Exploring Minnesota’s Diverse Avian Residents: A Focus on 26 Backyard Birds
Minnesota boasts a rich tapestry of wild bird species, particularly those familiar and well-known ones that frequent our immediate surroundings. This article offers a glimpse into 26 such backyard birds in Minnesota, providing insights into both year-round residents and those that temporarily grace the state. Each species is briefly introduced, allowing readers to familiarize themselves with these winged inhabitants.
Following the exploration of these birds, the article transitions into practical advice on attracting them to your yard. A comprehensive overview of the 10 different types of bird feeders is presented, offering readers a crash course in creating an inviting environment for these feathered visitors. Additionally, noteworthy birdwatching hotspots and birding organizations in Minnesota are highlighted for those keen on expanding their birding experiences.
Addressing the question of how many bird species inhabit Minnesota, the article acknowledges the difficulty in pinpointing an exact number. Various sources, such as the National Wildlife Federation, Ornithology.com, Audubon, and Wikipedia, provide different estimates ranging from 800 to 1125 species. For the purposes of this article, the focus remains on showcasing some of the favorite and common backyard species found in Minnesota.
In conclusion, the article aims to celebrate the avian diversity within Minnesota, offering readers a curated glimpse into the beauty and variety of the state’s backyard birds.
- Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
- Length: 4.7-6.7 inches
- Weight: 0.4-1.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 inches
Song Sparrows are widespread across most of North America, exhibiting variations in plumage from one region to another. In the eastern regions, these sparrows feature predominantly brown backs and wings, marked by robust brown streaks on their chests and a white underbelly. The converging streaks form a distinct brown spot, aiding in identification. The male employs its song for both attracting mates and defending its territory.
During spring and summer, Song Sparrows can be spotted in central and northern Minnesota, while in the southern part, they remain present throughout the year.
At times, Song Sparrows may visit bird feeders, indulging in mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 5.1-5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 inches
The House Finch is a frequent visitor to backyards in both the eastern and western parts of the country, though their presence can be inconsistent in the central areas, including Minnesota. Attracting them is relatively simple, and they often appear in groups around feeders. Males exhibit streaked brown coloration with some red on the head and chest, while females are entirely brown.
House Finches are year-round residents in the southern regions of the state, with potential expansion northward in the future.
Similar to other finches, House Finches commonly visit thistle feeders and are more often seen at seed feeders than Goldfinches. Using black sunflower seeds can enhance the chances of attracting them.
- Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
- Length: 7.9-11.0 inches
- Weight: 2.7-3.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
Robins are prevalent in backyards, often seen hopping in the grass in search of worms and other invertebrates. While they may occasionally visit bird feeders, their diet does not typically include seeds. Their distinctive features, such as bright red round bellies and yellow beaks, make them easily identifiable.
American Robins can be found year-round in most parts of Minnesota, but they may only be present during spring and summer in the northern regions.
As robins do not frequently visit bird feeders, attracting them can be achieved with mealworms, native fruit-bearing plants, or a bird bath.
- Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
- Length: 9.1-13.4 inches
- Weight: 3.0-6.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 17.7 inches
Sized similarly to a robin, Mourning Doves are common in backyards, often perching on telephone wires or in groups in trees. While occasionally seen on tray feeders, they are more commonly observed walking on the ground. Their appearance includes mostly gray coloration with black spots on top, a pale peachy color below, and pink legs.
Mourning Doves are present throughout the year in the southern part of Minnesota but are seasonal residents in the central and northern regions during spring and summer.
These doves frequently visit seed feeders, with a preference for ground-level feeding. A mixed seed blend in a ground feeder or scattered seeds on the ground can attract them.
- Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
- Length: 7.9-9.1 inches
- Weight: 2.1-3.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
Around 100 starlings were released in New York in the 1890s, and they have since become an invasive species, spreading across the entire country. They pose threats by destroying other birds’ nests, killing their young, and dominating feeders, preventing access for other birds. Starlings exhibit mostly dark coloration with white specks on their backs and wings, along with yellow beaks and feet. In certain lighting conditions, they can display a purple and green iridescence.
Unfortunately, European Starlings are found year-round in all lower 48 states, including Minnesota.
Being an invasive species, it is not recommended to intentionally attract European Starlings, as they are likely to show up regardless.
