Sunday, September 1, 2019

30+ Common backyard birds in Virginia (Photos, ID)

[Updated July 2021] I've put this resource together for you to answer the question: What birds are in my backyard in Virginia?

This article tells you what Virginia 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 Virginia bird identification of the most common birds native to Virginia backyards.

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

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. Carolina Wren
  3. American Crow
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Carolina Chickadee
  6. Blue Jay
  7. Tufted Titmouse
  8. American Robin
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  10. American Goldfinch
  11. Downy Woodpecker
  12. Song Sparrow
  13. European Starling
  14. Northern Mockingbird
  15. Eastern Bluebird
  16. White-breasted Nuthatch
  17. White-throated Sparrow
  18. House Finch
  19. Common Grackle

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

Continue reading to see additional common birds, and common birds at other seasons.



In this article
  • Lists of the most common backyard birds in Virginia
  • Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Virginia
  • Other birds you might see from your backyard in Virginia
  • Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • 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 Virginia Beach with the birds of the state as a whole.




When you have finished reading this page, you may like to see my list of recommended products: binoculars, bird feeders, bird food, and more!




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

The list at the top of the page is those birds most frequently encountered throughout the state and throughout the year.

These lists are based on the citizen science program eBird, using data from actual bird sightings.

The next parts list birds at different times of year, starting again with the year as a whole.


Most common backyard birds in Virginia throughout the year

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


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

  1. Northern Cardinal (60% frequency)
  2. Carolina Wren (48%)
  3. American Crow (46%)
  4. Mourning Dove (42%)
  5. Carolina Chickadee (42%)
  6. Blue Jay (42%)
  7. Tufted Titmouse (39%)
  8. American Robin (39%)
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker (37%)
  10. American Goldfinch (34%)
  11. Downy Woodpecker (32%)
  12. Song Sparrow (31%)
  13. European Starling (29%)
  14. Northern Mockingbird (27%)
  15. Eastern Bluebird (27%)
  16. White-breasted Nuthatch (26%)
  17. White-throated Sparrow (25%)
  18. House Finch (25%)
  19. Common Grackle (21%)
  20. Eastern Towhee (17%)
  21. Northern Flicker (17%)
  22. Dark-eyed Junco (17%)
  23. Chipping Sparrow (16%)
  24. House Sparrow (16%)


Most common backyard birds in Virginia in winter

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

The most common backyard birds in Virginia in winter (December to February) are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (55% frequency)
  2. Carolina Chickadee (44%)
  3. Carolina Wren (44%)
  4. American Crow (43%)
  5. White-throated Sparrow (40%)
  6. Tufted Titmouse (39%)
  7. Blue Jay (37%)
  8. Red-bellied Woodpecker (37%)
  9. Mourning Dove (36%)
  10. Dark-eyed Junco (35%)
  11. Downy Woodpecker (35%)
  12. Song Sparrow (34%)
  13. White-breasted Nuthatch (29%)
  14. American Goldfinch (28%)
  15. American Robin (28%)
  16. European Starling (27%)
  17. House Finch (27%)
  18. Eastern Bluebird (25%)
  19. Northern Mockingbird (23%)


You may enjoy reading: Feeding winter birds in Virginia


Most common backyard birds in Virginia in summer

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

The most common backyard birds in Virginia in summer (June to July) are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (60% frequency)
  2. Carolina Wren (48%)
  3. Mourning Dove (47%)
  4. American Robin (44%)
  5. American Crow (43%)
  6. American Goldfinch (39%)
  7. Tufted Titmouse (35%)
  8. Blue Jay (35%)
  9. Indigo Bunting (33%)
  10. Common Grackle (31%)
  11. Carolina Chickadee (31%)
  12. Northern Mockingbird (30%)
  13. Red-eyed Vireo (29%)
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker (28%)
  15. European Starling (27%)
  16. Song Sparrow (27%)
  17. Chipping Sparrow (27%)
  18. Barn Swallow (24%)
  19. Gray Catbird (26%)
  20. Eastern Bluebird (27%)
  21. Eastern Towhee (25%)
  22. Downy Woodpecker (25%)
  23. House Finch (24%)
  24. Eastern Wood-Pewee (24%)
  25. Chimney Swift (20%)
  26. White-breasted Nuthatch (20%)


How do birds differ between seasons?

