Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: 5 best binoculars for bird watching beginners (2020)

"Which binoculars are best for birding?" 

This is a question I have been asked numerous times over the years.

 In recent years binoculars have improved tremendously. As birding has become more popular, more and more manufacturers are creating more and more models aimed at the bird watching market. It's hard to keep up!

Even though new makes of binoculars come out regularly, certain models consistently are the best value for the money, out-performing the competition, year after year. 

The rest of this article will review what I think are the best binoculars for beginning birders. I will also explain the criteria I used for making this decision, as we compare each one.

The 5 best binoculars for bird watching beginners are these full-sized models:

  • Vortex Viper HD 8x42
  • Nikon Monarch 7 8x42
  • Celestron Trailseeker ED 8x42
  • Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42
  • Nikon ProStaff 3S 8x42

My quick recommendation at two price-points:

Looking to buy your very first pair of "real" outdoor birding binoculars? I was impressed with the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42. These are about $175. Purchase through this Amazon affiliate link. (Check price at Adorama)

If you have more to spend, and want a quality binocular. I recommend the Nikon Monarch 7 8x42. These are about $475. Purchase through this Amazon affiliate link.  (Check price at Adorama)

What kind of binoculars are best for bird watching beginners?

Whatever binocular you decide to choose, start by comparing it with this model: Nikon Monarch 5 8x42.


This very popular binocular has very good optical and mechanical properties and is exceptionally well-priced. If you just bought this one as your first birding binoculars it will suit you for many years. And you'll probably be very happy with it.

However, I have 5 recommendations you may like even better.

First, a word about price

When you buy your beginning birding binoculars, as with many things in life, you get what you pay for.

We're not talking about a $45 pair of binoculars that you pick up at Wal-Mart. Such binoculars have poor optical qualities, are probably not aligned properly, are dim and have soft focus. They are not waterproof. They are not rugged. They will likely be broken within 2 years, if not sooner. They will likely discourage you from watching birds.

Binoculars should last a long time. They are a major investment for most people. A good rule of thumb is that you should always buy the best binoculars you can afford.

I'm going to start by shocking you, and then work back from there. The very best birding binoculars are in the $2000-3000 price range! They're very nice; but you don't need them. In my opinion. 

They are wonderful and, sure, I probably wouldn't turn them down if you were to buy them for me as a gift.

The so-called "mid-priced" binoculars are in the $500-1000 range. This is where the value is, as I'll explain below.

My personal price point for binoculars for myself is $500. That's considered the upper end of "low-priced" birding binoculars. And that's where I set the high price for beginner bird watching binoculars.

I've been birding for over 45 years and I think I'm on about my 7th pair of binoculars. I wore out the first couple pairs that were inexpensive. Then I damaged a couple pairs banging them on trailside rocks after taking a tumble in the mountains, or dropping them one too many times on the deck of a fishing boat while birding at sea. I even think I drove off with a pair of binoculars on the roof! Gone. 

If I lose a pair of binoculars overboard, or smash them on a mountain cliff, I don't want it to be a life-altering event. Thus, $500.

Photo of Greg's new binoculars! Nikon Monarch 7 8x42
I just purchased these Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 bins in June 2019.
They are one of 5 binoculars I recommend for beginning birders.

Greg's weird rule-of-thumb on determining binocular value

Here's my possibly warped view on how I value binoculars. 

If I double the price, will I also double the number of birds I can identify? 

That's the purpose of binoculars, right? See and identify more birds. 

$50 compared to $100? Very much so. $100 compared to $200 binoculars? Yes. Will a $400 pair of binoculars allow me to identify twice as many birds as a $200 pair of binoculars? Maybe, especially in low light woods or overcast. 

Will an $800 pair of binoculars allow me to identify twice as many birds as a $400 pair of binoculars? No. But they may last longer and give a clearer view. Beyond this, though, the benefits for me decline quickly.

Some $500 pairs of binoculars are nearly as good as a $1000 pair. And a $3000 pair of binoculars is only marginally better than a $1000 pair. In my opinion. Your opinion, though, is the only one that matters. 

To me, $500 is a lot of money. It may not be to you. 

Or, conversely, $500 may be beyond all reason for you. If you are a beginning bird watcher and your budget is tight, you can get started with a decent pair of binoculars for under $150, even under $100 by sacrificing some features.

