Iowa hosts a diverse array of wild bird species. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most easily identifiable and well-known birds in Iowa, particularly those found in proximity to homes. While certain species are permanent residents throughout the year, others are only seasonal inhabitants. So, let’s delve into 25 backyard birds in Iowa and gain insights into each species.
Following that, I’ll guide you on how to draw them to your yard, offer a brief overview of the ten distinct types of bird feeders for this purpose, and touch upon a few noteworthy birdwatching locations and birding organizations in Iowa.
What is the count of various wild bird species in Iowa?
Determining the precise number of bird species in North America, the United States, or Iowa is challenging. Yet, as of 2021, the official state list by the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union included 431 species.
Although one source asserts 2,059 species in North America and an older reference cites 914, the accuracy of these figures is uncertain. There is a significant distinction between a bird accidentally straying into an area and one that regularly frequents it.
For the scope of this article, we will focus on some of our preferred common backyard species found in Iowa.
25 BACKYARD BIRDS IN IOWA
Below, we will examine 25 species of backyard birds in Iowa, encompassing both year-round residents and seasonal visitors. While these species don’t represent the entirety of Iowa’s bird population, they are among the more noteworthy and recognizable backyard birds, many of which may grace your bird feeders. Let’s begin!
1. Song sparrow
Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
Length: 4.7-6.7 in
Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in
The Song Sparrow is a widespread species throughout most of North America, exhibiting variations in plumage across different regions. In the eastern areas, these sparrows feature predominantly brown hues on their back and wings, complemented by pronounced brown streaks on their chest and a white underbelly. Notably, the converging streaks on their chest form a conspicuous brown spot, aiding in identification. Males utilize their songs for both attracting females and defending their territory.
While Song Sparrows migrate in many regions, they remain present in Iowa throughout the year.
These sparrows occasionally visit bird feeders, where they enjoy consuming mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
2. House finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
Length: 5.1-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in
The House Finch is another commonly observed backyard bird in Iowa. Although considered invasive in the eastern U.S., they do not elicit universal disdain and do not cause as many problems for native birds as some other species, such as the house sparrow. Once attracted, they often appear in pairs or groups at feeders. Males predominantly display streaked brown coloring with some red on the head and chest, while females are entirely brown.
House Finches are a year-round presence in Iowa.
Similar to other finches, House Finches frequent thistle feeders and are more commonly seen at seed feeders than Goldfinches. Using black sunflower seeds is an effective way to attract them.
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
Length: 7.9-11.0 in
Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
Robins, highly prevalent in backyards, are often spotted hopping around grassy areas in search of worms and other invertebrates. While they may occasionally visit bird feeders, their diet typically excludes seeds. Their distinctive features include bright red round bellies and yellow beaks.
Robins can be found in Iowa throughout the year.
Given their infrequent visits to bird feeders, attracting robins is best achieved with mealworms, native fruit-bearing plants, or a birdbath.
4. Mourning dove
Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
Length: 9.1-13.4 in
Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz
Wingspan: 17.7 in
Approximately the size of a robin, mourning doves are common in backyards and are often seen perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. While occasionally observed on tray feeders, they more commonly forage on the ground. Distinguished by mostly gray coloring with black spots on top and a pale peachy hue below, they have pink legs.
Mourning doves are present throughout Iowa year-round.
These doves frequently visit seed feeders but prefer ground-level scavenging for fallen seeds. Using a ground feeder with a mixed seed blend or scattering seeds on the ground is an effective way to attract them.
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
Length: 7.9-9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
In the 1890s, 100 starlings were released in New York, and since then, they have proliferated throughout the country. Unfortunately, they pose a threat by destroying other birds’ nests and young, monopolizing feeders and preventing access for other species. Sporting mostly dark plumage with white specks on their backs and wings, they also exhibit yellow beaks and feet. In certain lighting conditions, they may display a purple and green iridescence.
This invasive species is found year-round in all lower 48 states, including Iowa.
Due to their invasive nature, attempting to attract European Starlings is not recommended, as they tend to show up regardless.
