Friday, November 1, 2019

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

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Colorado are these:
  1. American Robin (38% frequency)
  2. Northern Flicker (33%)
  3. House Finch (32%)
  4. Black-billed Magpie (29%)
  5. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)
  6. American Crow (25%)
  7. European Starling (24%)
  8. Mourning Dove (22%)
  9. Eurasian Collared-Dove (22%)
  10. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
These birds occur on more than 20% of eBird checklists for the state.


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


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 Denver with the birds of the state as a whole.



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


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 Colorado in winter (December to February) are these:
House Finch (35% frequency)
Dark-eyed Junco (35%)
Black-billed Magpie (33%)
Northern Flicker (33%)
American Crow (29%)
European Starling (23%)
American Robin (22%)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (22%)

The most common backyard birds in Colorado in summer (June to July) are these:
American Robin (50% frequency)
Mourning Dove (34%)
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (32%)
Northern Flicker (28%)
House Wren (28%)
House Finch (27%)
Black-billed Magpie (24%)
Barn Swallow (23%)
Western Meadowlark (21%)
American Crow (20%)
Common Grackle (20%)

How do birds differ between winter and summer?

Dark-eyed Juncos are more common in winter.

American Robins, Mourning Doves, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, House Wrens, Barn Swallows are more common in summer.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Colorado


Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. American Robin (38%)
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 Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. Northern Flicker (33%)
Colaptes auratus
Of all the bird identification questions I get asked, this common larger backyard bird is the bird most people ask about. It doesn't occur to those unfamiliar with it that this could be a woodpecker. Identification: Size: About the size of a Mourning Dove. Larger than a robin. Shape: Stocky with short legs, short tail, big head. Bill: As long as head, thin, slightly curved. Color: Back is brown with black bars. Under parts pinkish with black spots. Undersides of black wing and tail feathers are bright salmon red (West) or yellow (East). Head gray (West) or brown (East) and males with red (West) or black (East) whisker marks and nape marks (East). Black crescent across chest. White rump seen in flight. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in woodland edges and forests. Year-round resident from extreme southern Canada, across all of the lower-48 states and in the mountains of Mexico and Middle America. In summer breeds northward well into Canada and Alaska. Frequently noted hopping on ground pecking in the ground for insects. In late spring, males proclaim their territory by rapid pounding on a hollow tree branch, though the ringing of metal downspouts at dawn is louder and carries much farther, to the exasperation of anyone trying to sleep inside! Food and feeder preference: Ants and beetles are their primary foods. Will eat black oil sunflower seeds and are attracted to suet.

Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
3. House Finch (32%)
Haemorhous mexicanus
Originally a bird of the West, now found across most of the US. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 6 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Larger than goldfinches and chickadees. Smaller than a White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Medium build with a medium-long notched tail. Round head. Bill: Short, conical. Color: Brown and gray above with streaks on the sides of the pale underparts. Males with red (sometimes orange or rarely yellow) crown, chest, rump. Habitat, range & behavior: You'll find small flocks on wires, in short tree tops and in bushes. Originally deserts and grasslands. Rural areas and towns are where they're now most common. Formerly found in the western United States and Mexico. Then introduced into the northeastern United States, but now found in nearly all of the lower-48 states and extreme southern Canada. Rare in plains states (Dakotas to Texas) and southern Florida. House Finches are not territorial, but males sing throughout the year--a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes. Food and feeder preference: They love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

Photo of Black-billed Magpie foraging on the ground
Black-billed Magpie
Photo by Greg Gillson
4. Black-billed Magpie (29%)
Pica hudsonia
This large flashy bird with a long tail is a ranchland bird in the West. The only similar bird in North America is the Yellow-billed Magpie of the Central Valley of California.
Identification: Size: About the size of an American Crow, but with a longer tail. Shape: Thick neck, large head, strong legs. A very long pointed tail; the distance from the base of the tail to the tip of the tail is nearly as long as from the base of the tail to the tip of the bill. Wings are broad and rounded at the tips. Bill: Stout, nearly as long as head. Color: Black head, breast, back. White shoulders and belly. Wings black above with bluish or greenish sheen; most of the primaries are white. Tails is blackish with an iridescent blue-green sheen. Habitat, range & behavior: Magpies are found in dry open country, ranches, farms, scattered open pine lands and riparian thickets. They are residents from southern Alaska to the Great Basin and Great Plains to the Dakotas and south to New Mexico. Fly with slow wing beats and deep wing strokes displaying large white wing patches. Social. Perch on fence posts. Forage on ground. Calls are noisy, raspy, querulous "yak?" Food and feeder preference: Omnivore as crows, eating carrion, berries, seeds, nuts, human garbage, pet food. Birders generally don't want this species at their bird feeders. Locals often view these birds as pests.

