Friday, November 8, 2019

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

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Nebraska are these:
  1. American Robin (50% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (40%)
  3. European Starling (35%)
  4. Northern Cardinal (34%)
  5. Blue Jay (34%)
  6. American Goldfinch (31%)
  7. House Sparrow (30%)
  8. Common Grackle (28%)
  9. Northern Flicker (25%)
  10. Downy Woodpecker (24%)
  11. House Finch (22%)
  12. Dark-eyed Junco (21%)
  13. American Crow (20%)
  14. Barn Swallow (20%)
These birds occur on more than 20% of eBird checklists for the state.


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


This page lists the most common backyard birds as determined by actual bird sightings reported to the citizen science birding program, eBird. These birds are ranked according to frequency--the percentage of all bird checklists on which a species occurs. Below I list common backyard birds in winter and summer.

Photos and identification are next. I tell a little bit about each species and how you might attract them to your yard.

Farther below I've also added a list of other common birds not typically found in backyards.

I conclude with a list comparing the birds of Omaha with the birds of the state as a whole.



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


The top list on this page is the frequency of birds throughout the year. Many birds are migratory or otherwise vary in abundance between seasons. So the next two lists are the common birds ranked in winter and then in summer.

The most common backyard birds in Nebraska in winter (December to February) are these:
Dark-eyed Junco (51% frequency)
Northern Cardinal (38%)
House Sparrow (37%)
European Starling (37%)
Downy Woodpecker (35%)
Blue Jay (34%)
American Goldfinch (30%)
American Robin (28%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (27%)
House Finch (25%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (25%)
Black-capped Chickadee (24%)
American Crow (22%)
American Tree Sparrow (20%)

The most common backyard birds in Nebraska in summer (June to July) are these:
Mourning Dove (71% frequency)
American Robin (57%)
Common Grackle (47%)
Barn Swallow (41%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (40%)
Eastern Kingbird (39%)
House Wren (38%)
American Goldfinch (31%)
Northern Cardinal (30%)
European Starling (28%)
Baltimore Oriole (28%)
Orchard Oriole (28%)
Blue Jay (27%)
House Sparrow (26%)
Western Kingbird (25%)
Brown Thrasher (25%)
Northern Flicker (21%)
Chipping Sparrow (21%)
Cliff Swallow (20%)
Red-headed Woodpecker (20%)

How do birds differ between winter and summer?

Dark-eyed Juncos, House Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, American Tree Sparrows are more common in winter.

Mourning Doves, American Robins, Common Grackles, Barn Swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, House Wrens, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Western Kingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Cliff Swallows are more common in summer.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Nebraska


Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. American Robin (50%)
Turdus migratorius
This familiar bird is a resident in the northern half of the United States and a winter visitor in the southern half.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 10 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the same size as a Blue Jay or one of the Scrub-Jays. Larger than Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. Shape: Very plump with a fairly long tail. Bill: Straight and fairly slender, curved at the tip. Color: Gray-brown upperparts, rusty orange breast. Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands, farmlands, urban parks and lawns. Migratory, breeds north across Alaska and Canada. Resident in most of the United States (lower 48). Winters in the United States, Mexico, to central America. Hops on your lawn turning head this way and that looking for food. Their caroling song is one of the early signs of spring in the north. Food and feeder preference: Worms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.

Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. Mourning Dove (40%)
Zenaida macroura
Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 12 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About same size as Northern Flicker. Larger than American Robin. Slightly smaller than domestic city pigeon. Shape: Very plump with a small round head. Tail is long and pointed. Legs are short. Bill: Small and rather slender. Color: Pale brown-pink body, darker wings and tail. White edges on side of tail. Habitat, range & behavior: Semi-open areas such as urban areas, farmlands, woods. Often seen perched on wires, fences. It is a resident across the lower-48 states and Mexico, with some movement out of northern areas in winter. Their mournful cooing is a familiar spring birdsong. Food and feeder preference: Mourning Doves eat seeds almost exclusively. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds on a large sturdy tray feeder or on the ground.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson
3. European Starling (35%)
Sturnus vulgaris
Introduced to North America in the late 1800's, they crossed the continent, often to the detriment of native cavity-nesting birds. The prime example of an invasive species.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 8-1/2 inches from bill tip to tail tip. About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring. Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. Native range is Europe to Pakistan, north Africa. Often viewed as a pest, starlings often bully other backyard birds, taking over bird feeders, and stealing nest cavities from smaller native birds. In winter they can form into flocks of ten's of thousands. Food and feeder preference: Primarily insects when available, often feeding on the ground. Discourage them from your backyard hopper and tray feeders by never feeding birds table scraps (including bread or meat). They have weak feet and do not perch well on tube feeders. A cage mesh around smaller hopper feeders may keep them out.

