Friday, November 8, 2019

24 Backyard Birds to Know | Idaho

[2022 Rewrite]

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

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 Idaho:

  1. American Robin
  2. Black-billed Magpie
  3. Northern Flicker
  4. European Starling
  5. House Finch
  6. Red-winged Blackbird
  7. Dark-eyed Junco
  8. Song Sparrow
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. Black-capped Chickadee
  11. American Goldfinch
  12. House Sparrow
  13. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  15. California Quail
  16. American Crow
  17. Pine Siskin
  18. White-crowned Sparrow
  19. Barn Swallow
  20. Western Tanager
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird
  22. Brewer's Blackbird
  23. Cedar Waxwing
  24. Chipping Sparrow





What's in this article?

  • State overview of birds and bird watching in Idaho
  • Photos and identification of common backyard birds
  • Most common birds by season
  • Common birds of Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Twin Falls, Pocatello, Idaho




Idaho Birds and Birding in Idaho State


eBird lists over 435 types of birds as occurring in the state of Idaho.

The most common bird of Idaho: the most frequently seen bird in the state is American Robin. It is reported on 39% of bird watching lists.

The official State Bird of Idaho is Mountain Bluebird.

If you are serious about knowing the birds native to Idaho, then check out eBird for Idaho. 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 Idaho:

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Idaho





Idaho Bird Identification (Pictures of backyard birds of Idaho)


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 north Idaho? Southern Idaho? Southeastern Idaho? Eastern Idaho? 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. 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 Idaho: American Robins are year-round residents in Idaho.

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.


2. Black-billed Magpie

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.


Photo of Black-billed Magpie foraging on the ground
Black-billed Magpie. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Black-billed Magpies are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


3. Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

This ant-eating woodpecker spends a lot of time hopping and probing on the ground. This behavior confuses many beginners who don't know what to make of the long bill, red wing linings, and white rump. When the males drum loudly on their downspouts at dawn in spring, then they know it's a woodpecker!


Photo of Northern Flicker on stump
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


4. 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 Idaho: European Starlings are year-round residents in Idaho.

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 ten's 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.


5. 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 Idaho: House Finches are year-round residents in southern and southwestern Idaho. Absent elsewhere.

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

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


6. 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 Idaho: Red-winged Blackbirds are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


7. 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 a railing
Dark-eyed Junco. Photo by Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Dark-eyed Juncos are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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 (those breeding in California and pictured above) have jet black hood over head, brown back, white belly and pink sides. Females paler.

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: Dark-eyed Juncos eat 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.


8. 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 Idaho: Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


9. 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 Idaho: Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


10. Black-capped Chickadee

Poecile atricapillus

This is a common backyard bird in the northern half of the United States.


Photo of Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson


Range in Idaho: Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


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 Idaho: American Goldfinches are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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. 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 Idaho: House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


13. Eurasian Collared-Dove

Streptopelia decaocto

These large pale pigeons have only been in the United States since invading Florida in 1983. But they have taken over much of the continent.


Photo of Eurasian Collared-Dove on shepherds hook
Eurasian Collared-Dove. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Eurasian Collared-Doves are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Large pigeon. Larger than Mourning Dove. Same size as domestic pigeon.

Shape: Full plump breast. Round head. Long square tail.

Bill: Small,.

Color: Cream-colored, may be slightly warmer brown on back or, conversely, may be nearly white. Black hind neck  mark. Broad white band at end of tail. From underneath when perched on wire, note the black base to the underside of the tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: These pigeons are found in residential areas and farmlands. Look for them perched on electric lines or in trees.

They are year-round residents in residential areas throughout almost all of the United States, except rare in the Northeast.

A pair of birds nest in one area nearly year-round, then build in numbers over a couple of  years. Then several birds from the group fly up to 500 miles and set up a new colony. In this way this species took over much of Europe in the last century, and most of North America, starting from Florida in 1983 (from birds escaped from or vagrant in Bahamas).

Food and feeder preference: Eat grain. Will eat all seeds at bird feeders. Large, hungry, and often visit feeders in groups.


14. Red-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta canadensis

These small birds are common in conifer groves and mountain forests.


Photo of Red-breasted Nuthatch on branch
Red-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Red-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than Black-capped Chickadees and American Goldfinches, larger than kinglets.

Shape: Compact body with large head on short neck. Stubby tail.

Bill: Fairly long and sharp-pointed.

Color: Dark blue-gray back and upper parts. Black crown and line through eye, showing long white eyebrow. White face and rusty underparts. Females paler.

