Friday, August 23, 2019

Common backyard birds in Arizona (lists, photos, ID)

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Arizona are these:
  1. Mourning Dove (44% frequency)
  2. House Finch (43%)
  3. Gila Woodpecker (32%)
  4. Lesser Goldfinch (30%)
  5. Verdin (29%)
  6. White-winged Dove (22%)
  7. Anna's Hummingbird (22%)
  8. Yellow-rumped Warbler (22%)
  9. Great-tailed Grackle (21%)
  10. White-crowned Sparrow (21%)
  11. Gambel's Quail (20%)
  12. Curve-billed Thrasher (20%)
  13. House Sparrow (20%)
These birds occur on more than 20% of eBird checklists for the state.


In this article
Lists of the most common backyard birds in Arizona
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Arizona
Other birds you might see from your backyard in Arizona
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Phoenix, Arizona


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 Phoenix with the birds of the state as a whole.



List of the most common feeder birds and backyard birds in Arizona


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 two lists are the common birds ranked in winter and then in summer.

The most common backyard birds in Arizona in winter (December to February) are these:
House Finch (45% frequency)
Mourning Dove (42%)
Gila Woodpecker (37%)
White-crowned Sparrow (35%)
Verdin (33%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (33%)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (29%)
Anna's Hummingbird (26%)
Lesser Goldfinch (24%)
Great-tailed Grackle (23%)
Abert's Towhee (22%)
Curve-billed Thrasher (22%)
Say's Phoebe (21%)
Black Phoebe (21%)
House Sparrow (20%)

The most common backyard birds in Arizona in summer (June to July) are these:
Mourning Dove (44% frequency)
House Finch (41%)
White-winged Dove (40%)
Lesser Goldfinch (30%)
Gila Woodpecker (24%)
Verdin (23%)
Gambel's Quail (20%)

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

In winter White-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets are more common.

In summer most birds are less common. No doubt they are more local to towns and other places with water, and not so widespread as in winter. White-winged Doves are much more common, however, in Arizona in summer as compared to winter.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Arizona


Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. Mourning Dove (44% frequency)
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 a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. House Finch (43%)
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.

Photo of a Gila Woodpecker on a flower
Gila Woodpecker
Image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren. CC-AT-2.0 license
3. Gila Woodpecker (32%)
Melanerpes uropygialis
A common woodpecker of the saguaro desert that has become accustomed to towns.
Identification: Size: Larger than a Starling. Smaller than an American Robin. Shape: Stout bird with large head. Short tail. Bill: Long. Chisel-shaped. Color: Tan body. Black-and-white striped back and wings. White wing patches show in flight. Red crown of male lacking on female. Habitat, range & behavior: A bird of saguaro deserts. Also found in larger trees along desert streams. Has adapted to live in towns and residential areas. Range is from Arizona south into western Mexico. Probes and gleans for food from bark. Does not generally excavate for food as many other woodpeckers do. Excavates nest hole in saguaro cactus. Food and feeder preference: Insects, also fruits and berries. May drink from hummingbird feeder. Will likely feed on suet.

Photo of Lesser Goldfinch in willow
Lesser Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson
4. Lesser Goldfinch (30%)
Spinus psaltria
This bird replaces American Goldfinch in drier parts of the southwestern US.
Identification: Size: A small bird. Slightly smaller than American Goldfinch, but close. Shape: Big head, neckless, short forked tail. Bill: Short, small, conical. Color: Green back, yellow underparts including under tail coverts. Black wings and tail with white marks. Male with black cap on forecrown. Keeps the same bright yellow plumage year-round, unlike American Goldfinch. Habitat, range & behavior: Open scrubby woodlands of oak or other trees, fields, grasslands. Found in the western and southwestern US, into the Great Basin in summer. Found southward to Middle America. They sometimes gather into flocks of hundreds to feed in weedy fields. Food and feeder preference: They eat mostly thistle seeds, some insects. At your feeder they will eat black oil sunflower seeds at a tube feeder, but prefer Nyjer seeds in a "thistle sock" feeder.

