through mountains of Mexico.

Stay hidden in brushy areas. Hop among tree roots, logged stumps.

Food and feeder preference: May feed at suet feeder.





Common Birds in New York (Lists of most common feeder birds and most common backyard birds by season)


To determine how common each species is I used the data from actual bird sightings from the citizen science program eBird. Birds are listed by frequency. That is, how often the species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird (a percentage).

When choosing the birds to include in this article I leaned strongly to birds that are present throughout the year in good numbers. Thus, many of the common birds are year-round residents. This means that they live in the same location all year. They raise their young in your neighborhood. They don't migrate. Or if the species does migrate, the ones living in your area don't. If this is the case, some migrants may move into your area during certain times of year, adding to the same species that are in your yard full time.

Some migrant birds visit your yard during the “summer.” Often, they arrive in spring and remain until late fall. They nest and raise their young in your neighborhood. These are the summer residents.

Other migrant birds visit your backyard during the “winter.” Some of these winter visitors may arrive in July and remain into April. Others may only be found in the cold of December or January. They key here is that they nest and raise their young somewhere else. They only visit your yard in the non-breeding season.

Migration is an amazing spectacle. There will be birds that fly through your region in spring or fall (or both). They may visit your backyard only a few days or weeks a year. They aren't regular enough, or stay long enough, to be included in this article. But the number of briefly visiting migrant birds could double the number of species presented here. You may see them over time. Consult checklists in eBird for your county to see what is possible.

I have generally excluded common waterfowl, birds of prey, shorebirds, seabirds, and others that aren't usually found in residential areas. But they may certainly fly over or be seen regularly if your home is on a shoreline, for instance.


Most common backyard birds in New York State throughout the year


The following list is the backyard birds that are, on average, most common throughout the entire year. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often each species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of New York, in order, are these:

  1. Blue Jay (42% frequency)
  2. American Robin (42%)
  3. Northern Cardinal (41%)
  4. American Crow (39%)
  5. Black-capped Chickadee (39%)
  6. Mourning Dove (38%)
  7. American Goldfinch (34%)
  8. European Starling (33%)
  9. Song Sparrow (32%)
  10. Downy Woodpecker (30%)
  11. Red-winged Blackbird (30%)
  12. House Sparrow (26%)
  13. Common Grackle (23%)
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker (23%)
  15. White-breasted Nuthatch (23%)
  16. Tufted Titmouse (22%)
  17. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
  18. Gray Catbird (20%)
  19. White-throated Sparrow (19%)
  20. Northern Flicker (17%)
  21. House Finch (16%)
  22. Rock Pigeon (15%)



Most common backyard birds in New York in winter


The following list is the backyard birds that are most common in winter. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often each species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


The most common backyard birds in New York in winter (December through February) are these:

  1. Black-capped Chickadee (42% frequency)
  2. American Crow (37%)
  3. Blue Jay (36%)
  4. Northern Cardinal (36%)
  5. Downy Woodpecker (33%)
  6. Dark-eyed Junco (33%)
  7. Mourning Dove (30%)
  8. White-breasted Nuthatch (28%)
  9. European Starling (27%)
  10. House Sparrow (25%)
  11. Tufted Titmouse (25%)
  12. American Goldfinch (24%)
  13. Red-bellied Woodpecker (22%)
  14. White-throated Sparrow (20%)



Most common backyard birds in New York in summer


The following list is the backyard birds that are most common in summer (June and July). The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often each species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


The most common backyard birds in New York in summer (June and July) are these:

  1. American Robin (62% frequency)
  2. Red-winged Blackbird (48%)
  3. Song Sparrow (47%)
  4. Gray Catbird (45%)
  5. American Goldfinch (43%)
  6. Mourning Dove (43%)
  7. Northern Cardinal (40%)
  8. Common Grackle (38%)
  9. American Crow (37%)
  10. Blue Jay (36%)
  11. European Starling (33%)
  12. Black-capped Chickadee (31%)
  13. Cedar Waxwing (30%)
  14. Barn Swallow (29%)
  15. House Sparrow (27%)
  16. Chipping Sparrow (24%)
  17. Downy Woodpecker (23%)
  18. House Wren (21%)





Common backyard birds of Manhattan and New York City


Photo of a White-throated Sparrow in a bird bath
White-throated Sparrow. Greg Gillson


The backyard birds in New York City are pretty much the same for Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. It is similar anywhere on Long Island.