Habitat, range & behavior: Conifer trees in forests and residential areas.

Found from Alaska and across Canada, mountains of Northeast and much of the West. Winter visitor south throughout most of the United States.

Crawls actively on bark on tree trunks and around smaller branches, often head-first down the tree.

Food and feeder preference: Eat insects and invertebrates. Cache nuts and seeds in fall to eat later in the winter. At feeders eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, other nuts from hopper and tube feeders, and suet.


15. California Quail

Callipepla californica

This is a common gamebird in the West.


Photo of California Quail on ground
California Quail. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: California Quail are year-round residents in western and south-central Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than a crow. Shorter, bill tip to tail tip than California Scrub-Jays, but that is because the quail have stubby bill and tail. The quail weigh 3 times as much!

Shape: Very plump with large breast and strong legs. Short tail. A group of feathers dangle over the forehead,

Bill: Very short, small and thick.

Color: Gray above with brown wings. Many black and white streaks and scaled bars.

Habitat, range, & behavior: They are found in sagebrush, chaparral, and brush, frequently in agricultural areas and adjacent residential areas.

They are found in eastern Washington, western Idaho, Oregon, the length of California and Baja California.

Ground dwellers, they walk or run between cover and feed in the open. They are usually found in small flocks.

Food and feeder preference: California Quail feed on seeds. They like large seed blocks on the ground.


16. 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 Idaho: American Crows are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

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.


17. Pine Siskin

Spinus pinus

These are streaky goldfinch-like birds. Often found in flocks. Irregularly, following a poor cone crop in the north, they move far south in winter, showing up well south of their usual winter range.


Photo of Pine Siskins in birdbath
Pine Siskin. Greg Gillson


Range in Idaho: Pine Siskins are year-round residents throughout most of Idaho, but winter visitors only in southwestern Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Tiny bird, the size of American Goldfinch. Smaller than other finches and sparrows.

Shape: Small round head. Short forked tail.

Bill: Short. Wide at the base, straight and sharply pointed.

Color: Heavily streaked with brown. Wing bars. Patches of yellow in wing and base of tail. Much individual variation from dull brown to brighter yellow.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Montane forests, conifer, birch, alder. Lowlands in winter.

Summers across Canada and the West into Mexico. Also breed from Midwest to Northeast states bordering Canada. Winters from southern Canada and throughout the United States, but varying in numbers from year-to-year in southern portions.

Feed in tree tops, often in large swirling flocks.

Food and feeder preference: Eat cone seeds. Love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeder. Love Niger seed at thistle feeders.


18. White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

A common winter visitor to backyards throughout the United States.


Photo of White-crowned Sparrow in Douglas-fir
White-crowned Sparrow. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: White-crowned Sparrows are summer residents in the panhandle and northern part of eastern Idaho. They are year-round residents in central and mid-western Idaho. They are winter visitors in southern Idaho.

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

Size: About 7 inches. A large sparrow near size of Spotted/Eastern towhee. Larger than House Finch. Smaller than Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. 

Shape: Longer plump body, round head, long tail. 

Bill: Short and conical. 

Color: Brown back, wings, tail, gray under parts, black-and-white striped crown. For their first year immature birds have tan and reddish-brown striped crowns.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open and shrubby areas. 

Various forms breed across the Arctic Canada and Alaska and in mountains in western Canada and the United States. 

They sing in spring migration as they move northward. Different populations have slightly different songs.

Food and feeder preference: White-crowned Sparrows eat weed seeds, grain, insects. Eat black oil sunflower seeds and other seeds on hopper and tray feeders.


19. 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 Idaho: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout Idaho.

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.


20. Western Tanager

Piranga ludoviciana

These beautiful birds migrate at night. In spring all that night's flying birds may stop when reaching a cold front. In a May morning dozens of birds may be found in hilltop backyards during such a  migratory "fall out."


Photo of Western Tanager on branch
Western Tanager. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Western Tanagers are summer residents throughout Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Bigger than White-crowned Sparrows. About the size of Spotted Towhees.

Shape: Rather plump. Large head and bill. Good sized tail.

Bill: Fairly long and pointed. Swollen in the middle.

Color: Males are bright yellow with black wings and tail. Red face. Females are either paler yellow or grayish with green-gray wings and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Conifer forests.

Breed from western Canada throughout western United States. Winters in southern Mexico.

Breeding males often call and sing from tops of tallest conifers. In migration across Great Basin may be found on fence lines, sagebrush.