But plan for your binoculars to last at least 10 years. Not everyone is as hard on binoculars as I am! Buy the best you can afford, because you'll likely be using them for the next 10 years, if not a lifetime.

Some important features of binoculars

Whether you are a beginning bird watcher or seasoned expert, you need to know some terminology about how binoculars are constructed and assessed. Then the comparisons below will make more sense. You will also be able to compare other models using their specification sheets.

Magnification determines how large the image appears to your eyes. It is set by the ocular lenses (the smaller lenses on your binocular that you look directly through).

Objective lens size, measured in millimeters, is the diameter of the "big end" lens on the binoculars. This lens gathers light.

7x35 is a magnification of 7 power and an objective lens of 35mm diameter.

Exit pupil. The magnification divided by the objective lens size, in millimeters. 5.0 is good and gives a sense of how bright the image will appear. A 7x35mm binocular has an exit pupil of 5.0.

Nitrogen purged/waterproof. All the binoculars listed here have the internal air (which contains oxygen and water vapor) pushed out and replaced with nitrogen (or argon). These are then sealed. 

This makes them waterproof and fog proof on the inside. No more heating up your binoculars on the dashboard heater of your car in winter to remove condensed moisture from inside. 

Most of these binoculars can be submerged in a couple of feet of water without getting water inside. 

They can be used in a pouring rainstorm without worry.

Close focus is important for viewing smaller birds in the woods, or butterflies at your feet, or hummingbirds on the window feeder.

Multicoated lenses. Inside the binoculars are prisms. You know what happens when you shine white light through a prism, right? It breaks it into a rainbow of colors with red at one end and violet at the other. 

If you look through binoculars and the image has a violet halo, that is chromatic aberration. Lens coatings keep the light together. There are many types. This is where much of the increased cost comes from.

Eye relief is how far your eyes are from the ocular lens. If you are an eyeglass wearer, and use eyeglasses to look through binoculars (as I must), then your eyes are farther back from the lens than someone not wearing eyeglasses. 

Adjustable eyecups push non-eyeglass wearers back away from the ocular lens to match the distance of eyeglass wearers, but fold down for eyeglass wearers.

Interpupillary distance is how close together your eyes are, and whether the binoculars can adjust. All the binoculars here adjust for most adult eyes: 56-72 millimeters. 

If your head is unusually small (or a child) or your eyes are unusually far apart, this range may not be enough for your eyes to combine the two binocular images into one seamless view.

Field of View is how much width you can see edge-to-edge at a certain distance. 

A binocular with a narrow field of view is like looking through a straw--you can't see much, and may have a hard time "getting on" a flying bird, for instance. 

Binoculars with a wider field of view take in more of the scenery, making it easier to initially put your binoculars right on the bird. 

Measured as feet of width at 1000 yards distance. "300 feet at 1000" yards is fairly narrow, while "450 feet at 1000" yards is fairly wide.

Weight of binoculars determine how steady you can hold them. Very heavy binoculars can become wearisome to hold up to your eyes all day.

Putting it all together

Why not get the greatest magnification possible? 

If you magnify too much you increase image shakiness. You also need larger objective lenses to gather more light to keep that 5.0mm ideal exit pupil brightness. Larger objective lenses are heavier and more costly. Thus, most general purpose birding binoculars are 8x42.

Some birders use 10x42 binoculars. These aren't quite as bright and don't focus as closely. 

After wearing out my father's 7x35 sporting binoculars, I purchased 10x50's as my first beginner binoculars. They were bright enough, but big and heavy. I have used 8x42's ever since.

Up to this point I've talked only about full-sized binoculars, something with objective lens sizes of 35mm to 50 mm.

Compact binoculars are smaller and lighter with smaller objective lenses. A popular size is the mid-sized 8x32. 

The exit pupil is only 4.0, so they aren't as bright in low-light conditions. This can be partially offset with good lens coatings. 

These are great for casual use, hiking, a second pair to carry in your car's glove compartment, or a window sill pair for watching your bird feeder. But they'll work fine for birding if that's all you can afford at this time. 

Not one of the 5 recommended binoculars, I offer one of these as a "bonus" birding binocular.

Comparing the 5 best binoculars for bird watching beginners

All of the best binoculars for beginning birders are nitrogen purged to be waterproof and fog proof, and have the same interpupillary adjustment range. So we don't have to compare those features.

