Have you wondered what those birds are that are visiting your backyard in Illinois?
Well, this guide will help you to find out how to identify these birds by sight and sound and what time of year you can spot them in Illinois. Also, get a free ID chart to print with the most common backyard birds in Illinois.
Backyard birds in Illinois all year: Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch, European Starling, American Crow, House Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, House Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker
Backyard birds in Illinois in summer: American Robin, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Common Grackle, Indigo Bunting, Gray Catbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Cedar Waxwing, Barn Swallow, Eastern Kingbird
Backyard birds in Illinois in winter: Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow
Backyard birds in Illinois during migration: Yellow-rumped Warbler
These are the most common backyard birds in Illinois that may visit your lawn or feeders. They are the birds that appear most frequently on state checklists submitted by bird watchers on ebird.
This article gives you identification information and photos to help you identify and attract more of the common backyard birds that you can spot in Illinois.
If you like backyard birding you will probably enjoy spotting some ducks in Illinois too.
These free bird identification worksheets have all the common backyard birds in Illinois at different times of the year. So when you want to do some backyard birding these handy guides have pictures and space to either tick off the types of birds you have seen or keep a tally of the total number of birds.
29 Most Common Backyard Birds In Illinois
1. Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals are frequently spotted in Illinois and are residents of the state all year. They are recorded in 53% of summer checklists and 45% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The bright red male Northern Cardinal with black around their faces is an incredible sight, especially against a white winter background. They also have red crests and beaks.
Females are also a little showy with their brown coloring, sharp brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.
- Cardinalis cardinalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz (42-48 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in (25-31 cm)
Northern Cardinals live in the Eastern half of the US and some states in the south as far west as Arizona.
You can find Northern Cardinals in dense vegetation foraging for seeds, fruit, and insects. Northern Cardinals will sometimes attack their own reflection during the breeding season as they obsessively defend their territories.
Northern Cardinal Song:
Northern Cardinal Call:
Attract Northern Cardinals to your backyard with feeders full of sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, millet, and milo. They will feed from large tube feeders, hoppers, platform feeders, or food scattered on the ground.
There are lots of other red birds in Illinois that you can spot.
2. American Robin
American Robins are usually spotted during the breeding season in Illinois, but they can also be spotted here all year. They occur in 65% of summer checklists and 18% of winter checklists.
American Robins are a common sight on lawns eating earthworms. They have black heads and backs with red or orange breasts. They tend to roost in trees in winter, so you are more likely to see them in your backyard from spring.
- Turdus migratorius
- Length: 7.9-11.0 in (20-28 cm)
- Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz (77-85 g)
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)
American Robins are residents in the lower 48 and the coast of Western Canada and Alaska. Those that breed in Canada and inland Alaska move south for the winter.
American Robins can be found in many habitats, from woodlands, forests, mountains to fields, parks, and lawns. They eat earthworms, insects, snails, and fruit.
American Robin Song:
American Robin Call:
Attract American Robins to your backyard with sunflower seeds, suet and peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms. Platform feeders are best or food scattered on the ground. Also, try planting some native plants that produce berries, such as juniper, sumac, hawthorn, and dogwood.
3. Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Juncos are mainly spotted in Illinois from October until May. They are the most frequently spotted sparrows during winter and occur in 43% of checklists at this time.
Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows that are different colors depending on the state. They are generally slate-colored in the east and black, white, and brown in the west.
- Junco hyemalis
- Length: 5.5-6.3 in (14-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in (18-25 cm)
Dark-eyed Juncos remain resident all year in northeastern and western US states and the Appalachian Mountains. Those that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south in winter to the United States.
They can be found in open and partially wooded areas, often on the ground, and are common across the continent.
Dark-eyed Junco Song:
Attract Dark-eyed Juncos to backyard feeders with a variety of seeds such as black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, millet, and peanuts. Platform feeders or scattered on the ground is best.
Sparrows are known as LBJs (Little brown jobs) but if you want to know more, check out this guide to sparrows in Illinois.
4. Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves can be spotted all year in Illinois, but their numbers increase during the breeding season from July to September. They appear in 38% of summer checklists and 28% of winter checklists for the state.
Mourning Doves are graceful small-headed birds with plump bodies and long tails. They are a soft brown color with black spots on the wings. Males are slightly heavier than females.
- Zenaida macroura
- Length: 9.1-13.4 in (23-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.0 -6.0 oz (96-170 g)
- Wingspan: 17.7 in (45 cm)
Mourning Doves are common over all of the lower 48 all year but may migrate after breeding from the north of the Midwest and southern Canada.
