Illinois harbors a diverse array of wild bird species, and in this article, we will explore some of the more identifiable and well-known birds inhabiting the state. While certain species make Illinois their year-round home, others are migratory, only residing part-time. This article delves into 25 backyard birds found in Illinois, providing insights into each species.
Following this exploration, I will guide you on attracting these birds to your yard, offering a primer on the ten different types of bird feeders suitable for the task. Additionally, I’ll highlight a few birdwatching hotspots in Illinois.
The exact count of wild bird species in Illinois, or even in North America and the United States, remains elusive. Wikipedia suggests a minimum of 450 bird species in Illinois. Discrepancies exist, with sources proposing figures like 2,059 and 914 species for North America. Variability arises from the fluctuating presence of rare species over the years.
For the scope of this article, we will focus on some of the more prevalent backyard birds in Illinois.
25 BACKYARD BIRDS IN ILLINOIS
Below, we will examine 25 species of backyard birds in Illinois, including both year-round residents and seasonal visitors. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it encompasses some of the more noteworthy and easily recognizable Illinois backyard birds. Without further delay, let’s dive in.
1. Eastern Bluebird
Scientific name: Sialia sialis
Length: 6.3-8.3 in
Weight: 1.0-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.6 in
Remaining true to their name, bluebirds exhibit a blue back with rusty reddish-orange bellies. Males display vivid colors, while females have a comparatively duller appearance. They are highly sought after as occupants of birdhouses in the U.S., contributing to the thriving bluebird house industry. Although prevalent in backyards, their presence at feeders is less common. Setting up a birdhouse might attract a mating pair—I successfully attracted one using a birdhouse from Amazon.
Eastern Bluebirds stay in Illinois throughout the year.
While bluebirds typically avoid seeds, they can be encouraged to visit feeders with mealworms and suet nuggets placed on a tray feeder or in a dish.
2. 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, commonly found in most backyards within their range, derive their name from the practice of stuffing nuts and seeds under tree bark, then using their sharp beaks to retrieve them. They exhibit adeptness at moving up and down trees vertically and often hang upside down at feeders. Identified by a thick black stripe on top of their heads, with white on either side and on their bellies, their wings are mostly gray and black.
White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Illinois.
Nuthatches will visit various seed feeders; offering mixed seed blends, black sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet is recommended.
3. American Robin
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
Length: 7.9-11.0 in
Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
Commonly found in backyards, Robins are frequently seen hopping around on the grass in search of worms and other invertebrates. Their distinctive features, including bright red round bellies and yellow beaks, make them easily identifiable. While they may occasionally visit bird feeders, seeds are not their typical food. Surprisingly, they have a particular affinity for bird baths.
Robins reside in Illinois throughout the year.
American Robins do not frequently visit bird feeders, so attracting them with mealworms, native fruit-bearing plants, or a bird bath is recommended.
4. Mourning Dove
Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
Length: 9.1-13.4 in
Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz
Wingspan: 17.7 in
Roughly the size of a robin, doves are commonly found in backyards, often perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. While occasionally seen on tray feeders, they are more commonly observed walking on the ground. Mourning Doves predominantly have gray feathers with black spots on top and a pale peachy color below.
Mourning Doves are present throughout Illinois all year.
Doves frequently visit seed feeders but prefer scouring the ground for fallen seeds. Consider using a ground feeder with a mixed seed blend or simply scatter some seeds on the ground to attract them.
5. European Starling
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 become invasive and disruptive. Dark with white specks on their backs and wings, featuring yellow beaks and feet, starlings can also exhibit a purple and green iridescence under certain lighting conditions.
Starlings are found year-round in every one of the lower 48 states, including Illinois.
European Starlings consume almost anything. As an invasive species, attempting to attract them is not recommended—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 my favorite birds to see at feeders, especially when adorned with their bright yellow feathers in Spring and Summer. During these seasons, they predominantly exhibit yellow or “gold” plumage, with black-tipped wings, and males sport a black cap. In winter, they molt, adopting more subdued brownish or olive tones, yet their distinctive black-winged and finch-like features persist.
Goldfinches are year-round residents in Illinois.
To attract Goldfinches, consider using thistle feeders; they may also consume sunflower chips, but a thistle feeder offers the best chance of attracting them.
7. Song Sparrow
Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
Length: 4.7-6.7 in
Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in
Song Sparrows, primarily brown on the back and wings with pronounced streaks on a white breast, are widely distributed throughout most of North America. Their plumage exhibits some regional variations. The male employs his song both for attracting females and defending his territory.
