Sunday, November 10, 2019

Common backyard birds in North Dakota (lists, photos, ID)

I've put this resource together for you to answer the question: What birds are in my backyard in North Dakota? This article tells you what birds you can expect in your backyard and when they are most common. I also provide a photo and description section to help you with North Dakota bird identification of the most common birds native to North Dakota backyards.

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of North Dakota are these:
  1. American Robin (40% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (33%)
  3. Common Grackle (28%)
  4. American Goldfinch (26%)
  5. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)
  6. House Sparrow (23%)
  7. American Crow (21%)
  8. Song Sparrow (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 North Dakota
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in North Dakota
Other birds you might see from your backyard in North Dakota
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Fargo, North Dakota
Beyond your backyard


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

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

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

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



List of the most common feeder birds and backyard birds in North Dakota


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 North Dakota in winter (December to February) are these:
Black-capped Chickadee (38% frequency)
House Sparrow (35%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (30%)
Downy Woodpecker (27%)
Dark-eyed Junco (21%)
Blue Jay (20%)

The most common backyard birds in North Dakota in summer (June to July) are these:
Mourning Dove (52% frequency)
American Robin (42%)
Brown-headed Cowbird (42%)
Common Grackle (40%)
Eastern Kingbird (38%)
American Goldfinch (36%)
Barn Swallow (34%)
Song Sparrow (29%)
Western Kingbird (28%)
Clay-colored Sparrow (28%)
House Wren (25%)
Chipping Sparrow (23%)

How do birds differ between winter and summer?

Black-capped Chickadees, House Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos are more common in winter.

Mourning Doves, American Robins, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, Eastern Kingbirds, American Goldfinches, Barn Swallows, Western Kingbirds, Clay-colored Sparrows, House Wrens, Chipping Sparrows are more common in summer.



Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in North Dakota


Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson

1. American Robin (40% frequency)

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 (33%)

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 Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle
Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

3. 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 American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

4. American Goldfinch (26%)

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

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: Very small at about 5 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Similar in size to a chickadee. Larger than hummingbirds. Smaller than juncos and House Finches. Shape: Tiny, somewhat plump with larger head and short tail. Bill: Short, conical, pink. Color: Males in summer are bright lemon yellow with black forehead and black wings and tail with white bars. White under tail coverts. Females dull olive, wings and tail browner. Winter birds are pale grayish-yellow with tan and brown wings and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: This species is found in weedy fields and similar clearings with thistles and similar plants. It is found coast-to-coast throughout the year across most of the middle lower-48 states. In summer moves north to the Canada border. In the winter found south to the Mexico border. The flight is highly undulating, rising and falling as they flap in short bursts. Besides a long, sweet lilting song, they call in flight a lilting 4-part: "potato chip!"

Food and feeder preference: Feeds on weed seeds, thistle seed. May eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeder. Love Nyjer seed in a feeder called a "thistle sock."

You may like my article on attracting American Goldfinches.

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

5. Black-capped Chickadee (26%)

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

Identification: Size: Chickadees are small birds, the same general size as an American Goldfinch. Shape: Round body, big round head, long tail with rounded tip. Bill: Short, straight, stout. Color: Gray above, buffy below. Black cap and bib with white lower face. White edges on wing feathers.

Habitat, range & behavior: Deciduous and mixed forests. They range from the northern half of the United States, southern half of Canada, and most of Alaska. Small flocks flit actively from tree to tree acrobatically gleaning insects from twig tips. In winter chickadees make up the core of mixed-species flocks also containing nuthatches, kinglets, creepers, woodpeckers and others.

Food and feeder preference: Seeds, insects, berries. They eat at tube, hopper and tray feeders. They love black oil sunflower seeds and suet.

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

Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

6. House Sparrow (23%)

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 American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gillson

7. American Crow (21%)

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 Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

8. Song Sparrow (20%)

Melospiza melodia
A common bird, but variable, and similar to many other streaked brown sparrows.

Identification: Size: A smaller bird, similar in size to House Finch and juncos. Larger than chickadees and goldfinches. Smaller than White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Plump with round head, long rounded tail. Bill: Short, conical. Color: Highly variable in darkness and color saturation across its range (dark rusty to pale gray). Generally gray-brown above with dark brown streaking on back. Complicated head pattern. Streaking on sides and breast converge into dense central breast spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: Thickets, especially near water. Backyard shrubbery. Resident in western United States, western Canada, coastal southern Alaska, northeastern US. In summer also moves into mid-Canada and northern half of US. In the winter found in most of the US lower-48. Also a population in central Mexico. Forages on ground, never far from low cover to which they fly if startled.

Food and feeder preference: They feed on seeds and insects near the ground. Will visit hopper and tray feeders for mixed bird seed.