In winter Carolina Chickadees, White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos  are more common.

In summer American Robins, American Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings, Common Grackles, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-eyed Vireos, Chipping Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, Eastern Wood-Pewees and Chimney Swifts are more common.




Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Virginia


1. Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

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


Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixaby


Range in Virginia: Northern Cardinals are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.

They are found 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.


2. American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

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


Photo of American Crow
American Crow. Greg Gillson


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

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.


3. Carolina Wren

Thryothorus ludovicianus

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


Photo of Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren. theSOARnet from Pixabay


Range in Virginia: Carolina Wrens are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


4. Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

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


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


Range in Virginia: Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


5. Carolina Chickadee

Poecile carolinensis

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


Photo of Carolina Chickadee on bird feeder
Carolina Chickadee. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay


Range in Virginia: Carolina Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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. 

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.


6. Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata

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


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


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

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.

Found 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.


7. Tufted Titmouse

Baeolophus bicolor

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


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


Range in Virginia: Tufted Titmouses are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


8. American Robin

Turdus migratorius

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


Photo of American Robin
American Robin. Greg Gillson


Range in Virginia: American Robins are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


9. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

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


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


Range in Virginia: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


10. American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

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


Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson


Range in Virginia: American Goldfinches are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


11. Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens

This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.


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


Range in Virginia: Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


12. Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia

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


Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson


Range in Virginia: Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


13. European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

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


Photo of European Starling
European Starling. Greg Gillson


Range in Virginia: European Starlings are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


14. Northern Mockingbird

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.


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


Range in Virginia: Northern Mockingbirds are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


15. White-breasted Nuthatch

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.


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


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

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.


16. Eastern Bluebird

Sialia sialis

A beloved bird of open fields with trees and fence lines for perching.


Photo of an Eastern Bluebird on a nest box
Eastern Bluebird. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in Virginia: Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than House Finches. Much smaller than starlings. About length of White-crowned Sparrow but differently proportioned. 

Shape: Chunky, large head, short tail. 

Bill: Straight, fairly slender, curved at tip. 

Color: Males are brilliant blue above (including wings and tail), rusty orange below with white belly and under tail. Females are often much paler, almost grayish.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in pasture, fields, golf courses, open woodland edges. 

They are resident in most of eastern US, highlands of Middle America. In summer reach northernmost eastern US and southernmost eastern Canada, withdrawing somewhat in winter. 

They readily use nest boxes, but the entrance hole must be smaller than the head of a starling, and without a perch.

Food and feeder preference: They eat flying insects primarily, but also other invertebrates and berries. They will eat mealworms at your feeder and frequent birdbaths.


17. White-throated Sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis

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


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


Range in Virginia: White-throated Sparrows are winter visitors throughout Virginia.

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.


18. House Finch

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.


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


Range in Virginia: House Finches are year-round residents throughout Virgina.

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.


19. Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula

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


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


Range in Virginia: Common Grackles are year-round residents throughout Virginia.

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.


20. Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

These birds were formerly lumped with Spotted Towhee as one species, Rufous-sided Towhee. Together they were found across the United States, they now split the country in half, east and west.


Photo of Eastern Towhee in branches
Eastern Towhee. Skeeze from Pixabay.


Range in Virginia: Eastern Towhees are year-round residents throughout most of Virginia, summer residents only in the higher mountains in the northwestern part of the state.

Identification:

Size: Just a bit larger than a White-crowned Sparrow.

Shape: Chunky or pot-bellied with a big round head and full rounded tail.

Bill: Stout and conical.

Color: Black hood and upper parts, including tail. White wing path. White tail corners. Rusty sides. White belly. Females replace the black with dark brown.

Habitat, range & behavior: Brushy woodland edges. Tangles.