6. American goldfinch
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
Length: 4.3-5.1 in
Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
Goldfinches rank among the favorite birds to observe at feeders, particularly when adorned in bright yellow feathers during spring and summer. During this period, they exhibit mostly yellow or “gold” plumage with black-tipped wings, and males feature a black cap atop their heads. In winter, their vibrant yellow fades to a more subdued brownish or olive tone, yet their wings’ black markings and finch-like beaks remain distinctive.
Goldfinches are present in Iowa year-round.
These birds prefer thistle feeders, although they may also consume sunflower chips. Using a thistle feeder increases the likelihood of attracting them.
7. White-Breasted nuthatch
Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
Length: 5.1-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in
White-breasted Nuthatches are frequent visitors to feeders in many backyards within their range. The name “Nuthatch” stems from their habit of stuffing nuts and seeds under tree bark, using their sharp beaks to extract the seeds. These birds excel at walking vertically on trees, a skill surpassing that of many other avian species. Identified by a thick black stripe atop their heads, flanked by white on either side and on their bellies, their wings display a predominantly gray and black pattern.
White-breasted Nuthatches are present throughout Iowa year-round.
To attract Nuthatches, offer a variety of seeds such as mixed blends, black sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet, as they tend to grab and swiftly fly off to consume or cache the seeds.
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in
Commonly regarded as pests, House Sparrows are one of the few species of wild birds in the U.S. that can be legally trapped and humanely killed, alongside starlings. Introduced in New York in the 1800s, they have rapidly spread across the country. Exhibiting primarily brown coloring with black and brown streaks
9. common grackle
Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
Length: 11.0-13.4 in
Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz
Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in
Although classified as a bully bird like the starling, grackles display a certain beauty in the right light due to their iridescent feathers. While they may seem predominantly black, under suitable lighting conditions, one can observe hints of blue, green, brown, and purple. Grackles often congregate with other blackbirds, forming massive flocks numbering in the millions. Identifying features include solid coloring, a long narrow body, a distinctive tail, and a yellow-ringed eye.
Grackles remain in Iowa throughout the year.
Being foragers, grackles have a varied diet and are sometimes considered pests.
Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
Length: 5.9-7.5 in
Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz
Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 in
Barn swallows, inhabitants of open fields, exhibit captivating colors with a dark blue back, orange markings between the eyes and on the throat, and a breast and belly ranging from light tawny to bright orange. Their distinctive feature is a long, deeply forked tail. Agile fliers, they gracefully maneuver over water, fields, farms, and meadows, catching insects mid-air. They construct cup-shaped nests using a combination of mud and grass, often found in barn eaves, gazebos, pavilions, and under bridges.
Barn swallows migrate to the U.S. for breeding, and they are prevalent in Iowa during spring and summer.
As they feed on flying insects, barn swallows do not visit bird feeders. To attract them, consider putting up nest boxes or providing access to suitable structures.
Scientific Name: Troglodytes aedon
Length: 4.3-5.1 in
Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz
Wingspan: 5.9 in
The House Wren, a diminutive brown bird with a robust vocal presence, is widespread across the U.S. Known for nesting in various small cavities, including boots or old cans, they often investigate birdhouses and frequently choose them for nesting. While zipping through shrubs in search of insects, their inconspicuous coloring and small size may make them easy to overlook. Sporting dark upper parts and lighter lower parts, with black barring on wings and tail, they are found in Iowa during the spring and summer.
House Wrens feed exclusively on insects and spiders, avoiding bird feeders. Attract them by having insect-friendly plants or bird houses in your yard.
12. northern flicker
Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
Medium to large-sized woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are common in U.S. backyards, though less frequent at feeders. Renowned for their vibrant colors, they primarily feed on ground-dwelling insects, distinguishing them from other woodpeckers. Identification features include black belly spots, a solid black bib, a red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. In Iowa, the “yellow-shafted” variety exhibits bright yellow feathers on the underside of wings and tail.
Northern Flickers are year-round residents in Iowa.
While they occasionally visit suet feeders, Northern Flickers usually find their own food. They may visit bird baths if available.