Here's a video on watching birds in North Dakota


Other common birds you might see from your backyard in North Dakota


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 North Dakota birds in winter (December to February):
Hairy Woodpecker (22% frequency)

Watch for these additional common North Dakota birds in summer (June to July):
Red-winged Blackbird (56% frequency)
Western Meadowlark (46%)
Killdeer (38%)
Mallard (34%)
Yellow Warbler (33%)
Common Yellowthroat (29%)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (25%)
Blue-winged Teal (23%)
Bobolink (23%)
Savannah Sparrow (23%)
Canada Goose (22%)
Ring-necked Pheasant (22%)
Cliff Swallow (21%)
Tree Swallow (20%)

Watch for these additional common North Dakota birds in spring (April to May):
Mallard (54% frequency)
Red-winged Blackbird (50%)
Canada Goose (47%)
Killdeer (33%)
Western Meadowlark (30%)
Blue-winged Teal (28%)
Northern Shoveler (27%)
Ring-necked Pheasant (23%)
Gadwall (23%)
Northern Pintail (22%)
Ring-billed Gull (21%)
Tree Swallow (20%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (20%)



Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Fargo, North Dakota


Photo of Downy Woodpecker on a suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker is a common bird in Fargo
Photo by Greg Gillson
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Fargo with the birds of the state as a whole. Fargo is in Cass County. I will use the data for Cass County to represent the birds in the Fargo area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Fargo.
American Robin (39% frequency)
Black-capped Chickadee (38%)
White-breasted Nuthatch (33%)
American Crow (32%)
House Sparrow (28%)
Downy Woodpecker (25%)
Common Grackle (25%)
Mourning Dove (24%)
Dark-eyed Junco (21%)
Chipping Sparrow (20%)
American Goldfinch (20%)

Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Crows are more common in Fargo than in the rest of the state on average.



Beyond your backyard


To create this page on the backyard birds in North Dakota I used some of the advanced features of eBird.

You can learn more about what birds are in your own backyard using some easy and helpful features of eBird. Rare birds. Common birds. Winter birds, spring birds, summer birds, and fall birds. In fact, you can determine the abundance of all birds likely in your area for every week of the year! You can also see photos of the birds from your own area.

eBird also has numerous photos and voice recordings of the birds. Thus, you can see pictures of all the variation in each species. And you can listen to recordings of bird songs and calls.

Not all birds can be found in backyards. You may find that you wish to see birds in other places. If so, you'll want to check this out.

First, I'm sending you to eBird (www.ebird.org). Please don't forget me! Bookmark this page to come back.

Explore Regions for birds in your own county


From the eBird home page, select the tab for Explore (https://ebird.org/explore). The Explore page offers several options. Please use the Explore Regions form for now. Start entering your county name into the form. Select your county and state from the drop-down list.

Now your County page pops up.

There are 53 counties in North Dakota. There are bird lists for each county. The county with the most birds recorded is Grand Forks County with 327 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Cavalier County with 188 species.

From this County page there are 3 selections that I want to share with you. They are Printable Checklist, Illustrated Checklist, and Hotspots.

1. Printable Checklist


The Printable Checklist is exactly what it sounds like. It is a basic bird checklist of all birds with eBird records in the county, state, or country you choose. It is a professional looking checklist, too. You can print it double-sided on card stock for a quite nice and durable bird checklist.

Bird checklists are useful to keep track of birds in your backyard as you identify them. Or, you may want to print a new list for each time you take a bird watching outing.

But this type of list doesn't help you figure out if a bird in your backyard is common or rare. For that, you need the next type of checklist.

2. Bar Charts


Bar charts combine the species list with abundance over time. The thickness of the line (bar) indicates how frequently a bird is seen. A thicker bar indicates a common bird. A thin line indicates a rare bird. No bars are shown when the birds are absent or not recorded.

In the case of the eBird bar charts, there is a space for every week of the year. There is room for 52 lines, or bars, in each chart. This way, you can tell, week by week, how common birds are in your state, even in each county.

One feature that I like on the county page is the Illustrated Checklist. It is a bar chart for the county. But it also includes photos of birds that have been taken in the county. That way, for unusual birds, I can see the plumage. Are most of the records for breeding males or perhaps dull-looking immatures? That will let me know exactly what I am looking for when I am out in the field. Of course, I always like to add photos to the Illustrated Checklist if any are missing. But that is easier to do with the following list.

3. Hotspots


Hotspots are public bird watching areas with their own species checklists and bar charts. Sometimes these are very famous birding sites with thousands of bird watchers visiting per year. Other hotspots are very rarely visited by birders. These will give you an idea of what other birds (not just backyard birds) may be found near you.

There are hundreds of hotspots for every state. Each county is likely to have numerous hotspots, too. There is a list of the top 100 hotspots in each state. To see all of them you can go to the map.

You may also like my eBird tutorial with illustrations.

Once you start viewing your backyard birds in North Dakota, you may find that you want to look for more types of birds than just backyard birds. Then you're on your way to exploring the wildlife in a larger world. There are birds everywhere you go. Different ones in every location. In fact, 10,000 of them. That's enough for several lifetimes of joy just to see them once!

All this because you were curious as to what birds were in your backyard!



Next: Backyard birds of Ohio

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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