In general, the glass and coatings are the main driver in the difference in cost. Higher priced binoculars should have better brightness, sharpness, and clarity, and be more rugged and balanced in the hand. But there are other considerations we'll examine below that help differentiate models from each other.

Since 8x42 is the most popular size and magnification, all my recommendations are of this size, called "full sized" binoculars.

[If you are determined to go with 10x binoculars of these same models, fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But remember you will be sacrificing field of view, close focus, brightness, weight, and cost. In other words the 8x42 is superior to 10x42 in all aspects except magnification. Check the specs carefully so you know exactly what you are sacrificing.]

In the following tables, features with less than ideal specs are highlighted in red. These aren't deal-breakers, rather, these are the compromises that differentiate one pair from another. 

Likewise, I've highlighted in blue the especially good specs. I think these are the best beginner bird watching binoculars.

Remember, I said to start with the popular Nikon Monarch 5? Let's do that.

<$300 binoculars

Nikon Monarch 5 8x42

Field of View: 330 feet at 1000 yards
Close focus: 8.2 feet
Eye relief: 19.5 mm
Weight: 20.8 ounces

Comments: Though perhaps the most popular birding binocular, the field of view is less than ideal for beginning birders. It does have a very long eye relief for comfortable viewing for all eyeglass wearers.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

So, even though I ask you to compare with the very popular and best selling birding binocular, Nikon Monarch 5, I no longer recommend it, as there's something better!

Celestron Trailseeker ED 8x42

Field of view: 426 feet at 1000 yards
Close focus: 6.5 feet
Eye relief: 17.2 mm
Weight: 23.5 ounces

Comments: The price is nearly identical with the Monarch 5. The close focus allows you to observe butterflies at your feet on the trail, or birds in close bushes, or even at your window feeder! 

The eye relief is good for eyeglass wearers. 

The field of view is terrifically wide! You'll be able to see everything that's going on not just with the bird under view, but off to the side. A bird flies over, you raise your binoculars, and there it is! The wide field of view makes getting on the bird so much easier.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

$475-650 binoculars

Next we take a step up in quality and price from the Nikon Monarch 5. There are two binoculars worthy of your consideration. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or not, these are great binoculars.

Nikon Monarch 7 8x42

Field of view: 420 feet at 1000 yards
Close focus: 8.2 feet
Eye relief: 17.1 mm
Weight: 22.9 ounces

Comments: Excellent field of view, especially compared to the Nikon Monarch 5. Most people with eyeglasses will be able to use these without problem (16 mm is minimum for eyeglasses), but some eyeglass wearers may experience some vignetting (not seeing all the way to the edge of the full image). 

This is my latest purchase... and the best binoculars I've ever owned.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

See my in-depth review of the Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 binocular.

Vortex Viper HD 8x42

Field of view: 409 feet at 1000 yards
Close focus: 6.5 feet
Eye relief: 18 mm
Weight: 24.5 ounces

Comments: Good field of view. Excellent close focus. Decent eye relief.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

$120-175 binoculars

If your budget just won't allow you to purchase the Nikon 5, then let's drop the price to 1/2 or 1/3 of that. 

Normally, I'd never recommend birding binoculars for less than $250, not even for beginners. But these are the exceptions. These are very good binoculars at a budget price.

Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42

Field of view: 393 feet
Close focus: 6.5 feet
Eye relief: 17.8 mm
Weight: 24.9 ounces

Comments: The ED is a newer model with extra-low dispersion glass for superior optical quality. It bumps the price up a bit to the upper end of this price range from the previous DX 8x42 version. But it's well worth it. The close focus is excellent. Eye relief is good, as is the field of view. It's a bit heavy, but not bad.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

Read my in-depth review of the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42.

Nikon ProStaff 3S 8x42

Field of view: 377 feet
Close focus: 9.8 feet
Eye relief: 20.2 mm
Weight: 19.9 ounces

Comments: Outstanding eye relief for eyeglass wearers. Light weight. Field of view and close focus are adequate. Waterproof at this low price! Amazing quality in a full-sized binocular for such a low price.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check the price at Adorama (here).

Bonus #1: compact binocular under $120

There's a whole slew of compact binoculars from budget priced to well over $1000. In general they don't perform as well in low-light conditions. But some people really like them.

I offer one bonus review of a compact binocular that has excellent quality for a low price.