- Scientific name: Spinus tristis
- Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 inches
Goldfinches are among the preferred birds at feeders, especially when they showcase their vibrant yellow feathers in spring and summer. During this period, they are predominantly yellow, with black-tipped wings, and males have a black cap on their heads. In winter, their bright yellow transitions to a more subdued brownish or olive tone. The black on their wings and finch-like beaks make them recognizable throughout the year.
American Goldfinches are present year-round in the southern half of Minnesota but visit the northern sections only during spring and summer.
Preferred feeders for Goldfinches are thistle feeders, and they may also consume sunflower chips. A thistle feeder provides the best opportunity to attract them.
- Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
- Length: 5.1-5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 inches
White-breasted Nuthatches are frequent feeder visitors in most backyards within their range. The name “Nuthatch” originates from their habit of storing nuts and seeds under tree bark, utilizing their sharp beaks to extract the seed from the shell. These birds excel at walking vertically on trees, a skill surpassing many other bird species. White-breasted nuthatches display a distinct thick black stripe on the top of their heads, flanked by white on either side and on their bellies. Their wings predominantly exhibit gray and black shades.
These nuthatches are present year-round in Minnesota and often make brief visits to seed feeders. Offering mixed seed blends, black sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet can attract them.
- Scientific name: Passer domesticus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 inches
- Weight: 0.9-1.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 inches
Commonly perceived as pests, House Sparrows, along with European Starlings, are the only species of wild birds in the U.S. that can be legally trapped and humanely killed. Introduced in New York in the 1800s, they have rapidly spread across the country. House Sparrows are predominantly brown, with black and brown streak
- Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
- Length: 11.0-13.4 inches
- Weight: 2.6-5.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 inches
Despite falling into the category of bully birds, much like starlings, grackles possess a certain beauty, particularly when illuminated by the right light, showcasing their iridescent feathers. Their appearance may seem predominantly black, but in optimal lighting conditions, hues of blue, green, brown, and purple become discernible. Grackles are known to roost with other blackbirds, forming massive flocks numbering in the millions. Their solid coloring, long narrow body and tail, along with a yellow-ringed eye, make them easily identifiable.
Grackles remain present year-round along the southern border of Minnesota, with their presence limited to the spring and summer breeding season in the rest of the state.
As foragers, grackles have a broad diet, consuming almost anything, often leading to their classification as pests.
- Scientific name: Hirundo rustica
- Length: 5.9-7.5 inches
- Weight: 0.6-0.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 inches
Barn swallows, denizens of open fields, exhibit strikingly colored plumage with a dark blue back, orange patches between the eyes and on the throat. Their breast and belly range from a light tawny color to a bright orange, and a distinctive feature is their long, deeply forked tail. Highly agile fliers, they navigate over water, fields, farms, and meadows, adept at catching insects in flight. Barn swallows construct cup-shaped nests using a combination of mud and grass, often found in locations like barn eaves, gazebos, covered pavilions, and under bridges.
Migrating to the U.S. for breeding, barn swallows can be found throughout Minnesota during the spring and summer.
As they primarily feed on flying insects, barn swallows do not visit bird feeders. Attracting them can be achieved by providing nest boxes or offering access to barns, outbuildings, or gazebos.
- Scientific name: Troglodytes aedon
- Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 5.9 inches
The house wren, a diminutive brown bird with a robust voice, is a common presence throughout the U.S. Known for nesting in various small cavities, including unconventional locations like boots or old cans, house wrens are likely to explore and utilize birdhouses if available. Their unassuming coloring and small size might make them easy to overlook, with a dark upper side and light underbelly, featuring black barring on wings and tail.
House wrens are found throughout Minnesota during the spring and summer breeding season.
Feeding primarily on insects and spiders, house wrens do not visit bird feeders. Attracting them can be facilitated by incorporating insect-supporting plants or providing birdhouses in the yard.
- Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
- Length: 11.0-12.2 inches
- Weight: 3.9-5.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 inches
Medium to large-sized woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are commonly observed in backyards across the United States, though they are not as frequent visitors to feeders. Renowned for their vibrant colors, flickers predominantly feed on insects and exhibit a preference for ground foraging rather than tree-based hunting. Distinguishing features include black spots on their bellies, a solid black bib, a red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. The males boast a distinctive black “mustache.” In Minnesota, the “yellow-shafted” variety is prevalent, displaying bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found year-round in Minnesota.
