Sunday, October 27, 2019

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

I've put this resource together for you to answer the question: What birds are in my backyard in Minnesota? This article tells you what Minnesota 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 Minnesota bird identification of the most common birds native to Minnesota backyards.

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
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 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% frequency)

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.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Black-capped Chickadees.

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."

You may like my in-depth article on attracting American Goldfinches.

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.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Northern Cardinals.

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.

Here's a fun little photo quiz on the common birds of Minnesota. How many do you know?

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.

Beyond your backyard

To create this page on the backyard birds in Minnesota 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 ( 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 ( 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 87 counties in Minnesota. There are bird lists for each county. The county with the most birds recorded is St. Louis County with 351 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Wadena County with 214 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 Minnesota, 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.

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)

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.


  1. Greg, This was a VERY helpful article. I'm a Minnesota native and have returned after many years away. Your article proved to be a great resource as I determined what type of feeders and feed to purchase. Thanks much!

    1. Dear wonderful unknown person,

      Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I'm very grateful to hear that this was useful to you.

      I'm a Minnesota native myself, now far away in San Diego. It's been almost 50 years since I went back for a visit. Man, I'm getting old!

      Remember, stay away from bird seed with milo! (Read my other articles on choosing bird seed if you don't know why!)

  2. a million thanks Greg, fantastic work!

  3. Thanks so much for putting this together! My kids and I really enjoyed learning about the birds we see in our feeder.

    1. Thanks, Drew. I'm so glad this has been useful to you!

  4. Greg, I'm in east central part of Minnesota. I have a bird at my feeder that I can't identify. It's all gray with a black ring around its eyes. Smaller than a Robin, but bigger than a finch or chickadee. Any idea what it might be? I'm a novice birdwatcher and your article has been very helpful. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for stopping by.

      Tufted Titmouse is a chickadee-like bird (chunky with long tail), but slightly bigger. It is all gray but for a black mark on the forehead and encircling the eye. The crest is barely noticeable.

      The Gray Catbird is larger and fuller tailed, still smaller than a robin. It is gray with black cap on top of the head and darker full tail.

  5. Novice bird watcher too. We have a light black bird, size and shape of a cardinal that frequents our grape jelly bird dish.Have never heard a chip or song from it. What could it be?

    1. Could it be a Gray Catbird? They would eat jelly and be about the size of a cardinal with a full ample tail. Other actual blackbirds, grackles, and starlings would be larger and blacker birds.

      I don't have a photo of Gray Catbird on this Minnesota article, as it is not common all year. But it is listed there as one of the common birds in Minnesota backyards in summer.


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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