Celestron Nature DX 8x32

Field of view: 388 feet
Close focus: 6.6 feet
Eye relief: 17.5 mm
Weight: 18 ounces
Exit pupil: 4.0 mm (this is good for a compact binocular)

Comments: This compact binocular has smaller objective lenses, so it's not going to be as bright in low-light conditions as the other binoculars (exit pupil 4.0 mm compared to 5.25 mm for all others). Under most conditions you won't notice the difference. 

It is a decent binocular for such a low price. 

And, the smaller lenses mean less weight and smaller overall size. The eye relief is good, field of view good, close focus is excellent.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Not currently offered by Adorama (July 2020).

Bonus #2: I told you to buy the best binocular you could afford...

>$2500 binoculars

Zeiss Victory 8x42 SF T*

Field of View: 444 feet at 1000 yards
Close focus: 5.0 feet
Eye relief: 18 mm
Weight: 27.5 ounces

Comments: I don't recommend this binocular for beginning bird watchers. But I did tell you to buy the best binoculars you could afford. So I offer this just in case. 

I want you to look at these specs, though. Absolutely excellent field of view and outstanding close focus. The eye relief is long to accommodate most eyeglass wearers. Of course the glass and coatings are second-to-none. 

However, you can't build such a rugged product without weight. These are fairly heavy binoculars.

Please visit Amazon (here) to check the current price.

Check price at Adorama (here).

Related: Nikon Monarch 5 vs 7: which is best binocular for birding?

Related: 12 Best birding binoculars under $200

Check out our in-depth binocular buying guide. Compare all the specs in the handy tables.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What kind of birds are yellow and black? Photos of 15 kinds

In the United States and Canada there are many birds colored primarily yellow and black. This is a common color pattern of several species of finches, tanagers, orioles, meadowlarks and warblers.

There are even far more kinds of birds that are colored greenish above, yellow below, with black feathers in the plumage. I don't cover those here. 

The birds in this article are primarily bright yellow on the body with either black wings and tail or black on the head. But I include a few other birds with slightly different color patterns, in case these other birds might be the one you saw.

The birds most likely to be noted in your backyard or feeder, or in the countryside nearby, are these yellow and black birds, which I'll describe further (with photos) below:

  • American Goldfinch
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Western Tanager
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Scott's Oriole
  • Hooded Oriole
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Wilson's Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Townsend's Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird

When you first notice a bird it may be color that grabs your attention. 

However, many birds are color-patterned similarly. Males and females may be different colors. Breeding and non-breeding plumages are likely to be different. 

Thus the size and shape of the bird, and especially the shape of the bill, is more helpful than color for quickly narrowing down the possibilities among the world's 10,000 species of birds (or even North America's 1,000 species).

If you aren't a birder, though, chances are you are asking about a very common bird in your backyard or feeder. That narrows down the possibilities greatly. 

I'll start with those backyard birds, then continue on to obvious birds you may see in the countryside or woods.

Yellow and black feathered birds at your backyard seed feeders

There are three common birds that may visit your seed feeders. If the bird you are inquiring about was in your backyard, there's a good chance it was one of these three.

American Goldfinch

Photo of American Goldfinch on teasel
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

Frequently, when people ask about a bird that is bright yellow and black, or a bird that is yellow with black wings, it is the American Goldfinch. 

It is not the only bird so colored, as you'll see below, but this species is common and widespread across the United States. It also is common at seed feeders, especially thistle feeders.

American Goldfinches are little yellow birds with black and white wings and tail, and a white rump and under tail. Males are much brighter yellow than females, and sport a black crown. Length bill tip to tail tip: 5 inches.

In winter this species molts into a dull creamy brown body plumage with buffy wing bars that barely resemble the summer magnificence. 

Flight is strongly undulating in the flap-bound style.

Often found in large flocks except in breeding season.

Voice: Song light and clear. In flight a 4-note lilt that can sound like po-ta-to-chip!

Lesser Goldfinch

Photo of Lesser Goldfinch on willows
Lesser Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

In the West, especially the Southwest, American Goldfinches are joined by Lesser Goldfinches. These little yellow birds resemble the American Goldfinches.

Lesser Goldfinches have green or even black backs. The yellow underparts, including the under tail coverts remain bright yellow, even in winter. Length bill tip to tail tip: 4-1/2 inches.

In flight the wings show a long white stripe mid-wing. Flight is strongly undulating in the flap-bound style.