While Northern Flickers occasionally visit suet feeders, they are more inclined to find their own food. However, they may visit bird baths if available.
- Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis
- Length: 6.3-7.1 inches
- Weight: 0.8-1.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 inches
White-throated sparrows are prevalent across much of the U.S. during the winter, migrating to Canada for the summer breeding season. Recognizable by their white throat patch and bold facial pattern featuring black and white stripes with yellow spots between the eyes, females often nest on or just above the ground in concealed areas of dense brush and vegetation.
White-throated sparrows can be found in the northeastern part of Minnesota during the spring and summer. In the rest of the state, they may pass through during spring and fall migration.
Readily visiting feeders, white-throated sparrows prefer picking up fallen seeds. Offering sunflower seeds, millet, and mixed seed blends can attract them.
- Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
- Length: 8.3-9.4 inches
- Weight: 0.8-2.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 inches
Catbirds, robin-sized birds, sport dark slate gray coloring, a black cap atop their heads, and a lengthy tail. A rusty red patch beneath their tails often goes unnoticed. Catbirds have a penchant for consuming fruit, making them susceptible to attraction through native fruit-bearing trees and bushes. They earn their name from calls that somewhat resemble the meowing of a cat.
Gray Catbirds are found in Minnesota and most of the U.S. during the spring and summer only.
Attracting catbirds can be attempted by offering fruits, berries, and other sweet items, although they prefer foraging on the ground or in bushes for food.
- Scientific name: Geothlypis trichas
- Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
- Weight: 0.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.5 inches
Common yellowthroats rank among the most prevalent warblers in the U.S., spending only the breeding season here before migrating south of the border for winter. Males exhibit an olive-brown back and tail, a black face mask, and a bright yellow throat. Females share a similar color pattern but are lighter overall and more tan than gray, lacking the dark face mask and yellow head markings. Thriving in brushy fields, wetlands, and marshes, common yellowthroats are often encountered while hiking near ponds or marshes.
Common yellowthroats can be found throughout Minnesota in the spring and summer.
Insect-eaters by nature, common yellowthroats do not visit bird feeders but may frequent yards with low grasses and dense vegetation.
- Scientific name: Leuconotopicus villosus
- Length: 7.1-10.2 inches
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 inches
Hairy woodpeckers share a striking resemblance to downy woodpeckers, making differentiation challenging. Hairy woodpeckers are distinguished by their larger size, a longer beak relative to their head, and a few subtle variations. Both species exhibit similar markings and are commonly found in the same geographical regions. However, I’ve observed that hairy woodpeckers are less frequent visitors to bird feeders compared to downy woodpeckers.
Hairy Woodpeckers are present throughout the state of Minnesota all year.
Although not as prevalent as Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers may occasionally visit suet and seed feeders.
- Scientific name: Setophaga coronata
- Length: 4.7-5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.4-0.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.1 inches
The Yellow-rumped Warbler, known as the “Myrtle” variety in Minnesota, exhibits a variable color pattern based on its location. In this region, males typically display streaked black and gray plumage with a black mask, white eyebrow, and bright yellow on the top of the head, sides, and above the tail. Females share a similar color pattern but appear lighter overall, leaning towards tan rather than gray. They lack the dark face mask and yellow head markings. As is common among warblers, their colors are most vibrant in the spring and tend to fade considerably during the winter.
Yellow-rumped Warblers can be spotted in the northeastern part of Minnesota during the spring and summer. In other parts of the state, sightings are more likely during the spring and fall migration.
These warblers may occasionally visit bird feeders. Attract them with offerings of sunflower seeds, suet, and raisins.
- Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 inches
- Weight: 1.5-1.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 inches
Northern Cardinals stand out as one of the most easily recognizable and prevalent backyard birds in North America. Distinguished by their bright red feathers and black masks (males) or more subdued brown tones with hints of red (females), both genders are easily identifiable by their distinctive “mohawks” and reddish-orange beaks.
Northern Cardinals are present year-round throughout the southern half of Minnesota.
