Illinois, home to over 450 bird species, offers a haven for bird enthusiasts seeking to create a vibrant backyard ecosystem. Explore the fascinating world of 25 different backyard birds such as the striking Northern Cardinal, vivacious Tufted Titmouse, energetic Chickadees, and the charismatic Blue Jay. Delve into the distinct appearance and habits of each species, from the elegant Eastern Bluebird to the acrobatic White-breasted Nuthatch. Discover the secrets to attracting birds to your yard, as well as some must-visit birdwatching hotspots throughout the state. Embark on a journey of avian wonder and enrich your Illinois landscape with the dazzling presence of these winged marvels.
Common Backyard Birds in Illinois
Illinois is a haven for bird watchers, with at least 450 species of birds recorded in the state. From vibrant and colorful songbirds to charming woodpeckers, there is a wide variety of bird species that can be spotted in backyards throughout Illinois. This article will explore 25 common backyard birds in Illinois, including their descriptions, habits, and tips for attracting them to your own yard.
1. Northern Cardinal
One of the most iconic birds in Illinois is the Northern Cardinal. With its vibrant red plumage and distinctive crest, the male Northern Cardinal is a favorite among bird enthusiasts. The female, although less colorful, is still a sight to behold with her reddish tinge and elegant song. Cardinals are year-round residents in Illinois and can often be seen hopping along branches or foraging for seeds on the ground. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders, especially if sunflower seeds are provided.
2. Tufted Titmouse
The Tufted Titmouse is a small and cheerful bird known for its crest and black eyes. Its plumage is primarily gray with splashes of white on the belly and face. Tufted Titmice are highly active and acrobatic, often seen hanging upside-down on tree branches as they search for insects and seeds. They are common backyard visitors in Illinois and can be attracted with suet feeders and birdhouses.
Chickadees are small, charismatic birds with black caps and prominent white cheek patches. The most common species found in Illinois is the Black-capped Chickadee. These friendly birds are known for their distinctive “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call and their curious, fearless nature. Chickadees enjoy eating various seeds, berries, and insects. Providing a mix of birdseed containing sunflower seeds and suet feeders will entice them to your backyard.
4. Blue Jay
With its vibrant blue feathers and prominent crest, the Blue Jay is a striking bird that is hard to miss. Blue Jays are known for their loud and distinctive calls, often imitating the cries of other birds. They are intelligent and social birds, often seen in groups or pairs. Blue Jays are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of foods, including insects, nuts, seeds, and even small vertebrates. They are a frequent visitor to bird feeders, especially if peanuts or sunflower seeds are provided.
5. Eastern Bluebird
The Eastern Bluebird is a beautiful and beloved species in Illinois. The males have stunning blue feathers on their back, while the females sport a blend of blue and reddish-brown tones. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and will readily accept nest boxes in backyards. They primarily feed on insects but will also consume berries. Planting native fruit-bearing shrubs like dogwoods and providing mealworms in a feeder can help attract these delightful birds to your yard.
6. White-breasted Nuthatch
The White-breasted Nuthatch is a small bird with an unusual habit of creeping headfirst down tree trunks. Their gray and white plumage, black cap, and distinctive eye stripe make them easily recognizable. Nuthatches are cavity nesters and are frequent visitors to bird feeders. They have a unique feeding behavior of wedging nuts and seeds into tree bark and hammering at them with their strong bills. Offering a mix of nuts, suet, and insects will help entice these agile climbers to your yard.
7. American Robin
The American Robin is a well-known bird with its orange breast and dark gray back. While often associated with springtime, Robins can be found in Illinois year-round. They are excellent singers and their melodious songs can be heard across neighborhoods. Robins are skilled at locating worms and insects in lawns and gardens. They can also be attracted to your yard with a birdbath or shallow dish of water, as they enjoy bathing and drinking.
8. Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves are gentle and graceful birds with a soft, mournful cooing sound. They have a plump body, light gray-brown feathers, and a long, pointed tail. These birds are typically found in open woodlands and suburban areas. Mourning Doves primarily feed on seeds and grains, making them frequent visitors to bird feeders that offer a variety of seeds, such as millet and sunflower seeds.
9. European Starling
The European Starling is a highly adaptable and vocal species in Illinois. These medium-sized birds have glossy black feathers adorned with iridescent purple and green highlights. Starlings are known for their ability to imitate various sounds, including other bird songs and even human speech. While they can be considered invasive in North America, their acrobatic flight and impressive vocal abilities make them an interesting bird to observe.
10. American Goldfinch
The American Goldfinch, also known as the Eastern Goldfinch, is a vibrant and charming bird that can be found throughout Illinois. The males have striking yellow plumage during breeding season, while the females have a more muted yellow-green color. Goldfinches are mainly seed eaters, with a preference for thistle and sunflower seeds. They are particularly attracted to feeders with Nyjer (thistle) seed and will readily visit backyards that provide this food source.
11. House Finch
House Finches are small birds with a delightful mixture of red, brown, and gray feathers. Originally from western North America, they are now a common sight in Illinois. These finches are known for their beautiful songs and melodious calls. House Finches are primarily seed eaters, enjoying a wide variety of seeds including those found in sunflower heads. Offering a mix of seeds in a feeder will attract these lively and colorful birds to your backyard.
12. Red-winged Blackbird
The Red-winged Blackbird is a striking bird with glossy black feathers and bright red and yellow shoulder patches. Males flash these vibrant colors in territorial displays during breeding season. Females, on the other hand, have a more subdued brown plumage with streaks. These birds are frequently seen near wetlands and marshes, but can also be attracted to backyards that have feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds or bird baths for drinking and bathing.
13. Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a medium-sized songbird with a bold black and white plumage and a splash of bright red on the males’ breast. Females are predominantly brown and white, providing excellent camouflage while nesting. These grosbeaks are migratory birds in Illinois, arriving in late spring and departing in early fall. They enjoy a variety of foods, including seeds, insects, and fruits. Providing sunflower seeds and a mix of berries can entice these gorgeous birds to visit your yard during their migration.
14. Song Sparrow
The Song Sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow with a brown and white-streaked plumage. These sparrows are known for their melodic and varied songs, filling Illinois’ woodlands and wetlands with their beautiful sounds. Song Sparrows are primarily ground foragers, feeding on insects, seeds, and berries. Planting native grasses and shrubs can attract these lovely sparrows to your yard, providing them with ample cover and food sources.
15. Red-bellied Woodpecker
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker species found in wooded areas of Illinois. While its name suggests a prominently red belly, it is the red cap on the male’s head that is most striking. Females have a more subdued cap with a tinge of red. These woodpeckers have a varied diet, feasting on insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Offering suet feeders and a mix of woodpecker-specific foods will help attract these acrobatic birds to your yard.
16. Downy Woodpecker
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species in North America, but they still possess a vibrant and eye-catching appearance. Males have a small red patch on the back of their heads, while females do not. These woodpeckers are often found in wooded habitats, but they are also frequent visitors to backyard feeders. Offering suet feeders and providing dead trees or birdhouses for nesting can help encourage these charming woodpeckers to make a home in your yard.
17. Common Grackle
The Common Grackle is a large, gregarious bird known for its iridescent black plumage and piercing yellow eyes. These birds are often seen in flocks, creating a unique cacophony of calls. Grackles are opportunistic feeders, eating insects, seedlings, grains, and even garbage. Providing platform feeders with a mixture of grains and suet will attract these sociable birds to your backyard.
18. Indigo Bunting
The Indigo Bunting is a stunningly bright and beautiful bird. The males possess vibrant indigo feathers, while females have a subtler blue-brown plumage. These buntings can be found in open woodlands, fields, and prairies throughout Illinois during the breeding season. They primarily feed on seeds and insects. Planting a variety of seed-bearing flowers and providing a water source will help attract these vibrant birds to your yard.
19. Dark-eyed Junco
The Dark-eyed Junco, also known as the “Snowbird,” is a small bird with a gray body and a white belly. They are commonly seen in Illinois during winter, often forming large flocks. Juncos are ground feeders and primarily consume seeds and grains. Providing low-mounted feeders or scattering seeds on the ground will attract these winter visitors to your yard.
20. Baltimore Oriole
The Baltimore Oriole is a vibrant, medium-sized bird with striking orange plumage and contrasting black wings. Males are particularly striking, with their bright colors standing out against a leafy backdrop. Orioles are migratory birds in Illinois, arriving in spring and staying until late summer. Their diet consists of nectar, fruits, insects, and sugary offerings such as orange halves or grape jelly. Providing a nectar feeder and fruit feeders can entice these stunning birds to visit your yard during their stay.
21. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that regularly breeds in Illinois. These tiny birds have metallic green feathers that shimmer in the sunlight, and the males have a vibrant red throat patch. Hummingbirds are attracted to nectar-producing flowers, but they can also be enticed to visit feeders with a specially prepared sugar water solution. Hanging nectar feeders or planting tubular flowers such as bee balm and trumpet vine can make your yard a hummingbird haven.
22. Brown Thrasher
The Brown Thrasher is a large songbird with a reddish-brown back, a creamy underside, and distinct streaks on its chest. These thrashers are known for their beautiful songs and their ability to mimic the songs of other birds. They are primarily ground foragers, using their long bills to flip leaves and uncover insects and berries. Creating brush piles and scattering fruit or mealworms on the ground can help attract these musical birds to your yard.
23. Gray Catbird
The Gray Catbird is a medium-sized bird with a dark gray body and a black cap. They are known for their cat-like calls, which often include soft mewing sounds. Catbirds are skilled at imitating a wide variety of sounds, from other bird songs to human noises. They primarily feed on insects and berries. Providing a mix of berries, fruits, and water sources will help attract these lively and vocal birds to your yard.
24. Northern Flicker
The Northern Flicker is a large woodpecker species with a distinctive brown body, black bars on its back, and a white rump patch. They are known for their characteristic “flicker” flight pattern and their loud, ringing call. Flickers are primarily ground-foragers, feeding on ants, beetles, and other insects found in lawns and gardens. Offering a mix of suet, nuts, and providing dead trees or snags for nesting will help attract these unique woodpeckers to your yard.
25. Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge
If you are interested in observing a wide variety of bird species, the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois is a must-visit hotspot. Located near Lewistown, Illinois, this expansive wetland restoration project provides a haven for birds and other wildlife. The refuge offers a range of habitat types, including flooded wetlands, open water, and upland prairies, attracting a diverse array of bird species throughout the year.
In conclusion, Illinois is home to a rich diversity of bird species, with 25 common backyard birds discussed in this article. From the vibrant Northern Cardinal to the agile White-breasted Nuthatch, each bird brings its unique beauty and charm to the backyard. By providing suitable food sources, water, and appropriate habitats, bird enthusiasts can attract and observe these splendid creatures right outside their windows. So grab your binoculars and enjoy the fascinating world of birds in your own backyard in Illinois.