Usually occurs in small flocks.

Voice: Song is sweet phrases. Calls include plaintive rising or falling pairs: Tee-yee or tee-yair.

Evening Grosbeak

Photo of Evening Grosbeak on water dish
Evening Grosbeak
Photo by Greg Gillson

Evening Grosbeaks nest across southern Canada and in the mountains of the western United States. 

In winter they descend to the lowlands and southward. But each winter is different. In some years, when seeds are scarce in the north, huge flocks irrupt far southward. At these times they feed on maple and elm seeds, as well as in backyard seed feeders.

Plump with short tails and an over-sized greenish-yellow bill. Males have yellow belly, shoulders and forehead that merge into a smoky gray head and upper body. The tail is black. The black wings have large white secondary feather patches that are obvious in flight. 

Females are pale gray but show a hint of yellow in a similar pattern, thought with additional white wing patches at the base of the primaries. Length bill tip to tail tip: 8 inches.

Voice: Often heard in flight is a clee-ip call and a whistled pew, either clear or buzzy.

Yellow and black birds in your backyard shade or fruit trees

If one of the above 3 species weren't the bird you saw, then we have more work to do! 

There are several female tanagers and orioles that have yellow and black feathers and may appear in your shade or fruit trees during spring migration and summer. Most of these birds follow the general pattern of being yellow with black wings.

Western Tanager

Photo of Western Tanager eating orange half
Western Tanager
Photo by Greg Gillson

If you live in the West you may wake one morning in May to your trees dripping with colorful tanagers that arrived overnight! Otherwise these birds tend to spend their time in pairs hidden high in tallest conifer trees.

Bright yellow body with black wings and red head. Western Tanagers have white wing bar. Black tail. Males have red-orange heads, lacking on first year males and winter plumage. 

Females are yellowish or grayish with olive-green wings and tail. The bill of both genders is pale yellowish and swollen. Length bill tip to tail tip: 7-1/4 inches.

Voice: Males sing a hoarse robin like song. The calls include a rough pi-ter-rik.

Scarlet Tanager

Photo of female or winter male Scarlet Tanager on branch
Female or winter male Scarlet Tanager
Photo by FĂ©lix Uribe [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Scarlet Tanagers are the Eastern counterpart of the Western Tanager.

Breeding males are bright red with black wings and tail. 

But the female is dull yellowish, or greenish, with blackish or olive wings. In fall the male becomes blotchy green and red and then molts into a yellowish plumage similar to the females coloration. The bill is pale. Length bill tip to tail tip: 7 inches.

Voice: A hoarse robin-like song. Call is hoarse chip-burr.

Orchard Oriole

Photo of Orchard Oriole on branch
First summer male Orchard Oriole
Photo by Tony Castro [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Orchard Oriole is smaller Eastern oriole.

Males are dark--deep chestnut and black. They have a black hood, back, wings and tail. This contrasts with the chestnut underparts. 

Females are olive on the wings and upper parts, yellowish below. The immature male is yellowish below with an extensive black chin and throat (see photo above). Length bill tip to tail tip: 7-1/4 inches.

Voice: Song is a rapid burst of whistled notes downslurred at the end reminiscent of House Finch. Call a soft chuck.

Scott's Oriole

Scott's Oriole is a bird of desert mountains and yucca in the southwest deserts.

The male is black above, including head, breast, back, wings and tail. It has white wing patches. 

Females and first spring males have a variable amount of black on the face and upper breast, but are more olive above, rather than black. Length bill tip to tail tip: 9 inches.

Voice: The song is flute-like whistles similar to the song of Western Meadowlark. Harsh chuck call.

Similar species not shown: In southern Texas is Audubon's Oriole. It is similar to Scott's Oriole but the back is yellow.

Hooded Oriole

Photo of Hooded Oriole in sycamore tree
Hooded Oriole
Photo by Greg Gillson

A bird of palm trees from California to Texas.

Hooded Orioles in California are a bit more yellowish than the orange birds of Texas. The males have black throat, back, wings and tail. 

Females are yellow below and greenish above with dark wings. First year males are similar to females but with more yellowish under parts with black throat. Length bill tip to tail tip: 8 inches.

Voice: Song is composed of grating sounds and piping whistles. Call an up-slurred eek.