Scientific Name: Icterus galbula
Length: 6.7-7.5 in
Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz
Wingspan: 9.1-11.8 in
Orioles, fruit-eating birds with a penchant for dark-colored berries and fruits, can be attracted to your backyard if it hosts native fruit-bearing trees and plants. Males boast a dark hood on their entire head, black backs with white wing stripes, and bright orange breasts and underbodies, along with an orange rump and tail feathers. Females exhibit varying colors, ranging from duller yellow-orange with gray wings to lighter orange with a brown head and wings. Baltimore orioles are migratory, appearing in Iowa during the breeding season in spring and summer.
To attract orioles, set up an oriole feeder and offer jelly and orange halves.
14. gray catbird
Scientific Name: Dumetella carolinensis
Length: 8.3-9.4 in
Weight: 0.8-2.0 oz
Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in
Catbirds, robin-sized birds with dark slate-gray coloring, a black cap on their heads, and a lengthy tail, enjoy a diet of fruit. Attract them with native fruit-bearing trees and bushes. Named for their calls resembling a meowing cat, Gray Catbirds are present in Iowa and most of the U.S. during the spring and summer.
To attract catbirds, offer fruits, berries, and sweet items; they prefer foraging on the ground or in bushes.
Scientific Name: Geothlypis trichas
Length: 4.3-5.1 in
Weight: 0.3 oz
Wingspan: 5.9-7.5 in
Common yellowthroats, one of the most prevalent warblers in the U.S., spend the breeding season in most regions before migrating south for winter. Males exhibit an olive-brown back and tail, a black face mask, and a bright yellow throat. Females share a similar color palette but lack the black mask. Thriving in brushy fields and areas around water, they are often encountered near wetlands and marshes.
Common yellowthroats can be found throughout Iowa during spring and summer.
Preferring insects, they do not visit bird feeders. However, a yard with low grasses and dense vegetation may attract them.
16. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Leuconotopicus villosus
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
Hairy woodpeckers closely resemble downy woodpeckers, with the former being larger, having a longer beak relative to their head, and subtle differences. Both species share similar markings and are often found in the same regions. While not as frequent visitors to bird feeders as downy woodpeckers
17. Northern cardinal
Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
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Northern Cardinals, with their vibrant red feathers and distinctive black masks in males, are widely recognized backyard birds in North America. Females exhibit duller colors with a more pale brown tone and some reddish coloring. Both genders are easily identified by their “mohawks” and reddish-orange beaks.
Northern Cardinals inhabit Iowa throughout the entire year.
To attract Cardinals, utilize mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds in most seed feeders.
18. chipping sparrow
Scientific Name: Spizella passerina
Length: 4.7-5.9 in
Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz
Wingspan: 8.3 in
Chipping sparrows showcase their crispest feathers in the summer, featuring a buffy gray breast, brown and tan streaked wings, a rusty red cap, and a black line through the eye with white above. In winter, their markings may appear less defined, and their coloring more buffy-brown. Common sparrows, they prefer feeding on open ground.
Chipping Sparrows are present in Iowa during the spring-summer season.
These sparrows are frequent visitors to backyard feeders, often staying on the ground to pick up spilled seeds. Attract them with sunflower and mixed seeds, especially scattered on the ground.
Scientific Name: Poecile atricapillus
Length: 4.7-5.9 in
Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in
Black-capped chickadees, recognized by their rounded bodies and distinctive “black cap” and bib, feature solid white cheeks, blackish-gray wings and backs, and fluffy, light underbodies.
Common at bird feeders, these bold and small birds dart back and forth between feeders and cover. They are among the first to explore new feeders in a yard.
Black-capped chickadees are year-round residents in Iowa.
Offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds in most seed feeders to attract these lively birds.
Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata
Length: 9.8-11.8 in
Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in
The Blue Jay, a well-known North American bird, boasts a large blue crest atop its head, predominantly blue feathers along the back, and white feathers on the chest and belly. Wings and tail adorned with black stripes, along with a necklace-like black ring around their necks, contribute to their distinctive appearance. Recognized for loud, metallic calls, Blue Jays often alert other birds in the vicinity of potential predators like hawks.
Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout the entire state of Iowa.
These birds favor platform feeders, peanut feeders, and feeders with large perches. Attract them with black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.
abundant birds, male red-winged blackbirds stand out with their red and yellow “shoulders” against a black backdrop. Females, on the other hand, exhibit a different appearance, mostly brown with light streaks. Red-winged blackbirds are known as polygynous species, with males mating with up to 15 different females. Unfortunately, they might appear in feeder flocks, quickly consuming seeds.
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found year-round throughout Iowa.
These birds readily visit most feeder types and consume both seed and suet.
21. Brown- Headed cowbird
Scientific Name: Molothrus ater
Length: 7.5–8.7 in
Weight: 1.5–1.8 oz
Wingspan: 12.6–15.0 in
Brown-headed cowbirds, often categorized with blackbirds due to male color and flock behavior, can overwhelm feeders in large groups. Males sport an iridescent black body with a dark brown head, while females are an overall lighter brown.
Unfortunately, cowbirds act as “nest parasites,” laying their eggs in other birds’ nests, reducing the host species’ numbers. They may sneak in and lay eggs among others or remove existing eggs from the nest. Some birds don’t recognize the imposter egg, raising the cowbird chick as their own.
Cowbirds are present during spring and summer in Iowa, possibly staying year-round in the southeastern part of the state.
Brown-headed cowbirds willingly visit feeders, often in sizable groups, consuming various mixed seeds.
Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
Length: 5.5-6.3 in
Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in
Dark-eyed juncos, often associated with winter in the U.S., spend their summers in Canada. In Iowa, the most common variety is the “slate-colored,” recognizable by pale pink beaks and roundish body shape. They are darker on the head and back, lighter on the belly, and often seen hopping around on the ground in forests and wooded areas.
Dark-eyed Juncos are only found in Iowa from October to April.
While they may perch on feeders, juncos prefer eating seeds from the ground underneath, dropped by other birds. They favor mixed seeds.
23.Red- bellied woodpecker
Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
Medium-sized woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, commonly seen at feeders and in backyards, feature a bright red streak along the back of their heads. Despite the “red-bellied” name, the red area in their belly region is often not visible. Easily identified by their white and black barred wings, they are year-round residents in Iowa.
Attract red-bellied woodpeckers with a suet feeder; they may also visit seed feeders, especially if peanuts are available.
24. Downy woodpecker
Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Common backyard visitors, downy woodpeckers, the smallest North American woodpeckers, readily explore new bird feeders. Easily identifiable by their all-white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and red spot on the back of their heads (males only, females lack the red). While resembling the hairy woodpecker, downy woodpeckers are smaller.
Downy woodpeckers are present in Iowa throughout the entire year.
They frequently visit most bird feeders, enjoying mixed seed, black sunflower seed, and suet.
25. Red-Winged Blackbird
Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus
Length: 6.7-9.1 inches
Weight: 1.1-2.7 ounces
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
Among the most plentiful birds in North America, male red-winged blackbirds are easily recognizable due to their red and yellow “shoulders,” which contrast with their black bodies. On the other hand, the females of this species exhibit a distinct appearance, primarily being brown with light streaks. Red-winged blackbirds are classified as a polygynous species, indicating that males engage in mating with up to 15 different females. Regrettably, they occasionally appear in groups at feeders, consuming seeds rapidly.
Throughout the entire year, Red-winged Blackbirds can be found in Iowa.
These birds frequent various types of feeders and consume both seeds and suet.
Bird Watching in Iowa
Iowa provides numerous opportunities for enthusiasts who wish to pursue their hobby beyond the confines of their own backyard. The Iowa Audubon Society boasts several local chapters that organize meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours, providing a chance for deeper engagement with the avian world. Additionally, the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union serves as a unifying platform for birders of varying skill levels.
For residents of Iowa looking to expand their life list with new avian species, I’ve compiled a list of popular birding locations in the state.
Iowa Birding Locations
Explore more about the offerings of each of these locations, including local birding events, by visiting birdwatchersdigest.org.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard
If you’re keen on drawing avian visitors to your yard, consider these five straightforward tips, beginning with the most evident.