Photo of a Verdin in a bush
Verdin
Photo by Greg Gillson
5. Verdin (29%)
Auriparus flaviceps
This relative of the chickadee is common in desert habitats in the SW United States.
Identification: Size: Very small. Just a bit smaller than a chickadee. Shape: Plump with a medium length rounded tail. Bill: Short. Straight. Stout. Color: All gray with a yellow face. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in desert scrub and thorny shrubs. California to Texas and south into northern Mexico. Forages actively on limbs and tips of vegetation in manner of a chickadee. Food and feeder preference: They eat primarily insects off of shrubbery. They are not attracted to seed feeders nor have they been documented to drink fresh water! They may drink sugar water from oriole nectar feeders.

Photo of a White-winged Dove perched in a tree
White-winged Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
6. White-winged Dove (22%)
Zenaida asiatica
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. 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 Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. Anna's Hummingbird (22%)
Calypte anna
This big resident hummingbird is everywhere there are people!
Identification: Size: Slightly larger than widespread hummingbirds like Ruby-throated in the east and Rufous Hummingbird in the west. Smaller than a goldfinch or chickadee. Shape: Plump, with long wings covering tail. Unmistakable long bill. Bill: Longer than head, round, slightly downcurved. Color: Green upper parts, gray under parts with greenish cast on sides. Male with entire head and throat covered in iridescent metallic rose pink. Female usually has pink throat spot. Habitat, range & behavior: Chaparral, open woods, suburban gardens all host this species. Formerly only in northern Baja and southern California they expanded to Arizona, and all the way to southern Alasak along the Pacific coast, following plantings of winter blooming flowers and the popularity of placing out hummingbird feeders. Nest early (December to February), even as they move north and encounter snow in winter. Food and feeder preference: Nectar and small insects is their main food. Both are available in flowering plants. Quickly find hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water.

Photo of Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Photo by Greg Gillson
8. Yellow-rumped Warbler (22%)
Setophaga coronata
An abundant winter visitor in the southern US to tree tops and weedy areas.
Identification: Size: Small, they are a bit larger than chickadees and goldfinches. They are smaller than House Finches and juncos. Shape: Plump and neckless with a shorter tail. Bill: Short, slender, straight, pointed. Color: Breeding plumage in spring is blue-gray on the upper parts, black sides and chest, yellow rump, yellow on sides. Two forms: western form with yellow throat and large white wing patch; eastern and northern form with white throat and two white wing bars. In winter plumage both forms are gray brown above, pale cream below. Yellow rump and white tail corners in flight. Habitat, range & behavior: In breeding season mostly in coniferous or mixed forests, in mountains in west. In winter open areas with fruiting shrubs and scattered trees. Breed across Canada and Alaska and in conifer forests in the west. Winter along both coasts and the southern states through Middle America. There are also non-migratory forms in Mexico and Guatemala. They tend to forage in outer branches about half way up the tree. Food and feeder preference: Mainly insects in the summer, they switch to waxy berries and fruit in winter. They are thus able to winter farther north than other warblers. They are attracted to suet feeders.

Photo of Great-tailed Grackle on picnic table
Great-tailed Grackle
Photo by Greg Gillson
9. Great-tailed Grackle (21%)
Quiscalus mexicanus
A big, noisy bird often found near water and in urban landscapes.
Identification: Size: Large bird. Males about the size of a crow; females smaller but still as large as a Mourning Dove. Shape: Long and slender with a big full tail. Bill: Long, pointed, stout. Color: Glossy black with purplish highlights. Females browner. Habitat, range & behavior: Shorelines, golf courses, agricultural areas, urban centers. Found in southern portions of West and Midwest US south through Central America. Forage on the ground. Social and loud, with squeaky calls and whistles. Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous--insects, fruits, human food scraps. To keep these obnoxious birds away from your feeders never feed birds human food wastes.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow in Douglas-fir
White-crowned Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
10. White-crowned Sparrow (21%)
Zonotrichia leucophrys
A common winter visitor in California and resident along the coast and in the higher mountains.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 7 inches. A large sparrow near size of Spotted/Eastern towhee. Larger than House Finch. Smaller than Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. Shape: Longer plump body, round head, long tail. Bill: Short and conical. Color: Brown back, wings, tail, gray under parts, black-and-white striped crown. For their first year immature birds have tan and reddish-brown striped crowns. Habitat, range & behavior: Open and shrubby areas. Coastal form in California at edge of sand dunes. Common winter form in California breeds on Arctic tundra. Various forms breed across the Arctic Canada and Alaska and in mountains in western Canada and the United States. They sing in spring migration as they move northward. Different populations have slightly different songs. Food and feeder preference: Weed seeds, grain, insects. Eat black oil sunflower seeds and other seeds on hopper and tray feeders.

