Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Common backyard birds of Texas (lists, photos, ID)

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

This article tells you what Texas birds you can expect in your backyard and when they are most common. I also provide a photo and description section to help you with Texas bird identification of the most common birds native to Texas backyards.

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Texas are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (47% frequency)
  2. Northern Mockingbird (46%)
  3. Mourning Dove 38%
  4. White-winged Dove (29%)
  5. House Sparrow (24%)
  6. Blue Jay (24%)
  7. Carolina Wren (24%)
  8. Carolina Chickadee (23%)
  9. European Starling (21%)

These birds occur on more than 20% of all eBird checklists for the state.

In this article
Lists of the most common backyard birds in Texas
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Texas
Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Texas
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Dallas, Texas
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Houston, Texas
Beyond your backyard

This page lists the most common backyard birds in Texas as determined by actual bird sightings reported to the citizen science birding program, eBird

These birds are ranked according to frequency--the percentage of all bird checklists on which a species occurs. For backyard birds I've removed water bird species and some hawks, as well as birds not typically found in backyards, and added them to lists of other common birds, further down the page.

Then I have a photo section and identification section, describing the common birds of Texas and telling a little about them.

Texas is a large state with multiple habitats. So, in the last part of this article, I've compared the common backyard in two of the larger, widely-spaced cities, with the list for the state as a whole.

Lists of the most common feeder birds and backyard birds in Texas

The list at the top of the page is the frequency of birds in Texas through the entire year. But many birds are migratory or otherwise vary in abundance seasonally. Let's look at backyard birds in winter and summer and see how they differ from the year as a whole.

The most common backyard birds in Texas during the winter (December to February) are these:

1. Northern Cardinal (46% frequency)
2. Northern Mockingbird (42%)
3. Yellow-rumped Warbler (35%)
4. Mourning Dove (30%)
5. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (29%)
6. Eastern Phoebe (27%)
7. Carolina Chickadee (25%)
8. Blue Jay (23%)
9. Carolina Wren (23%)
10. House Sparrow (22%)
11. Orange-crowned Warbler (21%)

You may enjoy my article: Feeding winter birds in Texas

The most common backyard birds in Texas during the summer (June to July) are these:

1. Northern Mockingbird (53% frequency)
2. Northern Cardinal (50%)
3. Mourning Dove (48%)
4. White-winged Dove (37%)
5. House Sparrow (31%)
6. Barn Swallow (28%)
7. Carolina Wren (25%)
8. Blue Jay (24%)
9. Carolina Chickadee (23%)
10. House Finch (20%)
11. European Starling (20%)

Winter brings some northern species out of the cold to winter in Texas: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Phoebes, Orange-crowned Warblers.

Barns Swallows are common Texas birds in backyards and neighborhoods that are more common in summer than year-round.

Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Texas

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixaby

1. Northern Cardinal (47% of all eBird checklists)

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

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 more gray, 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. Found throughout most of Texas, but reaches edge of range in northwestern edge of state. 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: Black oil sunflower seeds. Many types of seeds, berries, nuts in larger hopper or tray feeders.

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

Photo of Northern Mockingbird on the ground
Northern Mockingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

2. Northern Mockingbird (46%)

This bird sings from exposed perches most of the year and often through the night. They have an unending supply of their own unique short phrases that they repeat about 3 times each, but frequently intersperse songs of other birds.

Identification: Size: The length of an American Robin. Shape: Slender and long-tailed. Long legs. Bill: Medium length, slender, slightly curved. Color: Gray, darker above, with white patches in wing and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer edge habitat with scattered trees and bushes, parks and residential areas. It is found in eastern and southern parts of the US, West Indies, and south into Mexico. Found throughout Texas. In summer birds are found a bit farther north. They boldly defend their nests from other birds, cats, and intruders.

Food and feeder preference: Eats insects, berries, and fruit. You may attract mockingbirds to your feeder with grapes, raisins, apple slices. They will come to a suet block. They readily use a bird bath.

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

3. Mourning Dove (38%)

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

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. Found throughout Texas. 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.

Photo of a White-winged Dove perched in a tree
White-winged Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson

4. White-winged Dove (29%)

This desert dove can be locally common in desert towns.

Identification: Size: A bit larger than a Mourning Dove. Shape: A more muscular neck than Mourning Dove. A square tail. Bill: Short and slender. Color: Brown with black under tail base and broad white tip. White wing patches in flight, also visible when perched.