Breeds throughout the eastern United States and adjacent southernmost Canada. Northern populations migrate out of the northern US to the Southeast.

These birds spend much of their time on the ground, kicking up leaf litter with both feet in a hop-kick.

Food and feeder preference: These birds eat a wide variety of insects, beetles, berries, and seeds. They will feed on the ground under your feeder or on platform feeders. They like black oil sunflower seeds and other seeds.


21. Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

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


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


Range in Virginia: Northern Flickers are year-round residents in Virginia.

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.


22. Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

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


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


Range in Virginia: Dark-eyed Juncos are winter visitors throughout Virginia, a few are found year-round along the extreme western border of the state.

Identification: 

Size: Small birds about the size of House Finch. 

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

Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. 

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

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

Breeds across most of Canada, Alaska, and the western half of the United States. Winters from southern Canada and all of the lower 48-states to extreme northern Mexico. 

Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground.

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

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


23. Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

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


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


Range in Virginia: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout Virginia, they are year-round residents in the southeastern part of the state.

Identification: 

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

Shape: Plump and fairly long-tailed. 

Bill: Short and conical. 

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

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

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

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

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


24. House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

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


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


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

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.


25. Indigo Bunting

Passerina cyanea

Don't mistake Indigo Buntings for the larger Blue Grosbeak. As the name suggests, the grosbeak has a much larger and thicker bill, along with rusty wing bars, lacking in Indigo Buntings.


Photo of Indigo Bunting in tree
Indigo Bunting. Greg Gillson.


Range in Virginia: Indigo Buntings are summer residents throughout Virginia.

Identification:

Size: These birds are a bit smaller than a House Sparrow.

Shape: Plump. Large round head. Medium short tail.

Bill: Large and conical.

Color: Males are deep blue. Females are pale gray-brown with diffuse streaks below.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands and clearings. Country farm roads.

They are found in the East and parts of the Southwest, north to southern Canada.

Sing from the tallest tip of tree or telephone lines, a cheerful paired bouncy song very similar to American Goldfinch. In fact, they are sometimes called "blue goldfinches" because of this!

Food and feeder preference: These birds will eat seeds from hopper feeders, perhaps more so in the late spring when they first arrive during migration.


26. Red-eyed Vireo

Vireo olivaceus

This is one of the most common songbirds in eastern woodlands.


Photo of Red-eyed Vireo in tree
Red-eyed Vireo. Greg Gillson.


Range in Virginia: Red-eyed Vireos are summer residents throughout Virgina.

Size: Small, about the size of an American Goldfinch. Smaller than a House Finch.

Shape: Long and slim, but with rather short tail. Big-looking head.

Bill: Longer, stout. Pointed but small hook on end, as all vireos.

Color: They are olive-green above, white or with a hint of yellow below. Gray crown, bordered bp>y black line, white eyebrow, and another thin black line through red eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: Tall deciduous trees, such as cottonwoods.

Breed across Canada, the Rocky Mountains and most of the East. Absent from much of the West and Southwest.

As with many vireos, they sing persistently through the summer and through the heat of the day, not just primarily during spring and at dawn as many other songbirds.

Food and feeder preference: They eat insects and will not come to feeders.


27. Gray Catbird

Dumatella carolinensis

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


Photo of Gray Catbird in juniper
Gray Catbird. Greg Gillson


Range in Virginia: Gray Catbirds are summer residents throughout Virginia, they are year-round residents in the eastern lowlands.

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.


28. Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

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


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


Range in Virginia: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout Virginia.

Identification: 

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

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

Bill: Short, wide. 

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

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

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

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

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


29. Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens

Eastern Wood-Pewees and Western Wood-Pewees appear very similar. Their ranges nearly splits the continent in half, east and west. Their song separates them; it is a clear whistled pee-a-wee in the Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a burry pee-yeear in the Western Wood-Pewee.


Photo of Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Wood-Pewee. Tony Castro CC 4.0

Range in Virginia: Eastern Wood-Pewees are summer residents throughout Virginia.

Identification:

Size: Bigger than a House Finch; smaller than a bluebird.