Yellow and black birds of open fields

Meadowlarks are birds of short grasslands and deserts. From above they are camouflaged black, brown and white. From the front, though, they have brilliant yellow under parts with a black band across the chest.

Eastern Meadowlark

Photo of Eastern Meadowlark on twig
Eastern Meadowlark
Photo by Mike's Birds from Riverside, CA, US [CC BY-SA 2.0]

This open country songster of fields and meadows is found in the eastern United States and southwest.

Eastern Meadowlarks are speckled and streaked above in browns and blacks, darker than Western Meadowlarks. The underparts are bright yellow. A black band goes across the chest. The yellow throat is narrower than on Western Meadowlark. The malar feathers down from the lower mandible of the beak are white. Length bill tip to tail tip: 9-1/2 inches.

Voice: Song is a drawn out whistle of tee-yah, tee-yair. Call a buzzy dzrrt.

Western Meadowlark

Photo of Western Meadowlark on barbed wire fence
Western Meadowlark
Photo by Greg Gillson

This grassland species is found westward from the Midwest and Texas.

Western Meadowlarks are speckled and streaked above in browns, blacks, and grays, paler than Eastern Meadowlarks. The underparts are bright yellow. A black band goes across the chest. The yellow throat is wider than on Eastern Meadowlark. The malar feathers down from the lower mandible of the beak are yellow. Length bill tip to tail tip: 9-1/2 inches.

Voice: The variable song consists to many flute-like notes. Gives a chuck call and rattle.

Yellow and black birds of woodlands

There are many warblers with yellow and black feathers. Most also include white and green plumage. I present 3 here that are primarily yellow and black. These insect gleaners are primarily found in summer, migrating south of the border in winter. An exception is the Townsend's Warbler below.

Wilson's Warbler

Photo of Wilson's Warbler in bush
Wilson's Warbler
Photo by Greg Gillson

Wilson's Warblers nest across Canada, Alaska, and south in western mountains. But they may be found in migration across the United States, but tend to be more common in the West in stream tangles.

This is a small bright yellow bird with beady black eye. Only the male has the small black cap. Length bill tip to tail tip: 5 inches.

Voice: Song a long trill on one pitch, ending with a couple lower flat notes, chi chi chi chi chi chet chet. Call note a flat chimp, similar to the Pacific Wren.

Hooded Warbler

Photo of Hooded Warbler on brick wall
Hooded Warbler
Image by Christopher O'Toole from Pixabay

This warbler is found in the eastern United States, especially the Southeast, in wooded swamps.

Bright yellow below with a black cowl over the head, encircling the yellow face. Upper parts and tail green. White tail spots show when tail fanned, or from below. 

Female has greenish hint of male's cowl over face, but not throat. Length bill tip to tail tip: 5-1/4 inches.
Voice: Loud whistled song weeta wee-tee-o. Call is a sharp chink.

Townsend's Warbler

Photo of Townsend's Warbler on branch
Townsend's Warbler
Photo by Greg Gillson

Townsend's Warblers are breeding birds of conifers in western mountains from Alaska to Oregon. They winter along the West Coast.

Many warblers show a pattern of black throat, yellow and black face and streaked sides. This species has the most yellow, so that overall it appears as a yellow and black bird. 

Females lack the black throat; the black crown and face of the male is replaced by olive. Length bill tip to tail tip: 5 inches.

Voice: Song starts buzzy and ends with clear notes weazy weazy seesee. Call is high pitched tip.

Yellow and black birds of marshlands

I present two common species here that do have black and yellow feathers, but are patterned differently from the birds above.

Common Yellowthroat

Photo of Common Yellowthroat on cedar branch
Common Yellowthroat
Photo by Greg Gillson

Breeds across Canada and the United States. Winters along the southern US coasts and southward.

This marsh-dweller often appears more olive brown with bright yellow throat and under tail. The black domino mask across the face is an obvious mark on the male that is lacking on the female. Length bill tip to tail tip: 5 inches.

Voice: Song of male delivered from exposed perch is loud witchety witchety witch!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Photo of Yellow-headed Blackbird on metal pole
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

This noisy blackbird is found in marshes from central Canada, the Great Plains and the Great Basin of the United States.

The male Yellow-headed Blackbird is black with a yellow head and chest. 

The female is darker on the face and neck with a blob of yellow on the chest. Both genders have white wing patches visible in flight. Length bill tip to tail tip: 9-1/2 inches.

