Friday, November 8, 2019

30 Backyard Birds to Know | Nebraska

[2022 Rewrite]

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

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 Nebraska:

  1. American Robin
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Northern Cardinal
  4. Blue Jay
  5. European Starling
  6. Red-winged Blackbird
  7. American Goldfinch
  8. House Sparrow
  9. Common Grackle
  10. Downy Woodpecker
  11. Dark-eyed Junco
  12. Northern Flicker
  13. House Finch
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch
  15. Black-capped Chickadee
  16. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  17. American Crow
  18. Western Meadowlark
  19. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  20. Barn Swallow
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird
  22. House Wren
  23. American Tree Sparrow
  24. Eastern Kingbird
  25. Baltimore Oriole
  26. Orchard Oriole
  27. Western Kingbird
  28. Brown Thrasher
  29. Chipping Sparrow
  30. Red-headed Woodpecker




What's in this article? 

  • State overview of birds and bird watching in Nebraska
  • Photos and identification of common backyard birds
  • Most common birds by season
  • Common birds of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska




Nebraska Birds and Birding in Nebraska State


eBird lists over 440 types of birds as occurring in the state of Nebraska.

The most common bird in Nebraska: the most frequently seen bird in the state is American Robin. It is reported on 50% of bird watching lists.

The official State Bird of Nebraska is Western Meadowlark.


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

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Nebraska





Nebraska Bird Identification (Pictures of backyard birds of Nebraska)


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

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

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

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

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

Do you live in eastern Nebraska? Western Nebraska? 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 Nebraska: American Robins are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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

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. 

They are residents 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.


3. Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

This is one of the most common and popular backyard birds in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixaby


Range in Nebraska: Northern Cardinals are year-round residents in southern and eastern Nebraska, absent in northwestern Nebraska.

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.


4. Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata

A common and well-known bird in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in Nebraska: Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


5. 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 Nebraska: European Starlings are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


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 Nebraska: Red-winged Blackbirds are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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. American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

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


Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson


Range in Nebraska: American Goldfinches are summer residents in western and northwestern Nebraska, year-round residents in southern and eastern Nebraska.

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.


8. 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 Nebraska: House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


9. Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula

Sometimes considered a pest to crops, grackles are longer and lankier than very similar blackbirds.


Photo of Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle. GeorgiaLens from Pixabay


Range in Nebraska: Common Grackles are summer residents throughout Nebraska, year-round residents in southeastern Nebraska.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than Red-winged Blackbirds, they are near the length of Mourning Doves. 

Shape: Long, with long full keel-shaped tail, long legs, flat crown. 

Bill: Longer than head, pointed, but stouter than other blackbirds. 

Color: Glossy black with hint of bronze or green on head (depending upon population). Yellow eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found in agricultural areas, woodland edges, city parks and lawns. 

Resident in the southeastern United States. In summer they migrate northward and west to the central United States and Canada. 

They monopolize feeders and are bullies toward other birds.

Food and feeder preference: Grain, corn, acorns, small aquatic fish and amphibians. To discourage them, use tube feeders, rather than hopper or tray feeders. Don't over-feed, keep spilled seed picked up.


10. Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens

This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.


Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson


Range in Nebraska: Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification: 

Size: Bigger than a junco or House Finch. Smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird. About the same size as a White-crowned Sparrow, but with a much shorter tail. 

Shape: Stocky with large head and short stiff tail. 

Bill: Short, chisel shaped. 

Color: Black-and-white striped head. Black wings with white spots. Solid white back. White under parts. Black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. Male with small red spot at back of head.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in small deciduous trees, willows, and even weed stocks such as teasel, especially near water. 

Ranges coast-to-coast across all but northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska south to the southern US. Absent in the desert southwest. 

Interestingly, I learned today that the males may more often be found in smaller plants and twigs, while females are more likely on tree trunks.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, fruits, and seeds. Gleans arthropods from the bark of trees. Attract with suet feeder. Will also eat black oil sunflower seeds.


11. Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

Colloquially called "snow birds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.


Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on snow-covered branch
Dark-eyed Junco. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in Nebraska: Dark-eyed Juncos are winter visitors throughout Nebraska. 

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.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Dark-eyed Juncos.


12. Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

Of all the bird identification questions I get asked, this common larger backyard bird is the bird most people ask about. It doesn't occur to those unfamiliar with it that this could be a woodpecker.


Photo of Northern Flicker in tree
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.


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

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.


13. 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 Nebraska: House Finches are year-round residents in northeastern and far western Nebraska and isolated towns in between.

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.


14. White-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta carolinensis

A favorite feeder bird for many for its active antics and fearlessness. Though a small bird it is the largest nuthatch in North America.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch head-first down the tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson


Range in Nebraska: White-breasted Nuthatches are winter visitors in south-central Nebraska, year-round residents throughout remaining parts of state.

Identification: 

Size: About chickadee-sized in length. Smaller than a junco or House Finch. 

Shape: Appears large-headed, neckless, very short tailed. Short legs. 

Bill: Nearly as long as head, straight, thin. 

Color: Blue-gray above, white below. Black cap, wing tips, tail. Rusty feathers under tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Common in oak and oak-pine woodlands, wooded towns. 

Found across the United States, southern Canada, mountains of central Mexico. Absent from treeless grasslands, deserts in the west. 

Crawls over tree branches and head-first down tree trunks searching for insects.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, seeds, acorns and other nuts. Love black oil sunflower seeds feeding on hopper and tray feeders. Suet blocks.


15. 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 Nebraska: Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


16. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

This is one of the most common backyard species in the eastern half of the United States.


Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker climbing a tree
Red-bellied Woodpecker. skeeze from Pixabay


Range in Nebraska: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents in eastern and southern Nebraska. 

Identification: 

Size: Fairly large for a backyard bird. Between a Starling and American Robin in size. Smaller than a Northern Flicker. 

Shape: Stout with large head and short tail. Clings to tree trunk on strong short legs propped up with short stiff tail. 

Bill: Long, chisel-shaped. 

Color: Pale gray body, many thin black-and-white bars across back and wings. Red nape, extending forward on crown on male.

Habitat, range & behavior: These birds are found in many woodland types, including oak, hickory and pine. 

They are found from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the lower-48 states from Texas to extreme southern Canada, and eastward from Florida northward just to the southern edge of the New England states. 

In typical woodpecker fashion, it hitches up the tree trunk and larger branches.

Food and feeder preference: This species eats insects and nuts. They may eat peanuts from a tray feeder and eat from a suet block.


17. 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 American Crows are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


18. Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta

These are beautiful songsters of the prairie grasslands.


Photo of Western Meadowlark on fenceline
Western Meadowlark. Greg Gillson.


Range in Nebraska: Western Meadowlarks are year-round residents throughout most of Nebraska, winter visitors only in southeastern Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: Bigger than a European Starling, smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Stocky and pot-bellied, with short tail and flat forehead profile.

Bill: Long, straight, and sharp pointed.

Color: Straw and brown-colored upper parts. Bright yellow below with black necklace. White outer tail feathers. Duller in winter.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Fields, pastures, prairies.

The summer across the West from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, and western Canada to western Texas, and into Mexico. Move out of Canada in winter and spread to Gulf Coast.

Forage on fields and bare grounds, often found with cattle. In flocks in winter.

Foods and feeder preference: Grain and insects. They do not come to feeders.


19. 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 Nebraska: Eurasian Collared-Doves are year-round residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

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

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

Bill: Small, bluntly pointed.

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.


20. 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 Nebraska: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

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.


21. Brown-headed Cowbird

Molothrus ater

Cowbirds are small blackbirds that 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 Nebraska: Brown-headed Cowbirds are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

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. House Wren

Troglodytes aedon

These birds will readily use nest boxes to raise their young.


Photo of House Wren in bush
House Wren. Greg Gillson.