Habitat, range & behavior: Desert thickets, saguaro cacti and towns. Found in the southwestern United States, Middle American, and West Indies. Found throughout all but easternmost Texas. They often seek water in the morning and afternoon.

Food and feeder preference: They eat seeds, grain, and fruit of the saguaro cactus. They are more likely to feed on a raised platform feeder than on the ground. They will eat black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

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

5. House Sparrow (24%)

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.

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. Found throughout Texas. 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.

Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

6. Blue Jay (24%)

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

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 strap. White patches in wing.

Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands and towns in the eastern half of the United States. In summer into southern Canada. Found throughout most of Texas, but not along border with Mexico. 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: 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.

Photo of Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren
Image by theSOARnet from Pixabay

7. Carolina Wren (24%)

This is a fairly common backyard bird in the much of the eastern United States.

Identification: Size: A smaller bird, between the size of American Goldfinch and House Finch. Shape: Round body, short neck, flat head, long tail flipped about actively. Bill: Fairly long, thin, pointed and slightly curved. Color: Upper parts rusty brown with black bars on the wings and tail. A white eyebrow line and buff under parts.

Habitat, range & behavior: Shrubby thickets and brushy suburban yards. It is found in the southeastern United States and Yucatan. Found in the eastern two-thirds of Texas. Northern parts of range expand and contract depending upon harshness of winters. Males sing throughout the year and are very loud for their size.

Food and feeder preference: Feed mostly on insects and spiders. They will feed on suet.

Photo of Carolina Chickadee on bird feeder
Carolina Chickadee
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

8. Carolina Chickadee (23%)

Chickadees are common feeder birds throughout much of North America. This one is common in the southeastern United States.

Identification: Size: This small bid is the size of an American Goldfinch. Shape: Round body, round head, longer tail. Bill: Short, straight, stout. Color: Gray above. Paler below. Black cap, white face, black bib.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lower elevation deciduous forests, wooded residential areas. This chickadee is a resident in the southeastern US. Found mostly in the eastern and northeastern half of Texas. Chickadees cannot chew as sparrows do, so they take one large sunflower seed at a time from your feeder and fly off to a branch to pound it open with their stout bills.

Food and feeder preference: Most of their diet is insects, also seeds. They will eat black oil sunflower seeds from hopper feeders.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson

9. European Starling (21%)

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.

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. Found throughout Texas. 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 ten's 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.

Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Texas

The following list contains additional common birds that you may see flying over your yard or in the neighborhood nearby. There are some less common backyard birds here, too, that don't appear on the main list above.

Watch for these additional common Texas birds in winter (December to February):
Turkey Vulture (30% frequency)
Great Blue Heron (25%)
Great-tailed Grackle (24%)
Red-winged Blackbird (23%)
Great Egret (23%)
Black Vulture (22%)
Orange-crowned Warbler (21%)
Red-tailed Hawk (21%)
American Coot (20%)
American Goldfinch (20%)
Double-crested Cormorant (20%)

Watch for these additional common Texas birds in summer (June to July):
Great-tailed Grackle (33% frequency)
Turkey Vulture (29%)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 23%
Great Egret (21%)
House Finch (20%)
Painted Bunting (20%)

Watch for these additional common Texas birds during spring migration (April to May):
Great-tailed Grackle (36% frequency)
Turkey Vulture (34%)
Red-winged Blackbird (27%)
Great Egret (21%)
White-eyed Vireo (21%)
Black Vulture (20%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (20%)

The Christmas Mountains Oasis:

Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Dallas, Texas

Photo of American Crow
American Crow is a common backyard bird in Dallas, Texas
Photo by Greg Gillson

The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Dallas with the state as a whole. Dallas is in Dallas County and I will use that county data to represent the backyard birds of the Dallas area.

Here are the most common birds throughout the year in Dallas:
Northern Cardinal (51% frequency)
Blue Jay (46%)
Northern Mockingbird (42%)
American Crow (42%)
Mourning Dove (39%)
Carolina Chickadee (38%)
European Starling (32%)
Carolina Wren (28%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (28%)
White-winged Dove (25%)
Rock Pigeon (24%)
Downy Woodpecker (24%)
House Sparrow (23%)
Tufted Titmouse (22%)
Eastern Phoebe (20%)

A city bird, Rock Pigeon, is more common in the Dallas, Texas area than the state as a whole. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, and American Crow reach eastern Texas and the Dallas area, but not the western portion of the state. 

Eastern Phoebe is a resident in northeastern Texas, a summer visitor in the northern parts, but only a winter visitor in the southern parts.

Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Houston, Texas

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker on a tree
Red-bellied Woodpecker is a common backyard bird in Houston, Texas
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Houston with the state as a whole. Houston is in Harris County, Texas. I will use that county data to represent the backyard birds of the Houston area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Houston:
Blue Jay (57%)
Northern Cardinal (56%)
Northern Mockingbird (55%)
Mourning Dove (43%)
White-winged Dove (38%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (36%)
Carolina Chickadee (33%)
Carolina Wren (30%)
Downy Woodpecker (30%)
European Starling (29%)
House Sparrow (28%)
American Crow (23%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (23%)
American Robin (20%)

Red-bellied Woodpecker and American Crow only reach the eastern half of Texas. That's why they're on this list. 

Migrant and winter Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins are a bit more regular in the Houston area than the state as a whole. 

But otherwise, the backyard birds of Houston are not too different than those in Dallas.

Beyond your backyard

To create this page on the backyard birds in Texas I used some of the advanced features of eBird.

You can learn more about what birds are in your own backyard using some easy and helpful features of eBird. Rare birds. Common birds. Winter birds, spring birds, summer birds, and fall birds. In fact, you can determine the abundance of all birds likely in your area for every week of the year! You can also see photos of the birds from your own area.

eBird also has numerous photos and voice recordings of the birds. Thus, you can see pictures of all the variation in each species. And you can listen to recordings of bird songs and calls.

Not all birds can be found in backyards. You may find that you wish to see birds in other places. If so, you'll want to check this out.

First, I'm sending you to eBird (www.ebird.org). Please don't forget me! Bookmark this page to come back.

Explore Regions for birds in your own county

From the eBird home page, select the tab for Explore (https://ebird.org/explore). The Explore page offers several options. Please use the Explore Regions form for now. 

Start entering your county name into the form. Select your county and state from the drop-down list.

Now your County page pops up.

There are 254 counties in Texas. There are bird lists for each county. The county with the most birds recorded is Cameron County with 468 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Lipscomb County with 146 species.

From this County page there are 3 selections that I want to share with you. They are Printable Checklist, Illustrated Checklist, and Hotspots.

1. Printable Checklist

The Printable Checklist is exactly what it sounds like. It is a basic bird checklist of all birds with eBird records in the county, state, or country you choose. It is a professional looking checklist, too. You can print it double-sided on card stock for a quite nice and durable bird checklist.

Bird checklists are useful to keep track of birds in your backyard as you identify them. Or, you may want to print a new list for each time you take a bird watching outing.

But this type of list doesn't help you figure out if a bird in your backyard is common or rare. For that, you need the next type of checklist.

2. Bar Charts

Bar charts combine the species list with abundance over time. The thickness of the line (bar) indicates how frequently a bird is seen. A thicker bar indicates a common bird. A thin line indicates a rare bird. No bars are shown when the birds are absent or not recorded.

In the case of the eBird bar charts, there is a space for every week of the year. There is room for 52 lines, or bars, in each chart. This way, you can tell, week by week, how common birds are in your state, even in each county.

One feature that I like on the county page is the Illustrated Checklist. It is a bar chart for the county. But it also includes photos of birds that have been taken in the county. That way, for unusual birds, I can see the plumage. 

Are most of the records for breeding males or perhaps dull-looking immatures? That will let me know exactly what I am looking for when I am out in the field. Of course, I always like to add photos to the Illustrated Checklist if any are missing. But that is easier to do with the following list.

3. Hotspots

Hotspots are public bird watching areas with their own species checklists and bar charts. Sometimes these are very famous birding sites with thousands of bird watchers visiting per year. Other hotspots are very rarely visited by birders. 

These will give you an idea of what other birds (not just backyard birds) may be found near you.

There are hundreds of hotspots for every state. Each county is likely to have numerous hotspots, too. There is a list of the top 100 hotspots in each state. To see all of them you can go to the map.

You may also like my eBird tutorial with illustrations.

Once you start viewing your backyard birds in Texas, you may find that you want to look for more types of birds than just backyard birds. Then you're on your way to exploring the wildlife in a larger world. 

There are birds everywhere you go. Different ones in every location. In fact, 10,000 of them. That's enough for several lifetimes of joy just to see them once!

All this because you were curious as to what birds were in your backyard!

Next: Backyard birds of Utah

You may be interested: Bird books for each individual state in the US

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

Feeding winter birds in Texas

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