Mourning Doves can be seen perching on telephone wires and foraging for seeds on the ground in grasslands, fields, and backyards. They can also be found in open areas or woodland edges.
Mourning Dove call:
Attract Mourning Doves to your backyard by scattering millet on the ground or platform feeders. They will also eat black sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.
5. Song Sparrow
Song Sparrows are frequently spotted in Illinois during the breeding season, from March to August. They appear in 37% of summer checklists, and some remain all year and appear in 9% of winter checklists.
Song sparrows are not as remarkable looking as other backyard birds, but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.
- Melospiza melodia
- Length: 4.7-6.7 in (12-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz (12-53 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in (18-24 cm)
Song Sparrow live all year in the northern US states. Those that breed in Canada migrate to southern US states for winter.
They can be found in open, shrubby, and wet areas, often perched on a low shrub singing. They are often found at backyard feeders.
Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of insects and plants, including beetles, caterpillars, midges, spiders, and earthworms. They will also eat buckwheat, sunflower, raspberries, wild cherries, blackberries, wheat, and rice.
Song Sparrow Song:
Song Sparrow Call:
Attract Song Sparrows to your backyard feeders by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.
Brown birds are often overlooked but once you get to know a few you are hooked so get studying all the brown birds in Illinois.
6. American Goldfinch
American Goldfinches can be spotted in Illinois all year, but their numbers increase during the breeding season, from July to October. They are recorded in 44% of summer checklists and 25% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
American Goldfinches are popular birds with the males bright yellow and black coloring in spring. The females are duller brown, as are males in winter.
- Spinus tristis
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
American Goldfinches can be found in most of North America and are usually resident all year. However, those that breed in Canada and the Midwest migrate to southern US States for winter.
They can be found in weedy fields and overgrown areas foraging for sunflower, thistle, and aster plants. They are also common in suburbs, parks, and backyards.
American Goldfinch Song:
Attract American Goldfinches to your backyard by planting thistles and milkweed. They will visit most bird feeders and prefer sunflower seed and nyjer seed.
There are so many yellow birds in Illinois that you will spot, especially in spring.
7. Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged blackbirds are spotted in Illinois all year but are more common from March to August. They occur in 58% of checklists in summer and 7% of checklists in winter submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Red-winged blackbirds are very common and easy to identify with the all-black coloring except for the reddish-orange wing patches. Females are rather dull in comparison with streaky brown color.
- Agelaius phoeniceus
- Length: 6.7-9.1 in (17-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.1-2.7 oz (32-77 g)
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)
Red-winged Blackbirds remain all year in the lower 48 and the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. Those that breed in Canada and some northern US states migrate south for the winter.
They can often be spotted sitting on telephone wires, and the males will fiercely defend their territories in the breeding season, even attacking people that get too close to nests. In winter, they roost in large numbers into the millions.
Red-winged Blackbird Song:
Red-winged Blackbird Calls:
Attract Red-winged blackbirds to your backyard with mixed grain and seeds spread on the ground. They will also feed from large tube feeders or platform feeders.
Blackbirds are a vast family of birds that have numerous family members and why don’t you get to know all the blackbirds in Illinois?
8. House Wren
House Wrens are frequently spotted in Illinois during summer and they are recorded in 30% of checklists at this time. While a few can be spotted hanging around all year, April until October are the best months to spot them.
House Wrens are small nondescript brown birds with darker barred wings and tails and a paler throat.
- Troglodytes aedon
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (10-12 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)
House Wrens spend their summer breeding in the US and southern Canada before migrating to southern US states and Mexico for winter.
You can find House Wrens in backyards, parks and open woods foraging for insects and spiders. They can often be found energetically hopping through tangles and low branches with their tails up, stopping to sing their cheerful song.
House Wrens are fierce for their size when it comes to getting the best nest holes. They will often harass larger birds, sometimes dragging eggs or nestlings out of a nest site they want.
House Wren Song:
Attract House Wrens to your backyard by leaving piles of brush or putting up a nest box.
Wrens are often overlooked for more flash birds, but take the time to get to know the sight and sounds of wrens in Illinois.
9. Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroats are frequently spotted during the breeding season in Illinois. They are mainly spotted from mid-April to October and appear in 33% of summer checklists.
Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds that are brownish on the back and bright yellow underneath, with long tails. The males have a black masks across their faces. The brightness of the yellow can vary geographically, and they may be more olive in parts underneath.