These birds readily visit various seed feeders; attract them with mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
- Scientific name: Spizella passerina
- Length: 4.7-5.9 inches
- Weight: 0.4-0.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 8.3 inches
Chipping Sparrows exhibit their crispest plumage in the summer, featuring a buffy gray breast, streaked brown and tan wings, a rusty red cap, and a distinctive black line through the eye with white above. Commonly found foraging on open ground, their markings may appear less defined and their coloring more buffy-brown during the winter.
Chipping Sparrows are present throughout Minnesota during the spring-summer season.
These sparrows are frequent visitors to backyard feeders, particularly on the ground. Attract them with sunflower and mixed seeds, especially scattered on the ground.
- Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
- Length: 4.7-5.9 inches
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 inches
Black-capped Chickadees, characterized by their tiny size and distinctive “black cap” and bib, are easily recognizable. With solid white cheeks, blackish-gray wings and backs, and fluffy light underbodies, these birds are common visitors at bird feeders. Known for their boldness, they are often among the first to explore new feeders.
Black-capped Chickadees are present year-round throughout Minnesota.
These birds readily visit most seed feeders; offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
- Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
- Length: 9.8-11.8 inches
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 inches
The Blue Jay is a well-known bird species in North America, featuring a large blue crest on its head, mostly blue feathers along the back, and white feathers on the chest and belly. With black stripes on their wings and tail, they also sport a distinctive black “necklace” ring. Recognized for their loud, metallic calls, Blue Jays often serve as vigilant sentinels, alerting other birds to potential predators.
Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout the entire state of Minnesota.
These birds favor platform feeders, peanut feeders, and those with large perches. Attract them with black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.
- Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
- Length: 6.7-9.1 inches
- Weight: 1.1-2.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
Red-winged Blackbirds, highly abundant across North America, are easily recognizable by the red and yellow “shoulders” on males contrasting with their black bodies. Females exhibit a different appearance, mostly brown with light streaks. Known as a polygynous species, males mate with up to 15 different females, and they can sometimes form flocks that quickly consume feeder seed.
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found year-round in southern Minnesota, while in the central and northern parts of the state, they are typically present only during the spring and summer.
These birds readily visit various feeder types and consume both seed and suet.
- Scientific name: Molothrus ater
- Length: 7.5 – 8.7 inches
- Weight: 1.5 – 1.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 12.6 – 15.0 inches
Brown-headed Cowbirds, often associated with blackbirds due to the color of males and their tendency to flock, have iridescent black bodies with dark brown heads (males). Females display a lighter brown overall. These birds are “nest parasites,” laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, potentially reducing the numbers of the host species.
Cowbirds are present during the spring and summer throughout Minnesota.
Brown-headed Cowbirds readily visit feeders, sometimes in large groups, and consume various types of mixed seeds.
- Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
- Length: 5.5-6.3 inches
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 inches
Dark-eyed Juncos, often considered winter birds in the U.S., spend their summers in Canada. Recognizable by their pale pink beaks and roundish body shape, they typically feature darker heads and backs with lighter bellies. Common in forests, they hop around on the ground, and while they may perch on feeders, they prefer to pick up fallen seeds underneath.
Dark-eyed Juncos are found in Minnesota only during the fall and winter, with some possibly staying year-round in the far north.
Juncos will occasionally perch on feeders but prefer feeding on seeds dropped to the ground. They favor mixed seeds.
- Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
- Length: 9.4 inches
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 inches
Medium-sized woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in backyards. Despite their name, the noticeable feature is the bright red streak along the back of their heads. Their white bellies with a pinkish-red lower section are often not visible. Unique wing patterns with white and black barring make identification easy.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers reside in the southern half of Minnesota year-round, but are less frequent in the northern half.
Attract them with a suet feeder, though they may also eat from seed feeders, especially if peanuts are offered.
- Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
- Length: 5.5-6.7 inches
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 ounce
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 inches
Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest woodpeckers in North America, are frequent visitors to bird feeders. Easily identified by their white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and a red spot on the back of their heads (males only), they closely resemble the larger Hairy Woodpecker.
Downy Woodpeckers are found year-round throughout Minnesota.
These woodpeckers are common at various bird feeders, enjoying mixed seed, black sunflower seed, and suet.
