Friday, September 6, 2019

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

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Washington are these:
  1. American Robin (45% frequency)
  2. Song Sparrow (42%)
  3. American Crow (35%)
  4. Black-capped Chickadee (33%)
  5. Dark-eyed Junco (33%)
  6. European Starling (30%)
  7. Northern Flicker (30%)
  8. Spotted Towhee (29%)
  9. House Finch (23%)
  10. American Goldfinch (20%)
These birds occur on more than 20% of the eBird checklists for the state


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


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 Seattle with the birds of the state as a whole.



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


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 Washington in winter (December to February) are these:
1. Song Sparrow (42% frequency)
2. Dark-eyed Junco (42%)
3. Black-capped Chickadee (37%)
4. American Crow (34%)
5. American Robin (33%)
6. Northern Flicker (30%)
7. Spotted Towhee (29%)
8. European Starling (28%)
9. House Finch (22%)
10. Anna's Hummingbird (21%)

The most common backyard birds in Washington in summer (June to July) are these:
1. American Robin (58% frequency)
2. Song Sparrow (41%)
3. American Crow (33%)
4. American Goldfinch (31%)
5. Spotted Towhee (31%)
6. Barns Swallow (30%)
7. Black-capped Chickadee (29%)
8. European Starling (27%)
9. Violet-green Swallow (26%)
10. Dark-eyed Junco (26%)
11. Northern Flicker (26%)
12. Cedar Waxwing (26%)
13. Swainson's Thrush (24%)
14. House Finch (22%)
15. White-crowned Sparrow (21%)
16. Black-headed Grosbeak (21%)

How do birds differ in frequency between winter and summer?

In winter Dark-eye Juncos and Black-capped Chickadees are more common.

In summer American Robins, American Goldfinches, Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, Swainson's Thrushes, White-crowned Sparrows and Black-headed Grosbeaks are more common.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Washington


Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. American Robin (45%)
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 Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. Song Sparrow (42%)
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 American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gillson
3. American Crow (35%)
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 Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee
Photo by Greg Gillson
4. Black-capped Chickadee (33%)
Poecile atricapillus
This is a common backyard bird in the northern half of the United States.
Identification: Size: Chickadees are small birds, the same general size as an American Goldfinch. Shape: Round body, big round head, long tail with rounded tip. Bill: Short, straight, stout. Color: Gray above, buffy below. Black cap and bib with white lower face. White edges on wing feathers. Habitat, range & behavior: Deciduous and mixed forests. They range from the northern half of the United States, southern half of Canada, and most of Alaska. Small flocks flit actively from tree to tree acrobatically gleaning insects from twig tips. In winter chickadees make up the core of mixed-species flocks also containing nuthatches, kinglets, creepers, woodpeckers and others. Food and feeder preference: Seeds, insects, berries. They eat at tube, hopper and tray feeders. They love black oil sunflower seeds and suet.

Dark-eyed Junco on a branch
Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Greg Gillson
5. Dark-eyed Junco (33%)
Junco hyemalis
Colloquially called "snow birds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.
Identification: Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over 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.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson
6. European Starling (30%)
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 Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. Northern Flicker (30%)
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.

Photo of a Spotted Towhee on a rock
Spotted Towhee
Greg Gillson
8. Spotted Towhee (29%)
Pipilo maculatus
Look for this bird scratching in the leaf litter under bushes at the edge of your yard.
Identification: Size: A large sparrow, slightly larger than a White-crowned Sparrow. Larger than a House Finch. Smaller than a starling. Shape: A plump, large-headed sparrow with a full rounded tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical. Color: Black above including hood. Variable number of white spots on back and wings depending upon location. White tail corners. White belly. Rusty orange sides. Red eye. Females paler, more brownish. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in brushy areas, chaparral, mountain forest understory. Found throughout the western half of the United States, mountains of Mexico. In summer to southwestern Canada. In winter to Texas. Food and feeder preference: Insects, seeds, and berries. At your birdfeeder will eat seeds on ground or platform feeder.

Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
9. House Finch (23%)
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 American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson
10. American Goldfinch (20%)
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."



Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Washington


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 Washington birds in winter (December to February):
Mallard (34% frequency)
Bufflehead (31%)
Bald Eagle (26%)
Glaucous-winged Gull (22%)
Double-crested Cormorant (22%)
Canada Goose (21%)
American Wigeon (20%)
Red-tailed Hawk (20%)
Great Blue Heron (20%)

Watch for these additional common Washington birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (23% frequency)
Mallard (20%)

Watch for these additional common Washington birds in spring (April to May):
Mallard (36% frequency)
Red-winged Blackbird (36%)
Canada Goose (30%)
Tree Swallow (22%)
Bald Eagle (21%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (20%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Seattle, Washington


Photo of Steller's Jay in the grass
Steller's Jay is a common bird in Seattle.
Photo by Greg Gillson
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Seattle with the birds of the state as a whole. Seattle is in King County. I will use the data for King County to represent the birds in the Seattle area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Seattle:
American Crow (60% frequency)
Black-capped Chickadee (55%)
American Robin (54%)
Song Sparrow (52%)
Dark-eyed Junco (42%)
Spotted Towhee (40%)
Anna's Hummingbird (39%)
Northern Flicker (39%)
Bewick's Wren (32%)
House Finch (31%)
European Starling (28%)
Steller's Jay (26%)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (23%)
American Goldfinch (23%)
Bushtit (21%)

Because Seattle is in the wetter western 1/3 of the state there are several birds of the temperate rain forest on this list that are more common than in the state as a whole. These birds include Bewick's Wrens, Steller's Jays, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. American Crows are the most common bird in this area adjacent to Puget Sound.



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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