I decided to use the backyard birds of Manhattan as representative of New York City. After all, it has Central Park.

The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Manhattan with the birds of the state as a whole. Manhattan is in New York County. I will use eBird data for New York County to represent the birds in the Manhattan area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Manhattan:

  1. House Sparrow (77% frequency)
  2. American Robin (64%)
  3. European Starling (64%)
  4. Rock Pigeon (59%)
  5. Blue Jay (59%)
  6. Northern Cardinal (52%)
  7. White-throated Sparrow (51%)
  8. Mourning Dove (48%)
  9. Common Grackle (41%)
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker (32%)
  11. Gray Catbird (31%)
  12. Downy Woodpecker (29%)
  13. Song Sparrow (26%)
  14. Northern Flicker (24%)
  15. Tufted Titmouse (23%)


Three birds, here, are more common in Manhattan than the rest of the state, on average. Seeing House Sparrows top the list and adding Rock Pigeons is understandable for this highly urban area. But both White-throated Sparrows and Northern Flickers are more common than average, which is a bit of a surprise.

Less common in Manhattan than the rest of the state, on average, are American Crow (surprise!), Black-capped Chickadee, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch and Dark-eyed Junco.





Common Backyard Birds of Rochester, New York


The following list uses eBird data to create a list of common backyard birds in Rochester. The city of Rochester is in Monroe County. I will use the data for Monroe County to represent the birds of the Rochester area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Rochester:

  1. Northern Cardinal (55% frequency)
  2. Blue Jay (45%)
  3. Black-capped Chickadee (45%)
  4. American Robin (44%)
  5. Mourning Dove (43%)
  6. American Goldfinch (42%)
  7. American Crow (40%)
  8. House Sparrow (40%)
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker (36%)
  10. Downy Woodpecker (35%)
  11. Red-winged Blackbird (33%)
  12. European Starling (32%)
  13. Song Sparrow (27%)
  14. Common Grackle (25%)
  15. White-breasted Nuthatch (24%)
  16. House Finch (23%)
  17. Tufted Titmouse (22%)
  18. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
  19. Northern Flicker (20%)


The common birds of Rochester match closely the common backyard birds of New York state, as a whole.





Common Backyard Birds of Buffalo, New York


The following list uses eBird data to create a list of common backyard birds in Buffalo. The city of Buffalo is in Erie County. I will use the data for Erie County to represent the birds of the Buffalo area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Buffalo:

  1. Black-capped Chickadee (52% frequency)
  2. Northern Cardinal (51%)
  3. American Robin (46%)
  4. American Crow (45%)
  5. American Goldfinch (42%)
  6. Downy Woodpecker (42%)
  7. Blue Jay (42%)
  8. European Starling (42%)
  9. Mourning Dove (36%)
  10. Song Sparrow (35%)
  11. Red-winged Blackbird (34%)
  12. Red-bellied Woodpecker (31%)
  13. House Sparrow (27%)
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch (25%)
  15. Common Grackle (24%)
  16. Dark-eyed Junco (22%)
  17. Gray Catbird (20%)
  18. Northern Flicker (20%)


The list of common backyard birds in Buffalo is similar in composition and abundance to the average commonness of birds in the state of New York, on average. 

However, Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers are a bit more common in Buffalo than in the state as a whole.





Common Backyard Birds of Albany, New York


The following list uses eBird data to create a list of common backyard birds in Albany. The city of Albany is in Albany County. I will use the data for Albany County to represent the birds of the Albany and central Yew York area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Albany:

  1. Blue Jay (52% frequency)
  2. Black-capped Chickadee (50%)
  3. American Crow (47%)
  4. American Robin (46%)
  5. Northern Cardinal (45%)
  6. Mourning Dove (44%)
  7. American Goldfinch (43%)
  8. Downy Woodpecker (38%)
  9. White-breasted Nuthatch (36%)
  10. Tufted Titmouse (34%)
  11. Red-bellied Woodpecker (32%)
  12. House Sparrow (31%)
  13. Song Sparrow (31%)
  14. Red-winged Blackbird (28%)
  15. European Starling (26%)
  16. Common Grackle (26%)
  17. Dark-eyed Junco (23%)
  18. Gray Catbird (22%)
  19. House Finch (21%)
  20. White-throated Sparrow (20%)


The common birds in backyards of Albany are similar to the state of New York, as a whole.