Voice: The song is a hoarse rasping produced with much contortions. Call is a low kack.


Little brown birds at your feeder

What kind of birds have red heads?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Common backyard birds in New Jersey (lists, photos, ID)

I've put this resource together for you to answer the question: What birds are in my backyard in New Jersey? This article tells you what New Jersey 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 New Jersey bird identification of the most common birds native to New Jersey backyards.

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

  1. Northern Cardinal (45% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (44%)
  3. American Robin (44%)
  4. Blue Jay (40%)
  5. Song Sparrow (36%)
  6. European Starling (31%)
  7. Tufted Titmouse (31%)
  8. American Crow (31%)
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker (31%)
  10. American Goldfinch (30%)
  11. Downy Woodpecker (29%)
  12. Carolina Wren (27%)
  13. White-throated Sparrow (25%)
  14. Common Grackle (25%)
  15. Gray Catbird (24%)
  16. House Sparrow (23%)
  17. House Finch (22%)
  18. White-breasted Nuthatch (22%)
  19. Northern Mockingbird (22%)
  20. Northern Flicker (21%)

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

In this article
Lists of the most common backyard birds in New Jersey
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in New Jersey
Other birds you might see from your backyard in New Jersey
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Newark, New Jersey
Beyond your backyard

This page lists the most common backyard birds 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. Below I list common backyard birds in winter and summer.

Photos and identification are next. I tell a little bit about each species and how you might attract them to your yard.

Farther below I've also added a list of other common birds not typically found in backyards.

I conclude with a list comparing the birds of Newark with the birds of the state as a whole.

Lists of the most common feeder birds and backyard birds in New Jersey

The top list on this page is the frequency of birds throughout the year. Many birds are migratory or otherwise vary in abundance between seasons. So the next lists are the common birds ranked in winter and then in summer.

The most common backyard birds in New Jersey in winter (December to February) are these:
1. Northern Cardinal (39% frequency)
2. Dark-eyed Junco (37%)
3. White-throated Sparrow (36%)
4. Mourning Dove (34%)
5. Blue Jay (34%)
6. Downy Woodpecker (31%)
7. Tufted Titmouse (30%)
8. Song Sparrow (29%)
9. European Starling (28%)
10. American Crow (28%)
11. Red-bellied Woodpecker (28%)
12. White-breasted Nuthatch (25%)
13. American Robin (25%)
14. Carolina Wren (23%)
15. House Finch (22%)
16. House Sparrow (21%)
17. American Goldfinch (20%)

You may enjoy the article: Feeding winter birds in New Jersey

The most common backyard birds in New Jersey in summer (June to July) are these:
1. American Robin (60%)
2. Mourning Dove (54%)
3. Gray Catbird (53%)
4. Northern Cardinal (48%)
5. Song Sparrow (43%)
6. American Goldfinch (40%)
7. Common Grackle (39%)
8. Barn Swallow (39%)
9. Blue Jay (37%)
10. European Starling (35%)
11. Tree Swallow (34%)
12. House Sparrow (29%)
13. American Crow (29%)
14. Northern Mockingbird (28%)
15. Tufted Titmouse (27%)
16. Carolina Wren (26%)
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker (26%)
18. House Wren (26%)
19. House Finch (25%)
20. Chipping Sparrow (24%)
21. Cedar Waxwing (24%)
22. Downy Woodpecker (24%)
23. Eastern Kingbird (24%)
24. Northern Flicker (21%)
25. Indigo Bunting (20%)

How do birds in winter differ from birds in the summer?

Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows  are more common in winter than in summer.

Several species are more common in summer than winter. These include American Robins, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, Common Grackles, Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, Northern Mockingbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Kingbirds, and Indigo Buntings.

Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in New Jersey

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixaby

1. Northern Cardinal (45% frequency)

Cardinalis cardinalis
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. 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 Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson

2. Mourning Dove (44%)

Zenaida macroura
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. 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 American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson

3. American Robin (44%)

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

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. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.

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

4. Blue Jay (40%)

Cyanocitta cristata
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 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: 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 Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

5. Song Sparrow (36%)

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

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.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson

6. European Starling (31%)

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.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 8-1/2 inches from bill tip to tail tip. 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 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.

Photo of Tufted Titmouse in feeder
Tufted Titmouse
Image by anne773 from Pixabay

7. Tufted Titmouse (31%)

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

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. Backyard bird feeders might be helping this species expand its range northward.