Song Sparrows are residents in Illinois year-round.
These sparrows occasionally visit bird feeders, indulging in mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
8. 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 are commonly observed at feeders and in backyards. Despite their name, the noticeable feature is the bright red streak along the back of their heads. With a plain white breast and a concealed pinkish-red area in their “belly,” their wings are distinctively marked with white and black barring.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are present year-round throughout Illinois.
Attract them with a suet feeder; they may also feed on seeds, especially if sunflower and peanuts are offered.
9. 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 woodpeckers in North America, are quick to explore new bird feeders. Easily identifiable by their all-white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and a red spot on the back of their heads (in males, absent in females). Resembling Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers are smaller with shorter beaks.
Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Illinois.
They are frequent visitors to various bird feeders, enjoying mixed seeds, black sunflower seeds, and suet.
10. Common Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
Length: 11.0-13.4 in
Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz
Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in
Despite falling into the “bully bird” category like starlings, Common Grackles exhibit a certain beauty in the right light. Predominantly appearing black, they often roost with other blackbirds, sometimes in massive flocks reaching millions. In favorable lighting, their iridescence reveals hues of blues, greens, and purples. Identified by their yellow-ringed eyes, they are considered pests due to their foraging habits.
Common Grackles are year-round residents in Illinois.
Foragers by nature, grackles consume a wide range of foods, often being perceived as pests.
11. Indigo Bunting
Scientific name: Passerina cyanea
Length: 4.7-5.1 in
Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
Migrating at night from wintering grounds in Mexico and southern Florida, Indigo Buntings add a touch of beauty to summer landscapes. While females are mostly brown with subtle hints of blue, males boast bright blue plumage with black wings. This unique coloration results from how their feathers reflect light rather than containing blue pigment. Look for them in summer along field and woodland edges.
Indigo Buntings can be spotted throughout Illinois in spring and summer.
Although less frequent at feeders, they may visit, especially if offered mixed seed and nyjer.
12. Dark-eyed Junco
Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
Length: 5.5-6.3 in
Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in
Often associated with winter, Dark-eyed Juncos spend their summers in Canada. With blackish-gray heads and overall dark slate-gray on top, their bottom half is a lighter grayish-white, complemented by a light pink beak. Females and immatures may appear more buffy brown. Common in forests and wooded areas, they are frequently seen hopping on the ground.
Dark-eyed Juncos are winter residents in Illinois.
While occasionally visiting feeders, they prefer finding food and eating seeds on the ground, picking up seeds dropped by other birds under feeders.
13. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
Northern Cardinals stand out as one of the most recognizable and prevalent backyard birds in North America. Distinguished by bright red feathers and a black mask in males, while females exhibit duller colors, leaning towards pale brown with hints of reddish coloring. Both males and females are easily identified by their distinctive “mohawks” and reddish-orange beaks.
Northern Cardinals are present throughout the state of Illinois year-round.
They readily visit most seed feeders; offering mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds is ideal. Find more tips on attracting cardinals here.
14. Tufted Titmouse
Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
Length: 5.5-6.3 in
Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-10.2 in
These petite birds are frequent visitors to feeders and common in backyards within their range. Similar to Cardinals, they sport a small crest (the “mohawk”) that aids in distinguishing them from other birds. Titmice feature a silver-gray upper body and a lighter underside, complemented by a black patch just above their beaks.
The Tufted Titmouse is found year-round throughout Illinois, particularly along the western edge of their range.
Titmice readily visit most seed feeders; offering mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds is recommended.
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
Length: 4.7-5.9 in
Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in
Chickadees, characterized by their “black cap” and black bib, are easily recognizable tiny birds. Sporting solid white cheeks, gray wings and backs, and fluffy, light-colored underbodies.
In the east, two types of Chickadees are found: Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees, both nearly identical in appearance. In Illinois, both species coexist, with Black-capped Chickadees in the north and Carolina Chickadees in the south, overlapping in the middle. Common at bird feeders, they are often observed darting back and forth for more.
Chickadees frequently visit most seed feeders; offering mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds is recommended.
16. Blue Jay
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
Length: 9.8-11.8 in
Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in
Another widely recognized bird species in North America and the U.S., the Blue Jay boasts a large blue crest on top of its head, predominantly blue feathers on top, and white feathers on the bottom. Additionally, they feature a black ring around their necks resembling a necklace, and their wings exhibit white, blue, and black barring.
Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout the entire state of Illinois, common in backyards and at feeders.
They prefer platform feeders, peanut feeders, and feeders with large perches. Offer them black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.
