Thursday, October 31, 2019

32 Backyard Birds to Know | Kentucky

[2022 Rewrite]

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

This article lists and discusses the identification of the most common birds in your backyard. The birds chosen in this article are compiled from actual data from the citizen science program eBird. Thus, it is more accurate than some other similar articles you may find on the web. I provide pictures of each bird species mentioned. I tell how to attract them to your backyard.


These are the most common backyard birds in Kentucky:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. American Robin
  3. Blue Jay
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Carolina Chickadee
  6. Tufted Titmouse
  7. American Crow
  8. European Starling
  9. Carolina Wren
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  11. American Goldfinch
  12. Downy Woodpecker
  13. Song Sparrow
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch
  15. House Finch
  16. Red-winged Blackbird
  17. Common Grackle
  18. Northern Mockingbird
  19. Eastern Towhee
  20. White-throated Sparrow
  21. House Sparrow
  22. Eastern Bluebird
  23. Northern Flicker
  24. Brown-headed Cowbird
  25. Dark-eyed Junco
  26. Indigo Bunting
  27. Barn Swallow
  28. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  29. Chipping Sparrow
  30. Chimney Swift
  31. Eastern Kingbird
  32. Ruby-throated Hummingbird




What's in this article?

  • State overview of birds and bird watching in Kentucky
  • Photos and identification of common backyard birds
  • Most common birds by season
  • Common birds of Louisville, Kentucky



Kentucky Birds and Birding in Kentucky State


eBird lists over 390 types of birds as occurring in the state of Kentucky.

The most common bird in Kentucky: the most frequently seen bird in the state is Northern Cardinal. It is reported on 65%% of bird watching lists.

The official State Bird of Kentucky is Northern Cardinal.

If you are serious about knowing the birds native to Kentucky, then check out eBird for Kentucky. It has recent sightings and photos, illustrated checklists with weekly abundance bar charts for state, counties, and individual hotspots of the best birding locations.

If you want to know about other people interested in birds in your area, join a local bird group. The American Birding Association maintains a list of bird watching clubs for each state.



My other pages for birds in Kentucky:

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Kentucky

Feeding Winter Birds in Kentucky





Kentucky Bird Identification (Pictures of backyard birds of Kentucky)


This section is the species accounts. These are designed to help you to recognize birds you see in your backyard. I have used eBird to select the birds that are most common. “Common” means the birds seen most often throughout the year, not necessarily the most numerous.

Each species account starts with an image. I have tried to use my own personal photographs of each species, if I have them. But I've done my bird photography mostly in the West. Thus, I've had to rely on others for pictures of some common Eastern birds. I always make sure the bird images (mine and others) are correctly identified.

In the identification section I am using size and shape and bill type before considering the color or patterns on the birds. I find these more reliable when trying to identify an unknown bird. Pay attention to body and tail shape and especially bill shape of birds you see, not just plumage color.

I have written an article on how to identify birds, it is slightly different from other popular identification methods. Check it out if you wish: 7 Steps to Identify Birds.

In the section on bird feeders and foods I tell how to attract each species. Not all types of backyard birds will come to feeders. But all backyard birds can be attracted with water. So don't forget to add a birdbath to your bird feeding station.

Do you live in Eastern Kentucky? Western Kentucky? Northern Kentucky? Central Kentucky? To appear in this article, most birds are widely distributed throughout the state and are often year-round residents. However, for those birds that are more localized in place or time, I list the general region and seasonality. Please see the section following these species accounts for the lists of common species by season.

Even if a species is found in a general area, they occur only in the habitat they prefer. So, the exact habitat of your neighborhood is important for the presence of absence of certain kinds of birds.



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 Kentucky: Northern Cardinals are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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 grayer, 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.


2. 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 Kentucky: American Robins are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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: American Robins eat earthworms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.


3. 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 Kentucky: Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


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 Kentucky: Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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 Kentucky: Carolina Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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. 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 Kentucky: Tufted Titmice are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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. 

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


7. 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 Kentucky: American Crows are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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, American Crows 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.


8. 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 Kentucky: European Starlings are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. 

Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. 

Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. 

Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. 

Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. 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 tens of thousands.

Food and feeder preference: European Starlings eat 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.


9. 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 Kentucky: Carolina Wrens are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


10. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

This is one of the most common backyard 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 Kentucky: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


11. American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

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


Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson


Range in Kentucky: American goldfinches are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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 are 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.


12. 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 Kentucky: Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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 back. 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.