Photo of a Gambel's Quail on a rock
Gambel's Quail
Photo by Greg Gillson
11. Gambel's Quail (20%)
Callipepla gambelii
A desert bird that may visit backyards on the edge of town.
Identification: Size: Actually only as long as an American Robin. Shorter, bill to tail, than Mourning Dove, though much differently shaped. Shape: Round and plump with strong breast and legs. Relatively small head. Short tail. Bill: Short, stout. Culmen decurved. Color: Blue-gray chest. Cream belly with dark central patch. Back and tail brownish. Rusty streaked flanks. Chestnut crown. Two ornamental feathers drooping over forehead. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in brushy and thorny desert scrub. Ranges in SW deserts from Colorado south to west Texas and California into NW Mexico. Forage on the ground in flocks. Run from danger. Food and feeder preference: Nearly all food is plants: seeds, leaves, berries. Mesquite tree pods are a favorite food. They may visit a low platform feeder or seed scattered on the ground. They will eat sunflowers, millet, cracked corn, and are one of a few birds that will eat milo--a common filler seed in cheap birdseed. Will come to water on the ground.

Photo of curve-billed Thrasher on a cactus
Curve-billed Thrasher
Image by skeeze from Pixabay
12. Curve-billed Thrasher (20%)
Toxostoma curvirostre
Widespread desert bird that may be found in backyards in the Southwest.
Identification: Size: A larger bird. Longer than an American Robin, slightly shorter than a Mourning Dove. Shape: Rather long and thin with short neck and ample tail. Bill: Slender, fairly long, slightly curved. Color: Rather dusky brown throughout. More easterly populations have pale under parts with dark spotting. Western populations are more uniform brown. Pale orangish eye. Habitat, range & behavior: Widespread in the desert Southwest, both in Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas. Also from Colorado south through Mexico. Especially favors cholla cactus, and is found in residential areas where this cactus is present. Feeds mostly on the ground underneath desert shrubs and cacti. Runs from bush to bush across open ground. Food and feeder preference: Omnivore, eats invertebrates, berries, and fruits from cactus. They will visit backyard bird feeders. They may eat seeds, but enjoy suet and mealworms. They also take advantage of birdbaths.

Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
13. House Sparrow (20%)
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.



Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Arizona


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 Arizona birds in winter (December to February):
Common Raven (27% frequency)
Red-tailed Hawk (27%)
American Coot (26%)
Northern Mockingbird (18%)
Northern Flicker (18%)
Ladder-backed Woodpecker (18%)

Watch for these additional common Arizona birds in summer (June to July):
Turkey Vulture (30% frequency)
Common Raven (24%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (19%)
Black-chinned Hummingbird (19%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (18%)
Northern Mockingbird (18%)

Watch for these additional common Arizona birds in spring (April to May):
Turkey Vulture (31% frequency)
Common Raven (27%)
Black-chinned Hummingbird (21%)
Lucy's Warbler (19%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Phoenix, Arizona


Photo of Abert's Towhee on the ground
Abert's Towhee is a common backyard bird in Phoenix.
Photo by Greg Gillson

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

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Phoenix:
Mourning Dove (65% frequency)
Great-tailed Grackle (54%)
House Finch (52%)
Verdin (52%)
Gila Woodpecker (50%)
Anna's Hummingbird (41%)
Curve-billed Thrasher (40%)
Abert's Towhee (40%)
European Starling (39%)
Northern Mockingbird (39%)
House Sparrow (38%)
Gambel's Quail (35%)
Rock Pigeon (33%)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (32%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (29%)
White-crowned Sparrow (25%)
Black Phoebe (24%)
White-winged Dove (23%)
Say's Phoebe (21%)

Because of the water and bird feeders, most backyard birds in the Phoenix area are much more common than in the rest of this desert state. Birds that appear as common in Phoenix that aren't nearly so in the rest of the state are Abert's Towhee, plus the urban birds: European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove.

An exception to this is that Lesser Goldfinch is less common in the Phoenix area than in the state as a whole.



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)


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