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixaby
4. Northern Cardinal (34%)
Cardinalis cardinalis
This is one of the most common and popular backyard birds in the eastern half of the United States.
Identification: Size: Cardinals are a bit smaller than American Robins, about the same size as Red-winged Blackbirds. Shape: Plump body with fairly long full tail. Wispy crest. Bill: Short, heavy, conical, pink. Color: That bright red color is matched by few other birds. Black face. The female is more gray, but with hints of red in wings and tail, and has a crest, too. Habitat, range & behavior: Cardinals are year-round residents in shrubby woodland edges from the eastern United States to Texas and Arizona south into Mexico. That large conical bill is made for chewing seeds. Watch them crack open sunflower seeds, spit out the hulls, and pluck the kernel with their tongues! Food and feeder preference: Black oil sunflower seeds. Many types of seeds, berries, nuts in larger hopper or tray feeders.

Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay
Image by skeeze from Pixabay
5. Blue Jay (34%)
Cyanocitta cristata
A common and well-known bird in the eastern half of the United States.
Identification: Size: About that of American Robin. Shape: Fluffy, large crested head, ample tail. Large strong legs. Bill: Black, long and stout. Color: Blue above, white below. Black neck collar. White patches in wing. Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands and towns in the eastern half of the United States. In summer into southern Canada. Bold and brash. May bully smaller birds. Jays gulp lots of seeds or other food at once, storing it in their crop. Then they fly off and bury food items in a hidden cache. Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous. They can quickly empty your feeder! Because they are also aggressive toward other feeder birds, some people put mesh cages around smaller bird feeders. Small birds can go through, squirrels and larger "pest" birds are prevented entry. Some people feed jays peanuts, perhaps away from the seed feeders.

Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson
6. American Goldfinch (31%)
Spinus tristis
A beautiful tiny finch familiar to many in it's bright yellow summer plumage. Colloquially called a "wild canary."
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: Very small at about 5 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Similar in size to a chickadee. Larger than hummingbirds. Smaller than juncos and House Finches. Shape: Tiny, somewhat plump with larger head and short tail. Bill: Short, conical, pink. Color: Males in summer are bright lemon yellow with black forehead and black wings and tail with white bars. White under tail coverts. Females dull olive, wings and tail browner. Winter birds are pale grayish-yellow with tan and brown wings and tail. Habitat, range & behavior: This species is found in weedy fields and similar clearings with thistles and similar plants. It is found coast-to-coast throughout the year across most of the middle lower-48 states. In summer moves north to the Canada border. In the winter found south to the Mexico border. The flight is highly undulating, rising and falling as they flap in short bursts. Besides a long, sweet lilting song, they call in flight a lilting 4-part: "potato chip!" Food and feeder preference: Feeds on weed seeds, thistle seed. May eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeder. Love Nyjer seed in a feeder called a "thistle sock."

Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. House Sparrow (30%)
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.
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.

Photo of Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle
Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay
8. Common Grackle (28%)
Quiscalus quiscula
Sometimes considered a pest to crops, grackles are longer and lankier than very similar blackbirds.
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.

Photo of Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker
Photo by Greg Gillson
9. Northern Flicker (25%)
Colaptes auratus
Of all the bird identification questions I get asked, this common larger backyard bird is the bird most people ask about. It doesn't occur to those unfamiliar with it that this could be a woodpecker. Identification: Size: About the size of a Mourning Dove. Larger than a robin. Shape: Stocky with short legs, short tail, big head. Bill: As long as head, thin, slightly curved. Color: Back is brown with black bars. Under parts pinkish with black spots. Undersides of black wing and tail feathers are bright salmon red (West) or yellow (East). Head gray (West) or brown (East) and males with red (West) or black (East) whisker marks and nape marks (East). Black crescent across chest. White rump seen in flight. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in woodland edges and forests. Year-round resident from extreme southern Canada, across all of the lower-48 states and in the mountains of Mexico and Middle America. In summer breeds northward well into Canada and Alaska. Frequently noted hopping on ground pecking in the ground for insects. In late spring, males proclaim their territory by rapid pounding on a hollow tree branch, though the ringing of metal downspouts at dawn is louder and carries much farther, to the exasperation of anyone trying to sleep inside! Food and feeder preference: Ants and beetles are their primary foods. Will eat black oil sunflower seeds and are attracted to suet.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpecker
Photo by Greg Gillson
10. Downy Woodpecker (24%)
Dryobates pubescens
This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.
Identification: Size: Bigger than a junco or House Finch. Smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird. About the same size as a White-crowned Sparrow, but with a much shorter tail. Shape: Stocky with large head and short stiff tail. Bill: Short, chisel-shaped. Color: Black-and-white striped head. Black wings with white spots. Solid white black. White under parts. Black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. Male with small red spot at back of head. Habitat, range & behavior: Found in small deciduous trees, willows, and even weed stocks such as teasel, especially near water. Ranges coast-to-coast across all but northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska south to the southern US. Absent in the desert southwest. Interestingly, I learned today that the males may more often be found in smaller plants and twigs, while females are more likely on tree trunks. Food and feeder preference: Insects, fruits, and seeds. Gleans arthropods from the bark of trees. Attract with suet feeder. Will also eat black oil sunflower seeds.

Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
11. House Finch (22%)
Haemorhous mexicanus
Originally a bird of the West, now found across most of the US. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 6 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Larger than goldfinches and chickadees. Smaller than a White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Medium build with a medium-long notched tail. Round head. Bill: Short, conical. Color: Brown and gray above with streaks on the sides of the pale underparts. Males with red (sometimes orange or rarely yellow) crown, chest, rump. Habitat, range & behavior: You'll find small flocks on wires, in short tree tops and in bushes. Originally deserts and grasslands. Rural areas and towns are where they're now most common. Formerly found in the western United States and Mexico. Then introduced into the northeastern United States, but now found in nearly all of the lower-48 states and extreme southern Canada. Rare in plains states (Dakotas to Texas) and southern Florida. House Finches are not territorial, but males sing throughout the year--a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes. Food and feeder preference: They love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on snow-covered branch
Dark-eyed Junco
Image by skeeze from Pixabay
12. Dark-eyed Junco (21%)
Junco hyemalis
Colloquially called "snow birds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.
Identification: Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over head, brown back, and pink sides. Habitat, range & behavior: Breed in coniferous forests. Winters widely. Avoids heavy brush, preferring widely spaced bushes. Breeds across most of Canada, Alaska, and the western half of the United States. Winters from southern Canada and all of the lower 48-states to extreme northern Mexico. Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground. Food and feeder preference: Eats mostly seeds, also insects in summer. Readily feed at backyard feeders on mixed seeds on hopper or tray feeders and ground.

Photo of American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gillson
13. American Crow (20%)
Corvus brachyrhynchos
This larger all-black bird is common in cities and country. Its cawing call is familiar to most people.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 17-1/2 inches long from bill tip to tail tip, though there is much size variation throughout its range. Larger than blackbirds and grackles. Smaller than ravens. Shape: Thick neck, large head, rather short square-ended tail. Longer legs. In flight has rounded wing tips with each primary feather separated from others forming "fingers." Bill: As long as head, thick, black. Color: Glossy black throughout. Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer open areas with trees, fields, farms, cities. They are common across most of the United States lower-48, except in the desert southwest. They move into southern Canada in summer. They gather in evening communal roosts in large flocks that may number into the thousands and then move out at dawn into the surrounding area. Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous, they feed on large insects, grain, small mammals, carrion. You probably don't want these large entirely-black birds in your backyard feeders. So don't feed table scraps to birds.

Photo of a Barn Swallow on a barbed wire fence
Barn Swallow
Photo by Greg Gillson
14. Barn Swallow (20%)
Hirundo rustica
This swallow is widely distributed throughout the world, primarily breeding in the northern hemisphere and wintering in the mid-latitudes and southern hemisphere.
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.



Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Nebraska


The following lists contain additional common birds you might see flying over your yard or in a nearby neighborhood. There are also several less common backyard birds in these lists that don't appear in the lists above.

Watch for these additional common Nebraska birds in winter (December to February):
Canada Goose (31% frequency)
Red-tailed Hawk (29%)
Mallard (20%)

Watch for these additional common Nebraska birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (48% frequency)
Dickcissel (41%)
Western Meadowlark (40%)
Killdeer (28%)
Yellow Warbler (20%)
Northern Bobwhite (20%)

Watch for these additional common Nebraska birds in spring (April to May):
Red-winged Blackbird (53% frequency)
Canada Goose (34%)
Killdeer (30%)
Blue-winged Teal (29%)
Western Meadowlark (29%)
Mallard (28%)
Turkey Vulture (25%)
Red-tailed Hawk (20%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Omaha, Nebraska


Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpeckers are common in Omaha
Photo by Greg Gillson
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Omaha with the birds of the state as a whole. Omaha is in Douglas County. I will use the data for Douglas County to represent the birds in the Omaha area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Omaha.
American Robin (52% frequency)
Northern Cardinal (49%)
Blue Jay (43%)
Downy Woodpecker (38%)
European Starling (36%)
House Sparrow (35%)
Black-capped Chickadee (33%)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (31%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (30%)
Dark-eyed Junco (30%)
Mourning Dove (30%)
American Goldfinch (29%)
Common Grackle (29%)
House Finch (26%)
Northern Flicker (21%)

Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches are more common in Omaha than in the state as a whole. There must be some oak or hickory trees there!

Mourning Doves are more common in Nebraska as a whole than in the Omaha area.



You may be interested: Bird books for each individual state in the US

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


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