Range in Nebraska: House Wrens are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: About the size of Black-capped Chickadee but with shorter tail.

Shape: Round body. Large head. Thin short tail.

Bill: Fairly long, thin, slightly down curved. Sharply pointed.

Color: Rather dull brownish-gray throughout. Paler throat and breast. Tail barred with black and pale bars along with the brown.

Habitat, range & behavior: Brushy areas, woodland edges, hedge rows, tree stumps in logged areas.

Breed across Canada and the northern and mid-latitudes of the United States. Winter to the southern United States and through Mexico. Found year round at southern edge of breeding range: California, North Carolina to northern Alabama, southern Arizona south through mountains of Mexico.

Stay hidden in brushy areas. Hop among tree roots, logged stumps.

Food and feeder preference: May feed at suet feeder.


23. American Tree Sparrow

Spizelloides arborea

These birds nest at the edge of the tundra. Don't expect the first ones in fall until late October, at least.


Photo of American Tree Sparrow in brambles
American Tree Sparrow. Greg Gillson.


Range in Nebraska: American Tree Sparrows are winter visitors throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: These are smaller sparrows, the size of juncos.

Shape: Small roundish body, rounded head, long tail.

Bill: Small conical. Bicolored--dark upper and yellow under mandibles.

Color: Pale gray breast and face. Rusty back, wings, crown, line back from eye. Two white wing bars. Dark central breast spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: In winter they like open weedy fields with small trees.

Breed in Alaska and northern Canada. Winter in northern half of the United States.

These birds spend much more time on the ground than in trees.

Food and feeder preference: They visit feeders for small seeds, but spend more time on the ground under the feeders.


24. Eastern Kingbird

Tyrannus tyrannus

These birds often build nests in trees that overhang streams.


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


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

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

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

Bill: Fairly long, wide at base,

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

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

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

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

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


25. Baltimore Oriole

Icterus galbula

These are beautiful summer songbirds in the East.


Photo of Baltimore Oriole eating an orange
Baltimore Oriole. Michael McGough from Pixabay.


Range in Nebraska: Baltimore Orioles are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than a robin; just a bit smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird.

Shape: Rounded belly. The body is long with long under tail coverts, but the tail is somewhat short. Large head.

Bill: Fairly long and heavy. Pointed, slightly curved.

Color: The males are brilliant orange below, black above, including a hood over the head. Wings are black with two wing bars. Females are yellowish-orange below and more olive-green above, but still show the white wing bars.

Habitat, range & behavior: Shade trees and deciduous woodlands.

Found east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada southward. Winter in far southeastern coastal US and Florida, and southward.

Orioles build sock-like hanging nests made of long fibers. These nests often last the winter and may be observed once the leaves are off the trees.

Food and feeder preference: These birds eat insects, fruit, and nectar. You may be able to attract orioles to your feeders with cut oranges and special oriole nectar feeders similar to hummingbird feeders.


26. Orchard Oriole

Icterus spurius

Males of these smallest of orioles in the United States are brownish orange. 


Photo of Orchard Oriole
Orchard Oriole. Dan Pancamo CC BY-SA 2.0


Range in Nebraska: Orchard Orioles are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than Baltimore Oriole or Red-winged Blackbird. Larger than a House Finch. About the size of an Eastern Towhee.

Shape: Kind of pot-bellied with ample tail and round head.

Bill: Pointed and fairly long, slightly down curved.

Color: Males are black on head, back, wings and tail. The under parts are rusty, fading to yellow on the lower belly. Females are yellow-green with dark gray wings.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Open woodlands, shade trees, river edges. 

They breed from the Great Plains to the eastern United States, south of the New England States, south into central Mexico. They winter from southern Mexico into northern South America.

These birds are not strongly territorial. A group of birds may build nests near each other or even in the same tree. They are late to arrive on their breeding grounds in spring, and early to depart in mid-summer.

Food & feeder preference: These birds eat primarily insects, but also fruit and flower nectar. May visit feeders for fruit or nectar.


27. Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis

You may note these birds aggressively and noisily chasing off other birds, such as crows and hawks, from their territories. And other interloping Western Kingbirds, of course.


Photo of Western Kingbird in tree branches
Western Kingbird. Greg Gillson.


Range in Nebraska: Western Kingbirds are summer residents in all of Nebraska except far eastern Nebraska where they are absent.

Identification:

Size: Larger than phoebes. Smaller than American Robins. The same size as Red-winged Blackbirds.

Shape: Long body with heavy chest. Large head with raised hind crown. Large bill. Long full tail. Upright posture.

Bill: Fairly long, but shorter than head, stout and wide at the base.

Color: Gray head, back, and chest. Yellow belly. Brown wings. Black tail with contrasting white outer tail feathers.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open country.

Summers in the western half of the United States and adjacent southern Canada.

Perches on electric wires, fence lines. Chases flying insects and returns to perch.

Food and feeder preference: Feeds on flying insects. Does not come to feeders.


28. Brown Thrasher

Toxostoma rufum

These birds are accomplished singers, with over 1100 different songs recorded from one bird!


Photo of Brown Thrasher on chain-link fence
Brown Thrasher. Linda Jones. CC0.


Range in Nebraska: Brown Thrashers are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: Longer than a robin, smaller than a flicker.

Shape: Pot-bellied. Long tail with rounded tip. Large head.

Bill: Long and thin, slightly curved down.

Color: Rusty above. Gray face. Heavy rusty streaks below on cream-colored under parts. Two white wing bars.

Habitat, range & behavior: These birds live in woodland edges and hedges.

They are year-round residents in the Southeast. In summer they also breed northward, east of the Rocky Mountains to southern Canada.

You may find them feeding on the edge of lawns with a very horizontal posture. They may mimic other bird songs and calls.

Food and feeder preference: They primarily eat insects and invertebrates. But they will also come to platform feeders for sunflower seeds, nuts, suet, berries.


29. Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

Chipping Sparrows are a widespread species adapted to human disturbance. They are rather tame. They are frequently found in cemeteries with large trees.


Photo of a Chipping Sparrow on a white headstone
Chipping Sparrow. Greg Gillson.


Range in Nebraska: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout Nebraska.

Identification: 

Size: These are small sparrows, bigger than goldfinches or chickadees, but smaller than House Finches or Song Sparrows. 

Shape: Plump and fairly long-tailed. 

Bill: Short and conical. 

Color: Striped brown and dark brown above. Grayish under parts. Black line through eye. Crown streaked in winter but in summer becomes solid chestnut. Two white wing bars. 

Habitat, range & behavior: Grassy open conifer woodlands with some shrubs, parks, orchards. 

Breeds from Alaska, across Canada and south into highlands of Middle America. In winter retreats from northern areas to southern United States and northern Mexico. 

In summer solitary or in pairs. In winter they forage in flocks of up to 50 birds. 

Food and feeder preference: Weed seeds, supplemented with insects in summer. They may eat black oil sunflower seeds in your feeder, but more likely will feed on mixed seeds on the ground under the feeder.


30. Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

This black-and-white bird with a red head is well-named!


Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker on tree
Red-headed Woodpecker. Public domain.


Range in Nebraska: Red-headed Woodpeckers are summer residents throughout Nebraska, year-round residents in extreme southeastern Nebraska.

Identification:

Size: Larger than a flicker. About the size of a Hairy Woodpecker, or a robin with a shorter tail.

Shape: Typical woodpecker shape with stout body, large round head, and short pointed tail.

Bill: Long, straight, chissel shaped.

Color: Black back, wing tips, tail. White tertials and secondary feathers and under parts. Entirely red head.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in oak woodlands, farmlands, and forest edges.

These birds are year-round residents in the East and Midwest, summer residents in the Great Plains.

Frequently flycatch for insects. Often aggressive toward other cavity-nesting birds, including other woodpeckers and starlings.

Food and feeder preference: Eat insects, fruit, and nuts. May visit suet feeders.