The only slight difference is that European Starlings are less common in Albany than in larger cities such as New York City.





Related: 34 of the most common birds in the United States (with photos)

Feeding winter birds in New York

Red, Orange & Yellow birds of New York







12 comments:

  1. This was so incredibly helpful! Thank you for compiling all this useful information! I wish I would of found this site a few years ago when I started "seriously" backyard birding. At the time I think the only ones I could of identified were the bluejay and cardinal! I live in Suffolk county and the lists are pretty spot on. My rare bird is the northern flicker, in 3 years I've only seen one twice! Both times they were eating a fruit and nut blend from a platform feeder. They are quite a sight with their yellow wings, I wish I knew the secret to attracting (and keeping) more in my area! My most common bird is the white throated sparrow. I've got dozens of them and they're quite friendly. I was looking for a new gray bird I've seen three times this week. He's not a mocking bird or a catbird, they're frequent visitors so I feel confident of their identities. He's a smokey gray with black wings and is a little smaller than a cardinal. The hunt continues for his identity but that's one of the things I love most, seeing a new addition to your yard and learning about them! Thank you again for all this great info, I'll be back to explore more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sad news... new bird was in the platform feeder when I came home from work, the perfect time to study it more closely. Then comes a black headed cowbird to eat next to the new bird. I feel a sense of dread as they seem almost friendly. Next thing I know they're chasing each other through the trees and zipping all over the place. Frolicking! Yep, it's a female black headed cowbird. Oh no. I've considered myself lucky because I've only ever seen 2 males in my yard, couldn't even remember what the female looked like from my research a couple years ago. I have many 1&1/4 birdhouses but I have plenty 1&1/2 and some larger woodpecker houses that they can absolutely get into to. Ugh! But I guess they can't help what they are... :/

      Delete
    2. Ah, yes. I was going to suggest female Brown-headed Cowbird. They've just returned to my neck of the woods here in Washington State.

      That's right. the birds do what they do. It is us who judge them. Back in the 1930's birds were judged by the government based on the foods they ate as "good" or "bad."

      Delete
    3. Cowbirds and then here comes the house wrens too... those wrens have already taken over half the birdhouses! I'll have to wait and see which ones are legitimate nests.

      But yes, birds do what they do and it's not our place to think of them as good or bad. They all have a purpose. Makes me think of Chairman Mao and "the great leap forward". The "four pests" theory, one of many disastrous campaigns of the movement. Thinking that killing every sparrow and destroying all their nests and young would increase crop production... well they didn't factor in all the insects they feed their young! When everything was said and done, a horrible famine was the result. Maybe as many as 50 million people died. Just terrible and ludicrous thinking. Personally, I love all my various sparrows! And while I may find the habits of some birds, less than desirable, I'd never wage war on them!

      Delete
    4. Yes, House Wrens can take over nest boxes you may put out for bluebirds. Swallows. Starlings, and House Sparrows can do the same.

      Still, something living is better than no birds at all.

      Delete
    5. Never seen a blue bird here in Long Island for years...lots of Robin's etc but no blue birds, they were common here years ago...also saw a big nest of Quakers.

      Delete
    6. Thanks for sharing the birds of your backyard. Yes, bluebirds are more found in rural and farm areas. I can see why Long Island might no longer provide them the habitat they need.

      I've never seen the nests of Monk Parakeets myself.

      Delete
  2. I really appreciate your list of birds. Ty

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for this wonderful information.
    I would love to see a comparison chart of all the long island sparrows. I still have difficulty deciphering them all. Thanks again!!🦋

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sparrows are tough, that's for sure. To learn them means studying and learning the feathers of the head in the introduction to the field guides.

      Learn the female House Sparrows and the White-crowned Sparrows that come to your feeders. The shape of body, head, and tail on many sparrows can help (silhouette).

      Glad this article was helpful to you!

      Delete

Thank you so much for visiting! Would you please leave a comment to let me know what you thought and how I can make this resource better for you?

--Greg--

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