Food and feeder preference: They eat primarily insects. They like fruit, such as oranges at feeders, and will bathe in bird baths.


21. 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 Idaho: Brown-headed Cowbirds are summer residents throughout Idaho.

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!


22. Brewer's Blackbird

Euphagus cyanocephalus

This blackbird is common in the West.


Photo of a Brewer's Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Brewer's Blackbirds are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

Identification: 

Size: The size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow. Smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Well proportioned. Somewhat pot bellied. Long tail. Flatter forehead profile.

Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Straight. Thick base.

Color: Males are shiny black, glossed with purple on head. Yellow eye. Females are dull gray with brown eyes.

Habitat, range, and behavior: They like open country, open woods, shores, towns, powerlines.

Resident in the West, also in Great Plains from Great Lakes westward in northern United States and southern Canada. In winter withdraw from Great Plains and winter across the southern United States from Florida to most of Mexico.

Form large flocks in winter. Often found in parking lots near fast food restaurants.

Food and feeder preference: Eat seeds, grain, and insects. Will come to platform feeders or feed on the ground for seeds, suet.


23. Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

Waxy red tips to the wing feathers give these birds their unique name. Maybe it's the fancy crest. Maybe it's the bandit mask. Maybe it's the yellow band at the tip of its tail. But these are one of my favorite birds.


Photo of Cedar Waxwing on branch
Cedar Waxwing. Greg Gillson.


Range in Idaho: Cedar Waxwings are year-round residents throughout Idaho.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than European Starling. Larger than House Sparrow.

Shape: Similar to European Starling. Rather stocky. Short, squared tail, but long under tail coverts. Large head. Pointed wings. Wispy crest.

Bill: Rather short, small, wide.

Color: Warm brown above with wispy crest. Black mask. Yellowish belly. White under tail coverts. Gray wings. Gray tail with yellow tip.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Deciduous woods, wooded streams and lakeshores, residential shade trees, fruit orchards.

Resident across the northern US. Summer resident in Canada. Winter visitor throughout all of US and Mexico.

Keep in tight flocks. Feed in trees and large bushes for berries. Fly catch over ponds and streams.

Food and feeder preference: Berries and flying insects. Usually don't come to feeders unless fruit like cherries offered but will visit bird baths.


24. 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 Idaho: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout Idaho.

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.





Common Birds in Idaho (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 Idaho 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 Idaho, in order, are these:

  1. American Robin (39% frequency)
  2. Black-billed Magpie (33%)
  3. Northern Flicker (29%)
  4. European Starling (28%)
  5. House Finch (28%)
  6. Red-winged Blackbird (26%)
  7. Dark-eyed Junco (26%)
  8. Song Sparrow (26%)
  9. Mourning Dove (25%)
  10. Black-capped Chickadee (22%)
  11. American Goldfinch (19%)
  12. House Sparrow (19%)
  13. Eurasian Collared-Dove (19%)
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch (16%)
  15. California Quail (15%)
  16. American Crow (14%)
  17. Pine Siskin (12%)
  18. White-crowned Sparrow (12%)



Most common backyard birds in Idaho 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 Idaho in winter (December through February) are these:

  1. Dark-eyed Junco (46% frequency)
  2. Black-billed Magpie (38%)
  3. Northern Flicker (35%)
  4. House Finch (33%)
  5. European Starling (27%)
  6. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)
  7. Song Sparrow (25%)
  8. American Robin (24%)
  9. House Sparrow (21%)
  10. Eurasian Collared-Dove (18%)
  11. American Goldfinch (18%)
  12. Mourning Dove (16%)
  13. Red-winged Blackbird (15%)
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch (15%)



Most common backyard birds in Idaho 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 Idaho in summer (June and July) are these:

  1. American Robin (53% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (33%)
  3. Red-winged Blackbird (29%)
  4. Song Sparrow (27%)
  5. European Starling (22%)
  6. American Goldfinch (21%)
  7. Black-billed Magpie (21%)
  8. Northern Flicker (21%)
  9. House Finch (20%)
  10. Barn Swallow (19%)
  11. Western Tanager (17%)
  12. Brown-headed Cowbird (17%)
  13. Brewer's Blackbird (17%)
  14. Black-capped Chickadee (16%)
  15. Cedar Waxwing (16%)
  16. House Sparrow (16%)
  17. Chipping Sparrow (16%)
  18. Eurasian Collared-Dove (16%)



American Robins, Mourning Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Western Tanagers, Brown-headed Cowbirds are more common in summer than in winter in Idaho.

Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees are more common in winter than in summer in Idaho.





Common Backyard Birds of Boise, Idaho


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

This list is accurate for nearby Meridian and Nampa.


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

  1. House Finch (50% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (42%)
  3. American Robin (38%)
  4. Black-billed Magpie (35%)
  5. Song Sparrow (33%)
  6. Red-winged Blackbird (33%)
  7. Northern Flicker (33%)
  8. European Starling (32%)
  9. Dark-eyed Junco (31%)
  10. House Sparrow (30%)
  11. American Goldfinch (28%)
  12. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)
  13. California Quail (24%)
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (23%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  15. American Crow (20%)



House Finches, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, American Goldfinches, California Quails, Lesser Goldfinches are more common in Boise, on average, than Idaho as a whole.





Common Backyard Birds of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho


The following list uses eBird data to create a list of common backyard birds in Coeur d'Alene. The city of Coeur d'Alene is in Kootenai County. I will use the data for Kootenai County to represent the birds of the Coeur d'Alene area.


Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Coeur d'Alene:

  1. American Robin (36% frequency)
  2. Black-capped Chickadee (33%)
  3. Song Sparrow (32%)
  4. Northern Flicker (29%)
  5. Red-breasted Nuthatch (27%)
  6. Dark-eyed Junco (22%)
  7. House Finch (18%)



Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches are more common in Coeur d'Alene, on average, than the state as a whole.

Black-billed Magpies, European Starlings, House Finches, Red-winged Blackbirds, Mourning Doves are less common in Coeur d'Alene, on average, than the state as a whole.





Common Backyard Birds of Twin Falls, Idaho


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


Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Twin Falls:

  1. American Robin (45% frequency)
  2. Black-billed Magpie (42%)
  3. European Starling (33%)
  4. Eurasian Collared-Dove (33%)
  5. House Finch (33%)
  6. Northern Flicker (27%)
  7. House Sparrow (27%)
  8. Mourning Dove (26%)
  9. Red-winged Blackbird (25%)
  10. Dark-eyed Junco (23%)
  11. Song Sparrow (23%)
  12. Rock Pigeon (20%)  Learn about this species on eBird



Black-billed Magpies, Eurasian Collared-Doves, House Sparrows are more common in Twin Falls, on average, than the state as a whole.





Common Backyard Birds of Pocatello, Idaho


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


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

  1. Black-billed Magpie (53% frequency)
  2. Dark-eyed Junco (50%)
  3. House Finch (46%)
  4. American Robin (46%)
  5. Black-capped Chickadee (42%)
  6. House Sparrow (36%)
  7. American Goldfinch (35%)
  8. Eurasian Collared-Dove (34%)
  9. European Starling (32%)
  10. Northern Flicker (31%)
  11. American Crow (26%)
  12. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (21%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  13. Mourning Dove (20%)
  14. Pine Siskin (19%)



Black-billed Magpies, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, House Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Eurasian Collared-Doves, American Crows are more common in Pocatello, on average, than the state as a whole.





Related: 

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Idaho

34 of the most common birds in the United States (with photos)






12 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! You did an excellent job and described all my birds. I did have California quail up till about a week ago in my backyard. Not sure where they all went. The only only thought to maybe add is the birds of prey that stalk the backyard as well! I have a kestrel and a couple different hawks. Take care. I appreciated the article..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, tearydawn, for taking the time to leave your nice comment. I appreciate it!

      Delete
  2. Other birds commonly found in our part of Idaho (Treasure Valley) - killdeer and barn swallows. The killdeer are noisy as hell during mating/nesting season and the swallows love to build their nests under covered porches.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This article is very helpful! I've had every one of those birds in my backyard, plus a few more. Thank you for the useful information!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wonderful! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Delete
  4. It was the Northern Flicker that brought me to your article. I enjoyed your discriptions and the details you gave as well as your pictures. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome, Pamela!

      Flickers are the bird that more people ask me about than any other. They look so strange, and act unusual, too! An ant-eating woodpecker that hops in the lawn.

      Delete
  5. Thank you for this article. I've recently started watching birds from my window while they feed. Thanks to your article I now know what kinds of birds I'm looking at. ☺

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Greg, great article. I've also seen all of these birds. Here in SE Idaho I am also seeing collared doves daily. We've also had a catbird and grey partridges visiting and lots of trumpeter swans flying over my place. I'm in bird heaven here! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds wonderful, Chelle.

      I'm in the process of rewriting this series and adding a total of 25 or more species.

      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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