13. 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 Kentucky: Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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: Song Sparrows feed on seeds and insects near the ground. Will visit hopper and tray feeders for mixed bird seed.


14. 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 Kentucky: White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


15. House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus

These are one of the most common backyard birds in the United States. 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 Kentucky: House Finches are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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 treetops 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: House Finches love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

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


16. Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

These noisy flocking birds are most often found in marshes. But in winter they are found in backyards.


Photo of singing Red-winged Blackbird
Male Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Photo of female Red-winged Blackbird in tree
Female Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in Kentucky: Red-winged Blackbirds are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird.

Size: About 8-3/4 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the size of a Northern Cardinal. Smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Pot-bellied with a longer bill and flat forehead. Tail average.

Bill: Long and sharp pointed.

Color: Males are black with red and yellow shoulder patch. Females are streaked brown and rusty (sparrow-like but pointed bill and flat forehead).

Habitat, range, and behavior: Cattail marshes and wetlands are their summer habitat. In winter they feed in grain fields.

They breed across most of the North American continent. In winter they withdraw from most of Alaska and Canada.

They are found in colonies in summer and large flocks in winter.

Food and feeder preference: They eat insects in summer. In winter they eat grain and seeds. They visit feeders, more often in large winter flocks, and eat most seeds and suet.


17. 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 Kentucky: Common Grackles are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


18. Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglotos

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 Kentucky: Northern Mockingbirds are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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. 

They are found in eastern and southern parts of the US, West Indies, and south into Mexico.

They boldly defend their nests from other birds, cats, and intruders.

Food and feeder preference: Northern Mockingbirds eat 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.


19. 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 Kentucky: Eastern Towhees are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


20. 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 Kentucky: White-throated Sparrows are winter visitors throughout Kentucky.

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.


21. 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 Kentucky: House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


22. 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 Kentucky: Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

Identification: 

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

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.


23. 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 Kentucky: Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


24. Brown-headed Cowbird

Molothrus ater

Cowbirds are small blackbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other smaller birds, such as warblers. The adoptive parents raise their young!


Photo of Brown-headed Cowbird on stump
Brown-headed Cowbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in Kenticky: Brown-headed Cowbirds are year-round residents throughout Kentucky.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than White-crowned Sparrows, but smaller than Rose-breasted or Black-headed Grosbeaks. Smaller than other blackbirds, starlings, and grackles.

Shape: Perhaps a little bit pot-bellied. Medium length tail. Flat forehead as typical for blackbirds.

Bill: Rather thick and stout.

Color: Males are glossy black with rich brown head. Females are dusty gray-brown throughout. Long-held juvenile plumage similar to pale female, scaly, being fed by Yellow Warbler or Song Sparrow or a hundred other host species.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found in woodlands and farms. Also, with other blackbirds in winter at shopping center parking lots.

In summer they breed across Canada and most of the United States and Mexico. In winter they move south out of Canada and occupy both coasts and southeastern States in the US.

These small blackbirds join other flocks of blackbirds in cattle feedlots. You may see cowbirds riding on the backs of cattle, sheep, or horses. They originally rode on the backs of American bison on the Great Plains but expanded when forests were cut.

Food and feeder preference: Cowbirds eat grains, seeds, and insects. They will readily come to hopper and platform feeders. They are larger and more aggressive, so keep other birds from feeders and have a big appetite!


25. Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

Colloquially called "snowbirds," 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 Kentucky: Dark-eyed Juncos are winter visitors throughout Kentucky, year-round residents in southwest Kentucky.

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 their 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.


26. 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 Kentucky: Indigo Buntings are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


27. 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 Kentucky: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


28. Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens

Eastern Wood-Pewees and Western Wood-Pewees appear very similar. Their ranges nearly split 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 Kentucky: Eastern wood-Pewees are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


29. 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 Kentucky: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


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 Kentucky: Chimney Swifts are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

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.


31. Eastern Kingbird

Tyrannus tyrannus

These birds often build nests in trees that overhang streams.


Photo of Eastern Kingbird on weed stalk
Eastern Kingbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in Kentucky: Eastern Kingbirds are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a robin.

Shape: Fairly sleek. Perches upright with big puffy head, full tail.

Bill: Fairly long, wide at base,

Color: Black head. Black tail with white band at tip. Dark gray upper parts. White under parts.

Habitat, range & behavior: Farms, clearings in woodlands.

Found across Canada and in the United States east from the Rocky Mountains.

These birds perch on fence lines, tips of small trees. Sally out and snatch flying insects and return to perch.