17. 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 prevalent backyard bird in Illinois. Despite being invasive, they aren’t universally disliked like House Sparrows and don’t cause the same issues. Attracting them is relatively easy, and they may gather in large flocks around your feeders. Streaked in brown and white, males display red on their heads and chest.
House Finches are commonly found throughout Illinois.
Similar to other finches, House Finches frequently visit thistle feeders. They are more often seen at seed feeders than Goldfinches, so offering black sunflower seeds can attract them as well.
18. House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in
Generally considered pests, House Sparrows, like starlings, are legally trapable and can be humanely dealt with. Introduced in the 1800s in New York, they have rapidly spread across the country. Predominantly brown with black and brown streaks on their wings and a buffy chest, they are notably aggressive, especially around nests.
House Sparrows are widespread throughout Illinois.
As with European Starlings, House Sparrows are invasive and pose a threat to native species. They are omnivores and consume a wide range of food.
19. Red-winged Blackbird
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
Length: 6.7-9.1 in
Weight: 1.1-2.7 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
Among the most abundant birds in North America, male Red-winged Blackbirds are easily identifiable by the bright red on their shoulders. Females, however, appear mostly brown and white streaked. As a polygynous species, males may mate with up to 15 different females.
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found in Illinois throughout the year.
They visit various feeder types and consume both seed and suet.
20. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 1.4-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 11.4-13.0 in
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks spend their winters in Central and South America, making their return to the U.S. an exciting event for backyard bird enthusiasts. While females exhibit streaky brown and white with a bold white eyebrow, males showcase striking colors, including a black head and back with white wing spots and a bright red triangle on the chest. Their stout pink beaks aid in breaking open tough seeds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are migratory in far southern Illinois, present in the spring and fall. In the upper two-thirds of the state, they breed throughout the summer before heading south again in the fall.
Red-breasted Grosbeaks occasionally visit bird feeders, indulging in mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
21. Baltimore Oriole
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
Length: 6.7-7.5 in
Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz
Wingspan: 9.1-11.8 in
Orioles, being fruit-eating birds, are attracted to dark-colored berries and fruits. Having native fruit-bearing trees and plants in your backyard increases the chances of attracting Baltimore Orioles. Males exhibit a dark hood covering their entire head, black backs with white stripes on their wings, and vibrant orange coloring on their breasts and underbodies. They also feature an orange rump and tail feathers. Females have a more muted yellowish-orange coloring.
Baltimore Orioles are migratory birds, appearing during the breeding season in most of the country, including Illinois. Look for them in the spring and summer.
To attract Orioles, set up an oriole feeder and offer them jelly and orange halves.
22. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Scientific name: Archilochus colubris
Length: 2.8-3.5 in
Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz
Wingspan: 3.1-4.3 in
Although common only in the eastern half of the United States, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the most abundant hummingbird species in the country. They are the sole breeding species of hummingbirds found in the Eastern U.S., named for the bright ruby-red throat feathers in males. These hummingbirds are emerald-green on their backs, wings, and heads, with white underparts. Females lack the red throat feathers.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the primary hummingbirds found in Illinois from spring to fall.
These hummingbirds are frequent visitors to backyards if nectar feeders are provided, typically in April or May.
23. Brown Thrasher
Scientific name: Toxostoma rufum
Length: 9.1-11.8 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 in
Brown Thrashers, while not as common as some others on this list, can be found in Illinois if you know where to look. As their name suggests, they are mostly brown, and they are believed to be named “thrashers” due to their foraging behavior—thrashing through fallen leaves to find insects. Brown Thrashers are accomplished songbirds, with over 1100 different songs, including imitations of other bird species.
Brown Thrashers breed in most of Illinois, so watch for them in spring and summer. In the far southern tip of the state, they may remain all year.
These thrashers don’t typically visit bird feeders but may pick up seeds on the ground as they mainly search through leaves and sticks for insects.
24. 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 are dark slate gray with black caps on top of their heads, blackish gray wings, and long tails. They primarily consume fruits, so attracting them involves having native fruit-bearing trees and bushes. The name “catbird” comes from their calls, which somewhat resemble the meowing of a cat.
Gray Catbirds are found in Illinois and most of the U.S. during the spring and summer.
To attract catbirds, offer fruits, berries, and other sweet treats. They prefer foraging on the ground or in bushes for food.
25. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
These medium to large-sized woodpeckers are common in backyards throughout the United States, though not as frequently seen at feeders. Northern Flickers mainly feed on insects and are distinguished by black spots on their bellies, a solid black bib, a red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. In Illinois, you’ll find the “yellow-shafted” variety, characterized by bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings.
