Sunday, October 27, 2019

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

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Minnesota are these:
  1. Black-capped Chickadee (46% frequency)
  2. American Crow (42%)
  3. American Robin (35%)
  4. Blue Jay (30%)
  5. American Goldfinch (28%)
  6. Downy Woodpecker (28%)
  7. White-breasted Nuthatch (25%)
  8. Northern Cardinal (25%)
  9. Song Sparrow (22%)
These birds occur on more than 20% of eBird checklists for the state.


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


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 Minneapolis with the birds of the state as a whole.



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


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 Minnesota in winter (December to February) are these:
Black-capped Chickadee (53% frequency)
American Crow (41%)
Downy Woodpecker (33%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (29%)
Blue Jay (26%)
Hairy Woodpecker (23%)
Dark-eyed Junco (21%)
Northern Cardinal (20%)

The most common backyard birds in Minnesota in summer (June to July) are these:
American Robin (51% frequency)
Song Sparrow (44%)
American Goldfinch (41%)
American Crow (37%)
Black-capped Chickadee (34%)
Chipping Sparrow (28%)
Mourning Dove (27%)
Blue Jay (26%)
Common Grackle (25%)
Barn Swallow (24%)
House Wren (24%)
Gray Catbird (23%)
Northern Cardinal (23%)
Red-eyed Vireo (22%)

How do birds differ between winter and summer?

Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers are more common in winter.

American Robins, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Barn Swallows, House Wrens, Red-eyed Vireos are more common in summer.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Minnesota


Photo of Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. Black-capped Chickadee (46%)
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.

Photo of American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. American Crow (42%)
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 American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson
3. American Robin (35%)
Turdus migratorius
This familiar bird is a resident in the northern half of the United States and a winter visitor in the southern half.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 10 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the same size as a Blue Jay or one of the Scrub-Jays. Larger than Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. Shape: Very plump with a fairly long tail. Bill: Straight and fairly slender, curved at the tip. Color: Gray-brown upperparts, rusty orange breast. Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands, farmlands, urban parks and lawns. Migratory, breeds north across Alaska and Canada. Resident in most of the United States (lower 48). Winters in the United States, Mexico, to central America. Hops on your lawn turning head this way and that looking for food. Their caroling song is one of the early signs of spring in the north. Food and feeder preference: Worms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.

Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay
Image by skeeze from Pixabay
4. Blue Jay (30%)
Cyanocitta cristata
A common and well-known bird in the eastern half of the United States.
Identification: Size: About that of American Robin. Shape: Fluffy, large crested head, ample tail. Large strong legs. Bill: Black, long and stout. Color: Blue above, white below. Black neck collar. White patches in wing. Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands and towns in the eastern half of the United States. In summer into southern Canada. Bold and brash. May bully smaller birds. Jays gulp lots of seeds or other food at once, storing it in their crop. Then they fly off and bury food items in a hidden cache. Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous. They can quickly empty your feeder! Because they are also aggressive toward other feeder birds, some people put mesh cages around smaller bird feeders. Small birds can go through, squirrels and larger "pest" birds are prevented entry. Some people feed jays peanuts, perhaps away from the seed feeders.

Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson
5. American Goldfinch (28%)
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."

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpecker
Photo by Greg Gillson
6. Downy Woodpecker (28%)
Dryobates pubescens
This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.
Identification: Size: Bigger than a junco or House Finch. Smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird. About the same size as a White-crowned Sparrow, but with a much shorter tail. Shape: Stocky with large head and short stiff tail. Bill: Short, chisel-shaped. Color: Black-and-white striped head. Black wings with white spots. Solid white black. White under parts. Black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. Male with small red spot at back of head. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in small deciduous trees, willows, and even weed stocks such as teasel, especially near water. Ranges coast-to-coast across all but northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska south to the southern US. Absent in the desert southwest. Interestingly, I learned today that the males may more often be found in smaller plants and twigs, while females are more likely on tree trunks. Food and feeder preference: Insects, fruits, and seeds. Gleans arthropods from the bark of trees. Attract with suet feeder. Will also eat black oil sunflower seeds.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch head-first down the tree
White-breasted Nuthatch
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. White-breasted Nuthatch (25%)
Sitta carolinensis
A favorite feeder bird for many for its active antics and fearlessness. Though a small bird it is the largest nuthatch in North America.
Identification: Size: About chickadee-sized in length. Smaller than a junco or House Finch. Shape: Appears large-headed, neckless, very short tailed. Short legs. Bill: Nearly as long as head, straight, thin. Color: Blue-gray above, white below. Black cap, wing tips, tail. Rusty feathers under tail. Habitat, range & behavior: Common in oak and oak-pine woodlands, wooded towns. Found across the United States, southern Canada, mountains of central Mexico. Absent from treeless grasslands, deserts in the west. Crawls over tree branches and head-first down tree trunks searching for insects. Food and feeder preference: Insects, seeds, acorns and other nuts. Love black oil sunflower seeds feeding on hopper and tray feeders. Suet blocks.

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixaby
8. Northern Cardinal (25%)
Cardinalis cardinalis
This is one of the most common and popular backyard birds in the eastern half of the United States.
Identification: Size: Cardinals are a bit smaller than American Robins, about the same size as Red-winged Blackbirds. Shape: Plump body with fairly long full tail. Wispy crest. Bill: Short, heavy, conical, pink. Color: That bright red color is matched by few other birds. Black face. The female is more gray, but with hints of red in wings and tail, and has a crest, too. Habitat, range & behavior: Cardinals are year-round residents in shrubby woodland edges from the eastern United States to Texas and Arizona south into Mexico. That large conical bill is made for chewing seeds. Watch them crack open sunflower seeds, spit out the hulls, and pluck the kernel with their tongues! Food and feeder preference: Black oil sunflower seeds. Many types of seeds, berries, nuts in larger hopper or tray feeders.

Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
9. Song Sparrow (22%)
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.



Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Minnesota


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 Minnesota birds in winter (December to February):
Red-bellied Woodpecker (16% frequency)
House Sparrow (16%)

Watch for these additional common Minnesota birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (42% frequency)
Common Yellowthroat (30%)
Mallard (23%)
Tree Swallow (22%)
Yellow Warbler (20%)

Watch for these additional common Minnesota birds in spring (April to May):
Red-winged Blackbird (48% frequency)
Mallard (43%)
Canada Goose (42%)
Tree Swallow (23%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (22%)
Wood Duck (21%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (20%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Minneapolis, Minnesota


Northern Cardinal is a common bird in Minneapolis.
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Minneapolis with the birds of the state as a whole. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County. I will use the data for Hennepin County to represent the birds in the Minneapolis area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Minneapolis.
Black-capped Chickadee (63% frequency)
Northern Cardinal (54%)
American Robin (49%)
American Crow (43%)
Downy Woodpecker (42%)
American Goldfinch (42%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (37%)
Blue Jay (36%)
Song Sparrow (27%)
House Sparrow (26%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (24%)
Hairy Woodpecker (23%)
House Finch (23%)

Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, American Robins, Downy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches are more common in Minneapolis than the state as a whole. Perhaps the urban area provides wintering birds with more food and water than other areas of the state.



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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