Bird Watching in Minnesota
Minnesota provides numerous opportunities for enthusiasts looking to explore bird watching beyond their own backyard. The Minnesota Audubon Society features several local chapters hosting meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours, offering a chance for deeper engagement in the hobby.
For residents of Minnesota seeking to diversify their life list with new bird species, consider exploring the following popular birding locations in the state.
Minnesota Birding Locations
Discover more about the offerings of each location, including local birding events, by visiting birdwatchersdigest.org.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard
If you’re keen on luring feathered friends to your backyard, consider implementing these five straightforward tips, beginning with the most apparent.
- Install Bird Feeders The most effective and straightforward method to attract birds is by placing bird feeders in your yard. Start with a basic tube feeder, hopper feeder, platform feeder, or a window feeder. Refer to the suggestions below for each type.
- Introduce a Water Source While a pedestal birdbath, like the one available on Amazon, is excellent, you can also opt for something as simple as a terra cotta flower pot saucer. Birds require water not just for bathing but also for drinking, and incorporating a water feature in your yard enhances the likelihood of attracting birds. Consider adding a solar fountain, as the movement of water further entices birds.
- Provide Birdhouses Numerous bird species readily take up residence in birdhouses when placed in the right location at the appropriate time of year. Eastern Bluebirds, in particular, are highly sought after for birdhouses. Installing a birdhouse in my backyard led to a mating pair of bluebirds exploring it the very same day.
- Ensure Shelter Ensure that your yard features trees, bushes, and shrubs where birds can quickly seek refuge 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 offer birds a sense of safety.
- Incorporate Native Plants Many birds that consume nuts, berries, and seeds benefit from native plants that produce these resources. Avoid invasive and non-native plants, as they can pose harm to native birds unaccustomed to these plant species.
Implementing these tips can significantly enhance your efforts to attract a diverse array of birds to your yard.
10 Different Types of Bird Feeders
Discover the variety of bird feeders commonly used in yards to attract our feathered friends.
- Hopper Feeder Hopper feeders, named for the compartment or “hopper” in the middle holding bird seed, often resemble houses. Equipped with perches on the sides, these feeders are ideal for black sunflower seeds or mixed bird seed. Consider squirrel-proof options, such as this favorite hopper feeder.
- Platform Feeder Also known as tray feeders, platform feeders are open on top and can be hung from trees or mounted on poles. Suitable for various bird species, they are easy to set up, though their openness may attract all yard animals. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed; this platform feeder is currently in use.
- Tube Feeder Clear plastic tube feeders maintain seed freshness, ranging in size from a few cups to 5 lbs or more. Versatile and easy to refill, they attract many bird types. Opt for quality with Squirrel Buster tube feeders, ensuring effectiveness and squirrel resistance.
- Suet Feeder Suet feeders are designed for suet cakes, consisting of a wire cage with or without a tail-prop for larger birds. Ideal in winter for high-fat foods, they often draw woodpeckers. Choose a suet feeder with a long tail prop for larger woodpeckers like the Pileated and Northern Flicker.
- Window Feeder Mounted with suction cups on glass windows, window feeders, like tray feeders, are easy to use and suitable for smaller yards. Pour black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed into the tray. This window feeder is highly popular on Amazon.
- Thistle Feeder Specialized for thistle seed, thistle feeders attract finch family birds. Usually tube-shaped with tiny holes, they offer birds easy access to thistle. Check out this thistle feeder from Droll Yankees.
- Ground Feeder Ground feeders, similar to tray feeders, sit on the ground and are popular with ground-feeding birds, squirrels, raccoons, and others. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed. Consider this ground feeder made from recycled plastic.
- Oriole Feeder Oriole feeders are designed for orioles, featuring orange coloration and dishes for holding jelly. Some also accommodate orange halves, a favorite of orioles. Explore this simple oriole feeder with 4 jelly trays for orange halves.
- Hummingbird Feeder Nectar feeders, tailored for hummingbirds, provide sugar water. Despite being designed for hummingbirds, they may attract other species, such as Downy Woodpeckers. Here’s an inexpensive hummingbird feeder with proven success.
- Peanut Feeder Tube-shaped peanut feeders, with wider mesh holes, cater to Blue Jays and other birds that enjoy peanuts. Opt for Squirrel Buster to keep squirrels away, or consider a simple peanut feeder.