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

Photo of American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gillson

8. American Crow (31%)

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

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.

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

9. Red-bellied Woodpecker (31%)

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

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 insects and nuts. They may eat peanuts from a tray feeder and eat from a suet block.

Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

10. American Goldfinch (30%)

Spinus tristis
A beautiful tiny finch familiar to many in it's bright yellow summer plumage. Colloquially called a "wild canary."

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 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. Love Nyjer seed in a feeder called a "thistle sock."

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

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

11. Downy Woodpecker (29%)

Dryobates pubescens
This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.

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 black. 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.

Photo of Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren
Image by theSOARnet from Pixabay

12. Carolina Wren (27%)

Thryothorus ludovicianus
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. 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 White-throated Sparrow on birdbath
White-throated Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

13. White-throated Sparrow (25%)

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

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.

Photo of Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle
Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

14. Common Grackle (25%)

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

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.

Photo of Gray Catbird in juniper
Gray Catbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

15. Gray Catbird (24%)

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

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.

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

16. House Sparrow (23%)

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.

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.

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

17. House Finch (22%)

Haemorhous mexicanus
Originally a bird of the West, now found across most of the US. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.

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 tree tops 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: They love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

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

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

18. White-breasted Nuthatch (22%)

Sitta carolinensis
A favorite feeder bird for many for its active antics and fearlessness. Though a small bird it is the largest nuthatch in North America.

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: Insects, seeds, acorns and other nuts. Love black oil sunflower seeds feeding on hopper and tray feeders. Suet blocks.

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

19. Northern Mockingbird (22%)

Mimus polyglottos

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. 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 Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker
Photo by Greg Gillson

20. Northern Flicker (21%)

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.

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.

A video of birds of New Jersey:

Other common birds you might see from your backyard in New Jersey

The following lists contain additional common birds you might see flying over your yard or in a nearby neighborhood. There are also several less common backyard birds in these lists that don't appear in the lists above.

Watch for these additional common New Jersey birds in winter (December to February):
Canada Goose (43% frequency)
Ring-billed Gull (31%)
Mallard (30%)
Herring Gull (26%)
Turkey Vulture (22%)

Watch for these additional common New Jersey birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (51% frequency)
Common Yellowthroat (34%)
Canada Goose (29%)
Laughing Gull (27%)
Mallard (27%)
Turkey Vulture (26%)
Great Egret (25%)
Great Blue Heron (24%)
Osprey (23%)
Herring Gull (22%)
Yellow Warbler (22%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (21%)
Double-crested Cormorant (20%)
Fish Crow (20%)

Watch for these additional common New Jersey birds in spring (April to May):
Red-winged Blackbird (53% frequency)
Canada Goose (45%)
Mallard (34%)
Turkey Vulture (34%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (30%)
Common Yellowthroat (28%)
Double-crested Cormorant (24%)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (24%)
Laughing Gull (23%)
Osprey (23%)
Yellow Warbler (22%)
Eastern Towhee (21%)
Fish Crow (21%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (21%)
Carolina Chickadee (20%)
Herring Gull (20%)
Great Egret (20%)

Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Newark, New Jersey

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

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Newark:
American Robin (59% frequency)
Blue Jay (59%)
Mourning Dove (55%)
Northern Cardinal (54%)
House Sparrow (49%)
European Starling (45%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (40%)
Downy Woodpecker (39%)
Song Sparrow (37%)
Common Grackle (35%)
White-throated Sparrow (33%)
American Goldfinch (32%)
Tufted Titmouse (32%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (30%)
Black-capped Chickadee (29%)
Northern Flicker (27%)
Rock Pigeon (27%)
Dark-eyed Junco (26%)
American Crow (26%)
Gray Catbird (26%)
House Finch (25%)
Northern Mockingbird (23%)

The birds of Newark match the birds of New Jersey as a whole, with the following exceptions. 

Black-capped Chickadees, Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows are more common in Newark. 

Carolina Wrens are less common in Newark than in the rest of the state, on average.

Beyond your backyard

To create this page on the backyard birds in New Jersey 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 ( 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 ( 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 21 counties in New Jersey. There are bird lists for each county. The county with the most birds recorded is Cape May County with 433 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Camden County with 260 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 New Jersey, 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 New Mexico

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 New Jersey

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