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

  1. American Robin (50% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (37%)
  3. Northern Cardinal (36%)
  4. Blue Jay (35%)
  5. European Starling (33%)
  6. Red-winged Blackbird (32%)
  7. American Goldfinch (31%)
  8. House Sparrow (29%)
  9. Common Grackle (26%)
  10. Downy Woodpecker (25%)
  11. Dark-eyed Junco (25%)
  12. Northern Flicker (24%)
  13. House Finch (23%)
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch (20%)
  15. Black-capped Chickadee (19%)
  16. Red-bellied Woodpecker (18%)
  17. American Crow (18%)
  18. Western Meadowlark (18%)
  19. Eurasian Collared-Dove (18%)
  20. Barn Swallow (17%)
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird (15%)
  22. House Wren (15%)



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

  1. Dark-eyed Junco (57% frequency)
  2. Northern Cardinal (39%)
  3. House Sparrow (36%)
  4. Downy Woodpecker (36%)
  5. Blue Jay (34%)
  6. European Starling (33%)
  7. American Goldfinch (29%)
  8. American Robin (28%)
  9. White-breasted Nuthatch (27%)
  10. House Finch (26%)
  11. Red-bellied Woodpecker (24%)
  12. Black-capped Chickadee (24%)
  13. American Crow (20%)
  14. American Tree Sparrow (19%)
  15. Northern Flicker (19%)



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

  1. Mourning Dove (68% frequency)
  2. American Robin (58%)
  3. Red-winged Blackbird (47%)
  4. Common Grackle (46%)
  5. Barn Swallow (39%)
  6. House Wren (38%)
  7. Brown-headed Cowbird (38%)
  8. Eastern Kingbird (38%)
  9. Western Meadowlark (35%)
  10. Northern Cardinal (32%)
  11. American Goldfinch (31%)
  12. Blue Jay (28%)
  13. European Starling (28%)
  14. Baltimore Oriole (28%)
  15. Orchard Oriole (27%)
  16. House Sparrow (26%)
  17. Western Kingbird (23%)
  18. Brown Thrasher (23%)
  19. Northern Flicker (21%)
  20. Chipping Sparrow (20%)
  21. Red-headed Woodpecker (20%)





Common Backyard Birds of Omaha, Nebraska


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


Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Omaha, Nebraska:

  1. American Robin (57% frequency)
  2. Northern Cardinal (53%)
  3. Blue Jay (44%)
  4. Downy Woodpecker (39%)
  5. House Sparrow (36%)
  6. European Starling (36%)
  7. Dark-eyed Junco (33%)
  8. Red-bellied Woodpecker (32%)
  9. Black-capped Chickadee (32%)
  10. White-breasted Nuthatch (31%)
  11. Mourning Dove (30%)
  12. House Finch (29%)
  13. Common Grackle (29%)
  14. American Goldfinch (28%)
  15. Northern Flicker (22%)
  16. Red-winged Blackbird (20%)



Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches are more common in Omaha than average for the state as a whole.

Red-winged Blackbirds are less common in Omaha than in the rest of the state, on average.





Common Backyard Birds of Lincoln, Nebraska


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


Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Lincoln, Nebraska:

  1. American Robin (59% frequency)
  2. Northern Cardinal (53%)
  3. Blue Jay (53%)
  4. Mourning Dove (43%)
  5. European Starling (42%)
  6. American Goldfinch (38%)
  7. Downy Woodpecker (34%)
  8. Dark-eyed Junco (34%)
  9. House Sparrow (34%)
  10. Red-winged Blackbird (32%)
  11. House Finch (31%)
  12. Common Grackle (30%)
  13. Northern Flicker (30%)
  14. Black-capped Chickadee (27%)
  15. Red-bellied Woodpecker (25%)
  16. American Crow (24%)
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch (23%)



American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, European Starlings, Downy Woodpeckers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Flickers are more common in Lincoln than in the rest of the state, on average.





Related:

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Nebraska








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