Shape: Upright posture. Large head. Thick chest. Long tail. Long wings.

Bill: Medium length, wide at base. Black above; yellow-orange below.

Color: Grayish-olive above, slight yellow tinge below (looks white in strong light). Pale wing bars. No eye ring.

Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands. Large shade trees in town.

Summer resident in the East, from southern Canada southward.

These flycatchers tend to perch on a dead twig high in the canopy. They sing throughout the day, attracting attention to this otherwise quite drab and nondescript bird.

Food and feeder preference: These birds feed on flying insects and do not come to feeders.


30. Chimney Swift

Chaetura pelagica

Swifts have such small weak feet that they cannot perch on wires or trees like swallows. Look for them high in the air chasing bugs with rapid wingbeats. 


Photo of Chimney Swift Jim McCulloch CC 2.0
Chimney Swift. Jim McCulloch CC 2.0


Range in Virginia: Chimney Swifts are summer residents throughout Virginia.

Identification:

Size: Small bird. Smaller than House Finches or Cliff Swallows.

Shape: Small head on short neck, very short tail. Thin pointed wings with no apparent bend at the wrist as most other birds.

Bill: Very short, wide.

Color: Gray-brown throughout.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open sky, above forests or residential areas.

They are summer residents east of the Rockies from southern Canada southward. They do not winter in the United States.

In fall migration they form large flocks of hundreds or thousands and swirl into large chimneys at dusk. Because the upper arm is so short as to barely exist, the flight of swifts is described as rapid and twinkly, not smooth and graceful as swallows.

Food and feeder preference: Insects caught on the wing. Will not visit feeders.




Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Virginia


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 Virginia birds in winter (December to February):
Canada Goose (30% frequency)
Turkey Vulture (24%)
Ring-billed Gull (23%)
Mallard (23%)

Watch for these additional common Virginia birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (25% frequency)
Turkey Vulture (25%)

Watch for these additional common Virginia birds in spring (April to May):
Turkey Vulture (31% frequency)
Red-winged Blackbird (31%)
Canada Goose (30%)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (27%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (26%)
Tree Swallow (23%)
Mallard (20%)




Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Virginia Beach, Virginia


American Crow. Greg Gillson


The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Virginia Beach with the birds of the state as a whole.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Virginia Beach:
Northern Cardinal (41% frequency)
American Crow (38%)
Carolina Chickadee (34%)
Carolina Wren (33%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (27%)
Mourning Dove (25%)
American Robin (25%)
Northern Mockingbird (25%)
Blue Jay (21%)
Song Sparrow (20%)

The coastal influence is obvious (Double-crested Cormorant is the most common bird overall at 42% frequency; Great Blue Heron, Osprey, and Great Black-backed Gull are all very common).

Many common species in the state as a whole are not nearly as common in Virginia Beach. These include Tufted Titmouses, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, Downy Woodpeckers, European Starlings, and several others. Perhaps there are no major parks or woodlands within the town?




Beyond your backyard


To create this page on the backyard birds in Virginia 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 95 counties in Virginia, plus 38 independent cities. There are bird lists for each. The county with the most birds recorded is Northampton County with 414 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Manassas Park with 94 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 Virginia, 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!




Read next: Get started watching birds! Bird watching tips and equipment for beginners.

Feeding winter birds in Virginia





You may enjoy these other articles:

My review of the Nikon Monarch 7 8x42: I recommend these as the best binoculars under $500

My review of the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42: I recommend these as the best binoculars under $200

Would you like me to set up your bird feeding station for you? Here are my recommendations for you!

Learn about the 7 different kinds of bird feeders and the different birds they attract

How to identify birds: 7 Steps to accurately identify birds




4 comments:

  1. Nice blog Greg! I found this helpful with identifying some of the common birds I've seen around Virginia

    ReplyDelete
  2. American Crows and Fish Crows are not the same. Virginia Beach is mostly Fish Crows.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Daisy James. You are right, along the coast Fish Crows are more common than American Crows. Inland it is the other way around.

      Delete

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

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