Northern Flickers are present all year in Illinois.
While they occasionally visit suet feeders, they generally find their own food. They may, however, visit a bird bath if you have one.
Bird Watching in Illinois
Illinois provides numerous excellent locations for bird watching beyond the confines of your own backyard. The Illinois Audubon Society boasts several chapters, consistently organizing meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours for those seeking a deeper engagement.
For Illinois residents eager to expand their life list with new bird species, here’s a compiled list of popular birding locations in the state.
Illinois Birding Locations Explore further details about each of these spots on birdwatchersdigest.org.
How to Invite Birds to Your Yard
If you’re keen on welcoming avian visitors to your backyard, consider these five straightforward tips, starting with the most evident.
- Deploy Bird Feeders The most effective and straightforward method to entice birds to your yard is by placing one or two bird feeders. I recommend commencing with a basic tube feeder, hopper feeder, platform feeder, or a window feeder. Refer below for specific recommendations for each type.
- Introduce a Water Source While a pedestal birdbath, such as the one available on Amazon, is excellent, you can also utilize something as simple 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 heighten your chances of attracting them. Additionally, consider including a solar fountain, as moving water tends to attract birds even more.
- Provide Birdhouses Numerous bird species readily occupy birdhouses when placed in the right location at the appropriate time of year. Eastern Bluebirds, in particular, are commonly sought after for birdhouses. Having installed a birdhouse in my backyard, a mating pair of bluebirds explored it on the very day of installation.
- Offer Shelter Ensure that your yard includes trees, bushes, and shrubs to which birds can swiftly retreat when they sense danger. This serves as their primary defense against predators. If your yard lacks mature trees, especially in a new subdivision, make an effort to incorporate landscaping features that provide a sense of safety for birds.
- Incorporate Native Plants For birds that consume nuts, berries, and seeds, having native plants that produce these items will enhance your efforts to attract more birds. Strive to avoid invasive and non-native plants, as they can be detrimental to native birds unaccustomed to these plant species.
10 Different Types of Bird Feeders
Explore the following 10 commonly used bird feeders that people install in their yards:
- Hopper Feeder
- Named for the central compartment, or hopper, holding bird seed.
- Typically designed like a house with perches on the sides.
- Ideal for black sunflower seeds or mixed bird seed.
- Check out this squirrel-proof hopper feeder, one of my personal favorites.
- Platform Feeder
- Also known as tray feeders, open on top, suitable for hanging or pole-mounting.
- Great for feeding various bird types but accessible to all yard animals.
- Recommended for black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Currently using this platform feeder in my backyard.
- Tube Feeder
- Clear plastic tube-shaped feeders, varying in size.
- Preserve seed freshness and dryness, easy to refill.
- Attracts many bird species; suitable for black sunflower seeds and mixed seeds.
- Squirrel Buster offers excellent tube feeders, including this squirrel-proof option.
- Suet Feeder
- Specifically for suet cakes, comprising a wire cage.
- Features a tail prop for larger birds, popular in winter for high-fat foods.
- Consider a suet feeder with a long tail prop for larger woodpeckers.
- Window Feeder
- Small feeders attaching to glass windows with suction cups.
- Open on top for seed pouring, appealing to various bird types.
- Great for those with limited space; recommended for black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- One of the most popular window feeders on Amazon.
- Thistle Feeder
- Specialized for thistle seed, attracting finch family birds.
- Often tube-shaped with small holes for birds to extract thistle.
- Check out this thistle feeder from Droll Yankees.
- Ground Feeder
- Tray feeders at ground level, popular with ground-feeding birds and animals.
- Suitable for black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Consider this ground feeder made from recycled plastic.
- Oriole Feeder
- Specialty feeder for orioles, often orange with dishes for jelly.
- Allows attachment of orange halves, a favorite of orioles.
- Explore this simple oriole feeder with four jelly trays.
- Hummingbird Feeder
- Nectar feeders designed for hummingbirds.
- Downy Woodpeckers may also be attracted to the sweet nectar.
- Affordable and simple to use; here’s one I’ve personally had success with.
- Peanut Feeder
- Tube-shaped, featuring metal wire mesh for whole or shelled peanuts.
- Attracts birds like Blue Jays; use peanuts as suggested.
- Consider this squirrel-proof option by Squirrel Buster or a simpler one.
Enhance your bird-watching experience by choosing the feeder that suits your preferences and the birds you want to attract.
- Hopper Feeder