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


32. Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris

This is the only hummingbird that breeds in the eastern half of the United States and Canada.


Photo of Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder
Ruby-throated Hummingbird. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.


Range in Kentucky: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are summer residents throughout Kentucky.

Identification:

Size: A tiny bird, much smaller than any other in the eastern US, except perhaps some other rare hummingbird.

Shape: The small body is chunky, with a big head, and short tail.

Bill: Very long and tubular, slightly down curved.

Color: Metallic green above, white below with scattered green or gray feathers. Male with glimmering ruby red throat that is black unless it refracts sunlight at just the right angle.

Habitat, range & behavior: They find flowers at forest edges and flower gardens.

They summer in the eastern US and southern Canada, east of the Rocky Mountains. Some winter in from the coast of the Carolinas to Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

Darting flight on a blur of wings that buzz when they flap so fast! They feed by poking their long bill into flowers.

Food and feeder preference: They drink flower nectar from tubular flowers using their long brush-tipped tongue. They also feed on spiders and small flying insects. They are readily attracted to hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water.





Common Birds in Kentucky (Lists of most common feeder birds and most common backyard birds by season)


To determine how common each species is I used the data from actual bird sightings from the citizen science program eBird. Birds are listed by frequency. That is, how often the species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird (a percentage).

When choosing the birds to include in this article I leaned strongly to birds that are present throughout the year in good numbers. Thus, many of the common birds are year-round residents. This means that they live in the same location all year. They raise their young in your neighborhood. They don't migrate. Or if the species does migrate, the ones living in your area don't. If this is the case, some migrants may move into your area during certain times of year, adding to the same species that are in your yard full time.

Some migrant birds visit your yard during the “summer.” Often, they arrive in spring and remain until late fall. They nest and raise their young in your neighborhood. These are the summer residents.

Other migrant birds visit your backyard during the “winter.” Some of these winter visitors may arrive in July and remain into April. Others may only be found in the cold of December or January. They key here is that they nest and raise their young somewhere else. They only visit your yard in the non-breeding season.

Migration is an amazing spectacle. There will be birds that fly through your region in spring or fall (or both). They may visit your backyard only a few days or weeks a year. They aren't regular enough, or stay long enough, to be included in this article. But the number of briefly visiting migrant birds could double the number of species presented here. You may see them over time. Consult checklists in eBird for your county to see what is possible.

I have generally excluded common waterfowl, birds of prey, shorebirds, seabirds, and others that aren't usually found in residential areas. But they may certainly fly over or be seen regularly if your home is on a shoreline, for instance.



Most common backyard birds in Kentucky throughout the year


The following list is the backyard birds that are, on average, 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 Kentucky, in order, are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (65% frequency)
  2. American Robin (50%)
  3. Blue Jay (49%)
  4. Mourning Dove (49%)
  5. Carolina Chickadee (46%)
  6. Tufted Titmouse (43%)
  7. American Crow (42%)
  8. European Starling (39%)
  9. Carolina Wren (39%)
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker (39%)
  11. American Goldfinch (38%)
  12. Downy Woodpecker (37%)
  13. Song Sparrow (34%)
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch (26%)
  15. House Finch (25%)
  16. Red-winged Blackbird (25%)
  17. Common Grackle (23%)
  18. Northern Mockingbird (23%)
  19. Eastern Towhee (20%)
  20. White-throated Sparrow (20%)
  21. House Sparrow (20%)
  22. Eastern Bluebird (19%)
  23. Northern Flicker (16%)
  24. Brown-headed Cowbird (16%)



Most common backyard birds in Kentucky 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 of how often each species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


The most common backyard birds in Kentucky in winter (December through February) are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (61% frequency)
  2. Carolina Chickadee (48%)
  3. Blue Jay (43%)
  4. Mourning Dove (43%)
  5. Tufted Titmouse (42%)
  6. European Starling (40%)
  7. Downy Woodpecker (39%)
  8. American Crow (38%)
  9. American Robin (37%)
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker (37%)
  11. Carolina Wren (35%)
  12. Song Sparrow (34%)
  13. American Goldfinch (33%)
  14. White-throated Sparrow (32%)
  15. Dark-eyed Junco (31%)
  16. House Finch (28%)
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch (26%)
  18. Northern Mockingbird (23%)
  19. House Sparrow (20%)



Most common backyard birds in Kentucky in summer


The following list is the backyard birds that are most common in summer (June and July). 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 Kentucky in summer (June and July) are these:

  1. Northern Cardinal (68% frequency)
  2. American Robin (60%)
  3. Mourning Dove (58%)
  4. Blue Jay (44%)
  5. Indigo Bunting (43%)
  6. American Goldfinch (43%)
  7. American Crow (39%)
  8. Carolina Wren (39%)
  9. Tufted Titmouse (39%)
  10. Song Sparrow (37%)
  11. Red-winged Blackbird (37%)
  12. Common Grackle (36%)
  13. European Starling (35%)
  14. Carolina Chickadee (35%)
  15. Red-bellied Woodpecker (32%)
  16. Barn Swallow (31%)
  17. Downy Woodpecker (28%)
  18. Northern Mockingbird (27%)
  19. House Finch (26%)
  20. Eastern Towhee (25%)
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird (25%)
  22. Eastern Wood-Pewee (24%)
  23. White-breasted Nuthatch (23%)
  24. Chipping Sparrow (23%)
  25. Chimney Swift (23%)
  26. Eastern Kingbird (22%)
  27. House Sparrow (22%)
  28. Eastern Bluebird (21%)
  29. Ruby-throated Hummingbird (21%)





Common Backyard Birds of Louisville, Kentucky


Photo of a Song Sparrow sitting on a bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson

The following list uses eBird data to create a list of common backyard birds in Louisville. The city of Louisville is in Jefferson County. I will use the data for Jefferson County to represent the birds of the Louisville area.


Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Louisville:

  1. Northern Cardinal (67% frequency)
  2. American Robin (60%)
  3. Mourning Dove (52%)
  4. Blue Jay (51%)
  5. Carolina Chickadee (51%)
  6. Song Sparrow (45%)
  7. European Starling (44%)
  8. Tufted Titmouse (44%)
  9. Downy Woodpecker (43%)
  10. American Goldfinch (42%)
  11. Carolina Wren (41%)
  12. Red-bellied Woodpecker (39%)
  13. American Crow (33%)
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch (29%)
  15. House Finch (28%)
  16. Eastern Towhee (22%)
  17. White-throated Sparrow (21%)
  18. Common Grackle (20%)
  19. Northern Mockingbird (20%)



The birds in Louisville are very similar to the birds in the rest of the state, with these differences.

Song Sparrows are more common in Louisville than in the state as a whole.

American Crows are more common generally in Kentucky than they are in Louisville.





Related:

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Kentucky

Feeding Winter Birds in Kentucky


Please also check out my recommended products page. There I maintain a list of the best feeders, bird foods, binoculars, bird baths, fountains, books and other bird watching items.





9 comments:

  1. Hey so I’ve seen a white dove and I’ve been curious as to what type of bird it was it has a wide breast and is abnormally big and is pure white it has broad wings and it has been perched for about an hour or so and is still there. Anyway I would love to know what type of bird it is, Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings, Amelia.

      Most likely it is a Eurasian Collared-Dove. They are usually creamy ("coffee with cream"), but some individuals can be much paler. They show dark under tail coverts and a broad creamy tip to the tail. They entered the US in 1983 and quickly expanded across the continent.

      On the other hand, domestic pigeons can be entirely white. As I remember, there is a breed called King Pigeon which is big and pure white.

      Delete
    2. New to the Louisville Ky area (Florida transplant) I appreciate the info you have provided as I was unsure of some species and the info helped greatly. Thank You

      Delete
  2. We have small blackish birds tht blend to gray then to white on their belly or underside. Ive yet to see a pic or description of them for Western Ky but they're everywhere in my yard all winter long. Ive got pics of them but no one knows what they are!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jennifer.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Your birds are no doubt Dark-eyed Juncos of the race also known as Slate-colored Juncos.

      I have written a series of article on Dark-eyed Juncos.

      Start here:

      https://www.whatbirdsareinmybackyard.com/2019/08/attracting-dark-eyed-juncos-to-your-backyard-feeder.html

      Delete
  3. I've seeing a bird in my area, Lexington kentucky, that I cannot identify. At first I thought it was w mocking bird, but it doesn't sing like one and it's feathers a red. I've heard it making a short chirp and nothing else. Any ideas

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've seeing a bird in my area, Lexington kentucky, that I cannot identify. At first I thought it was w mocking bird, but it doesn't sing like one and it's feathers a red. I've heard it making a short chirp and nothing else. Any ideas

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. House Finches and Northern Cardinals are red.

      Check out my page:
      https://www.whatbirdsareinmybackyard.com/2019/10/what-birds-have-red-heads.html

      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?

--Greg--

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