Photo of Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee
Photo by Greg Gillson
5. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)
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
6. American Crow (25%)
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 European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. European Starling (24%)
Sturnus vulgaris
Introduced to North America in the late 1800's, they crossed the continent, often to the detriment of native cavity-nesting birds. The prime example of an invasive species.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 8-1/2 inches from bill tip to tail tip. About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring. Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. Native range is Europe to Pakistan, north Africa. Often viewed as a pest, starlings often bully other backyard birds, taking over bird feeders, and stealing nest cavities from smaller native birds. In winter they can form into flocks of ten's of thousands. Food and feeder preference: Primarily insects when available, often feeding on the ground. Discourage them from your backyard hopper and tray feeders by never feeding birds table scraps (including bread or meat). They have weak feet and do not perch well on tube feeders. A cage mesh around smaller hopper feeders may keep them out.

Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
8. Mourning Dove (22%)
Zenaida macroura
Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.
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.

Photo of Eurasian Collared-Dove on a metal pole
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
9. Eurasian Collared-Dove (22%)
Streptopelia decaocto
Eurasian Collared-Doves are a rather new addition to the North American avifauna. The spread from introductions in the Bahamas to Florida in the 1980's and continue to spread across the continent in a general northwestern direction. They build up a large local population over a couple of years then fly hundreds of miles to set up new outposts, gradually backfilling.
Identification: Size: Larger than Mourning Doves. Shape: Stocky dove with a full square tail. Bill: Small and rather slender. Color: Cream colored with darker primaries. The underside of the base of the tail is blackish with a wide whitish tip. It has a black collar on the hind-neck. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in residential neighborhoods and farmlands. Native to Eurasia. In North America has expanded explosively in past 3 decades. Florida to northern Mexico and north to southern Canada. Not yet common in the Northeastern United States. Found on city power lines, poles, adjacent conifers. Social. Noisy, making "coo-coo cook" song and grating rasping call "ghaaaaa." Food and feeder preference: They eat primarily seeds and grains. Since the are so large they prefer to eat on large platform feeders or on the ground under feeders.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on snow-covered branch
Dark-eyed Junco
Image by skeeze from Pixabay
10. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
Junco hyemalis
Colloquially called "snow birds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.
Identification: Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over head, brown back, and pink sides. Habitat, range & behavior: Breed in coniferous forests. Winters widely. Avoids heavy brush, preferring widely spaced bushes. Breeds across most of Canada, Alaska, and the western half of the United States. Winters from southern Canada and all of the lower 48-states to extreme northern Mexico. Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground. Food and feeder preference: Eats mostly seeds, also insects in summer. Readily feed at backyard feeders on mixed seeds on hopper or tray feeders and ground.



Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Colorado


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 Colorado birds in winter (December to February):
Canada Goose (34% frequency)
Mallard (29%)
Red-tailed Hawk (25%)

Watch for these additional common Colorado birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (30% frequency)
Violet-green Swallow (22%)
Yellow Warbler (21%)
Mallard (20%)

Watch for these additional common Colorado birds in spring (April to May):
Red-winged Blackbird (44% frequency)
Mallard (38%)
Canada Goose (33%)
Red-tailed Hawk (22%)
Killdeer (22%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (20%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Denver, Colorado


Photo of a Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker is a common bird in Denver
Photo by Greg Gillson
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Denver with the birds of the state as a whole. Denver is in Denver County. I will use the data for Denver County to represent the birds in the Denver area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Denver.
Northern Flicker (44% frequency)
House Finch (41%)
American Crow (37%)
American Robin (36%)
European Starling (34%)
Rock Pigeon (34%)
Black-capped Chickadee (33%)
House Sparrow (27%)
Black-billed Magpie (22%)
Mourning Dove (20%)

Northern Flickers, American Crows, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons are more common in the Denver area than in the state as a whole.

Other common backyard species are similar in frequency between Denver and the rest 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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