Sunday, November 3, 2019

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

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in the state of Utah are these:
  1. American Robin (36% frequency)
  2. European Starling (30%)
  3. House Finch (30%)
  4. Black-billed Magpie (28%)
  5. Mourning Dove (22%)
  6. House Sparrow (21%)
  7. Northern Flicker (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 Utah
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Utah
Other birds you might see from your backyard in Utah
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Salt Lake City, Utah

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 Salt Lake City with the birds of the state as a whole.

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

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 Utah in winter (December to February) are these:
European Starling (35% frequency)
Dark-eyed Junco (33%)
Black-billed Magpie (33%)
House Finch (32%)
American Robin (26%)
House Sparrow (24%)
Northern Flicker (24%)
Black-capped Chickadee (23%)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (21%)

The most common backyard birds in Utah in summer (June to July) are these:
American Robin (49% frequency)
Mourning Dove (34%)
House Finch (26%)
Barn Swallow (25%)
Western Kingbird (22%)
European Starling (22%)
Black-chinned Hummingbird (20%)

How do birds differ between winter and summer?

European Starlings, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-billed Magpies are more common in winter.

American Robins, Mourning Doves, Western Kingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbirds are more common in summer.

Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in Utah

Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson
1. American Robin (36%)
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 European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson
2. European Starling (30%)
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 a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
3. House Finch (30%)
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.

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

Photo of Black-billed Magpie foraging on the ground
Black-billed Magpie
Photo by Greg Gillson
4. Black-billed Magpie (28%)
Pica hudsonia
This large flashy bird with a long tail is a ranchland bird in the West. The only similar bird in North America is the Yellow-billed Magpie of the Central Valley of California.
Identification: Size: About the size of an American Crow, but with a longer tail. Shape: Thick neck, large head, strong legs. A very long pointed tail; the distance from the base of the tail to the tip of the tail is nearly as long as from the base of the tail to the tip of the bill. Wings are broad and rounded at the tips. Bill: Stout, nearly as long as head. Color: Black head, breast, back. White shoulders and belly. Wings black above with bluish or greenish sheen; most of the primaries are white. Tails is blackish with an iridescent blue-green sheen. Habitat, range & behavior: Magpies are found in dry open country, ranches, farms, scattered open pine lands and riparian thickets. They are residents from southern Alaska to the Great Basin and Great Plains to the Dakotas and south to New Mexico. Fly with slow wing beats and deep wing strokes displaying large white wing patches. Social. Perch on fence posts. Forage on ground. Calls are noisy, raspy, querulous "yak?" Food and feeder preference: Omnivore as crows, eating carrion, berries, seeds, nuts, human garbage, pet food. Birders generally don't want this species at their bird feeders. Locals often view these birds as pests.

Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson
5. Mourning Dove (22%)
Zenaida macroura
Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.
Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 12 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About same size as Northern Flicker. Larger than American Robin. Slightly smaller than domestic city pigeon. Shape: Very plump with a small round head. Tail is long and pointed. Legs are short. Bill: Small and rather slender. Color: Pale brown-pink body, darker wings and tail. White edges on side of tail. Habitat, range & behavior: Semi-open areas such as urban areas, farmlands, woods. Often seen perched on wires, fences. It is a resident across the lower-48 states and Mexico, with some movement out of northern areas in winter. Their mournful cooing is a familiar spring birdsong. Food and feeder preference: Mourning Doves eat seeds almost exclusively. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds on a large sturdy tray feeder or on the ground.

Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson
6. House Sparrow (21%)
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 Northern Flicker on a branch
Northern Flicker
Photo by Greg Gillson
7. Northern Flicker (20%)
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.

Other common birds you might see from your backyard in Utah

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 Utah birds in winter (December to February):
Mallard (28% frequency)
Common Raven (23%)
Canada Goose (23%)
Red-tailed Hawk (22%)

Watch for these additional common Utah birds in summer (June to July):
Yellow Warbler (24% frequency)
Common Raven (24%)

Watch for these additional common Utah birds in spring (April to May):
Mallard (37% frequency)
Red-winged Blackbird (31%)
Canada Goose (30%)
Common Raven (29%)
Western Meadowlark (23%)
Killdeer (22%)
American Coot (20%)

Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo of a Black-capped Chickadee at a bird bath
Black-capped Chickadees are common birds of Salt Lake City
Photo by Greg Gillson
The following list uses eBird data to compare the birds of Salt Lake City with the birds of the state as a whole. Salt Lake City is in Salt Lake County. I will use the data for Salt Lake County to represent the birds in the Salt Lake City area.

Here are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Salt Lake City.
House Finch (47% frequency)
American Robin (45%)
Black-capped Chickadee (41%)
European Starling (40%)
Mourning Dove (35%)
Black-billed Magpie (34%)
House Sparrow (33%)
Dark-eyed Junco (27%)
Song Sparrow (26%)
Northern Flicker (26%)
Lesser Goldfinch (25%)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (21%)
Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (20%)
Rock Pigeon (20%)

House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, European Starlings, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows are more common in Salt Lake City than in the state of Utah as a whole. The residential plantings and water no doubt contribute to higher populations of many bird species there.

Next: Backyard birds of Vermont

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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