- Put Out Bird Feeders The most effective and apparent method to attract birds to your yard is by placing one or two bird feeders. I recommend starting with a simple tube feeder, hopper feeder, platform feeder, or a window feeder. See below for suggestions for each.
- Add a Water Source A pedestal birdbath, like the one available on Amazon, is excellent, but you can also use something as uncomplicated as a terra cotta flower pot saucer. Birds not only need water for bathing but also for drinking, and incorporating a water feature in your yard will enhance your chances of attracting birds. Additionally, consider installing a solar fountain, as moving water tends to entice birds even more.
- Offer Birdhouses Numerous bird species will readily inhabit birdhouses if placed in the right spot at the appropriate time of year. Eastern Bluebirds, in particular, are commonly sought-after birds for birdhouses. I have this birdhouse in my backyard, and a mating pair of bluebirds checked it out the same day I installed it.
- Provide Shelter Ensure that your yard features trees, bushes, and shrubs where birds can swiftly move when they sense danger. This serves as their primary defense against predators. If your yard lacks mature trees, particularly in a new subdivision, do your best to incorporate landscaping features that offer birds a sense of safety.
- Add Native Plants For birds that feed on nuts, berries, and seeds, having native plants that produce these items will enhance your efforts to attract more birds. Steer clear of invasive and non-native plants, as they can be detrimental to native birds unfamiliar with these plant species.
10 Different Types of Bird Feeders
Discover the variety of bird feeders commonly used in yards for attracting our feathered friends.
- Hopper Feeder
- Named for the central compartment, or hopper, that holds bird seed.
- Typically shaped like a house with perches on the sides for birds to land on.
- Ideal for black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Check out this squirrel-proof hopper feeder, one of my favorites.
- Platform Feeder
- Also known as tray feeders, these are open on top and can be hung or pole-mounted.
- Suitable for feeding most bird types, but be aware that all yard animals can access them.
- Effective with black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Currently using this platform feeder in my backyard.
- Tube Feeder
- Clear plastic tube-shaped feeders that keep seed fresh and dry.
- Come in various sizes, accommodating from a few cups to 5 lbs or more of seed.
- Suitable for black sunflower seeds and mixed seeds.
- Squirrel Buster offers some of the best tube feeders; here’s a great squirrel-proof option.
- Suet Feeder
- Designed for suet cakes, usually a wire cage with a tail-prop for larger birds.
- Popular in winter for birds seeking high-fat foods, often attracting woodpeckers.
- Consider a suet feeder with a long tail prop for larger woodpeckers like the Pileated and Northern Flicker.
- Window Feeder
- Small feeders that attach to glass windows with suction cups.
- Similar to tray feeders, easy to refill by pouring seed into the tray.
- Popular with various bird types, especially for those with limited yard space.
- Check out this popular window feeder on Amazon.
- Thistle Feeder
- Specifically designed for thistle seed, attracting finch family birds like American Goldfinch and House Finch.
- Often in a tube shape with tiny holes along the sides for birds to pick out thistle.
- Consider this thistle feeder from Droll Yankees.
- Ground Feeder
- Tray feeders at ground level, popular with birds like Mourning Doves and Juncos.
- Also attracts ground animals such as squirrels and raccoons.
- Suitable for black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Here’s a ground feeder made from recycled plastic.
- Oriole Feeder
- Specialized feeder for orioles, usually orange in color with dishes for holding jelly.
- Allows for attaching orange halves, another favorite food of orioles.
- Explore this simple oriole feeder with jelly trays for orange halves.
- Hummingbird Feeder
- Nectar feeders designed for hummingbirds to extract sugar water.
- Sometimes visited by other birds like Downy Woodpeckers.
- Here’s a simple and inexpensive hummingbird feeder that I’ve personally used with success.
- Peanut Feeder
- Tube-shaped feeders with wider mesh for whole unshelled or shelled peanuts.
- Attracts birds like Blue Jays; filled specifically with peanuts.
- Consider the Squirrel Buster for keeping squirrels out or this simple one for regular use.
- Hopper Feeder