- Geothlypis trichas
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.3 oz (9-10 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)
Common Yellowthroats spend the summer breeding over most of North America, except Alaska and northern Canada. Some remain all year along the Gulf Coast and Pacific Southwest. Then, they migrate south for winter.
You can find Common Yellowthroats often in marshy or wetland areas and brushy fields living in thick, tangled vegetation.
Common Yellowthroat Song:
Attract Common Yellowthroats to large backyards with dense vegetation and native plants to attract insects.
10. European Starling
European Starlings are an introduced species in Illinois that can be seen in the state all year. They appear in 33% of checklists in summer and 29% of checklists in winter submitted by bird watchers for the state.
European Starlings are not native but are now one of the most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with iridescent purple, green, and blue tones.
- Sturnus vulgaris
- Length: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
- Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz (60-96 g)
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)
European Starlings live in all North America, except the north of Canada and Alaska.
They are considered a pest by some due to their aggressive behavior. These birds fly in large, noisy flocks and can be seen perched in groups on the top of trees or flying over fields.
European Starling Calls:
Starlings predominantly eat insects, including beetles, flies and caterpillars, earthworms, and spiders. However, they also eat fruit, including cherries, holly berries, mulberries, Virginia Creeper, sumac, blackberries, and grains and seeds.
Attract European Starlings to your backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, and peanuts.
11. American Crow
American Crows can be found all year in Illinois and are spotted in 24% of summer checklists and 29% of winter checklists for the state.
American crows are large all-black birds that make a hoarse, cawing sound.
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Length: 15.8-20.9 in (40-53 cm)
- Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz (316-620 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in (85-100 cm)
American Crows are residents all year in most of the lower 48 and the Pacific Coast in Canada and Alaska. Those that breed in Canada and the northern Midwest migrate south for winter.
They are common birds found in most habitats, including treetops, woods, fields, beaches, or towns.
They eat most things and usually feed on the ground, eating earthworms, insects, seeds, and fruit. They also eat fish, young turtles, mussels, and clams and will even eat eggs and nestlings of many species of birds.
In winter, American Crows gather in large numbers of up to two million crows to sleep in noisy communal roosts.
American Crow Call:
Attract American Crows to your backyard by scattering peanuts, but they can become a nuisance as they are attracted by garbage or pet food if left out.
12. Common Grackle
Although considered near-threatened species, Common Grackles are frequently spotted in Illinois during the breeding season. They appear in 37% of summer checklists and 3% of winter checklists.
The Common Grackle is a blackbird taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird with glossy iridescent bodies.
- Quiscalus quiscula
- Length: 11.0-13.4 in (28-34 cm)
- Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz (74-142 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in (36-46 cm)
Common Grackles are resident all year in southeastern states, but those that breed in Canada and the Midwest migrate south.
They eat many crops but mostly corn, and they gather in noisy groups high up in trees. Unfortunately, they will also eat garbage and so can be a nuisance. Their habitat is varied and includes open woodlands, marshes, parks, and fields.
They may gather in their millions in winter to forage and roost, mixed in with other species of blackbirds.
Common Grackle Call:
Attract more Common Grackles to your backyard with mixed grain and seed sprinkled on the ground or platform feeders.
13. Indigo Bunting
Indigo Buntings spend the breeding season in Illinois and occur in 29% of summer checklists. They are mainly seen from mid-April to October.
Indigo Buntings are small birds, with the males being bright blue with streaks of black in the wings and tail, females are brown.
- Passerina cyanea
- Length: 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-18 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
Indigo Buntings migrate far from breeding grounds in eastern US states, southeastern Canada, and southern US states to winter grounds in Florida, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
You can find Indigo Buntings in weedy fields and shrubby areas foraging for seeds and insects.
Indigo Bunting Song:
Attract Indigo Buntings to your backyard with small seeds such as nyjer and thistle.
14. House Sparrow
House Sparrows are an introduced species in Illinois that can be spotted here all year. They do not migrate and occur in 33% of summer checklists and 35% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The House Sparrow is another introduced species that has done very well and is now one of the most common birds. They have gray and brown heads and white cheeks. Their backs are black and brown, and their bellies are gray.
- Passer domesticus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz (27-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
House Sparrows live in the US and Southern Canada all year.
You can find them near houses and buildings, and they can be pretty tame, and they may even eat out of your hand.
House Sparrows eat mostly grain and seed as well as discarded food. They can be considered a pest because they are non-native, but they are found in backyards even if you do not feed them.
House Sparrow Song:
Attract House Sparrows to your backyard feeders with most kinds of birdseed, including millet, corn, and sunflower seeds.
15. Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpeckers are spotted all year in Illinois, but their numbers increase during winter. They appear on 28% of summer checklists and 37% of winter checklists.
Downy Woodpeckers are small birds that are common at backyard feeders. They are often mixed in with other birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches.
They have black and white coloring with a red patch at the back of their heads. They look similar to the Hairy Woodpecker but smaller.
- Dryobates pubescens
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (21-28 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
Downy Woodpeckers do not migrate and can be spotted in most states and provinces, except the north of Canada.
You can find Downy woodpeckers in woodlots, along streams, city parks, and backyards, and they eat mainly insects and beetle larvae, but also berries, acorns, and grains.
Downy Woodpecker Call:
Attract Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard with their favorite treat of suet, but they will also eat black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts on platform feeders.
Some woodpeckers are more easily recognized than others, but with this guide, you can identify all the woodpeckers in Illinois.
16. Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadees are residents of Illinois all year, but they are spotted mainly in the north of the state. They are recorded in 27% of summer checklists and 33% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The Black-capped Chickadee is a cute bird with a big round head and tiny body. These birds will happily feed at backyard feeders and investigate everything, including you!
They have black caps and beaks, white cheeks, and are gray on the back, wings, and tail.
- Poecile atricapillus
- Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g)
- Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in (16-21 cm)
Black-capped Chickadees do not migrate and can be spotted in the northern half of the US and Canada.
You can find them in forests, open woods, parks. Black-capped Chickadees eat seeds, berries and insects, spiders, and suet.
Black-capped Chickadee Call/Song:
Attract Black-capped Chickadees to your backyard with suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts or peanut butter. They will even feed from your hand and are often one of the first birds to discover new feeders. They will also use nest boxes, especially if you fill them with wood shavings.
You should find out all about the other sociable and inquisitive chickadees in Illinois.
17. American Tree Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow are winter birds in Illinois that start arriving in October, and some stay until May, but November until April are the best months to spot them. They are recorded in 18% of winter checklists.
18. Blue Jay
Blue Jays can be found all year in Illinois. They are spotted in 35% of summer checklists and 25% of winter checklists for the state.
Blue Jays are common large songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides.
- Cyanocitta cristata
- Length: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
Blue Jays live in eastern US states and Southern Canada all year. Some birds will migrate west for winter but not very frequently.
They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available. They can be found in forests, mainly near oak, as they eat acorns. They can also be found in backyards near feeders. As well as acorns, they eat insects, nuts and seeds, and grain. They may also take eggs from nests or take nestlings.
Blue Jay Call:
Blue Jays are large birds and prefer to fly in, grab a peanut or sunflower seed and take it away to feed. They prefer platform or tray feeders to make it easy to make a quick exit.
Attract Blue Jays to your backyard with peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet. They prefer these on open tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post. They will also enjoy a birdbath.
19. Gray Catbird
Gray Catbirds spend the breeding season in Illinois and occur in 34% of summer checklists. They are mainly spotted from May to October, but a few remain in the state all year.
Gray Catbirds are so named because of their distinctive catty mew song that can last for up to 10 minutes. They are medium-sized songbirds with a slate gray coloring, black cap and tail, and a reddish patch under their tails.
- Dumetella carolinensis
- Length: 8.3-9.4 in (21-24 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-2.0 oz (23.2-56.5 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in (22-30 cm)
Gray Catbirds breed in the Midwest, eastern US states, and southern Canada before heading to the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean for winter. Some remain all year along the East Coast.
You can spot Gray Catbirds in dense shrubs, small trees, and along forest edges or hedgerows. They are named after their ‘mew’ sounding call.
Gray Catbird Call:
Attract Gray Catbirds to your backyard with fruit and fruit trees or shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry.
20. House Finch
House Finches are introduced species in Illinois and are residents here all year. They do not migrate and appear in 19% of summer checklists and 23% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
House Finches males have a red head and breast, and the rest of their bodies are mainly brown-streaked. Females are brown-streaked all over.
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (16-27 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
Originally only in western US states, House Finches were introduced to eastern US states and have done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.
They can be found in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders in noisy groups that are hard to miss.
House Finch Song:
House Finch Call:
Attract House Finches to backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer seeds in tube feeders or platform feeders.
There are a surprising number of finches in Illinois that you can get to know.
21. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are residents of Illinois all year round. They are recorded in 27% of summer checklists and 29% of winter checklists.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be mistaken for Red-headed Woodpeckers as they have red caps, but they are much smaller than the Red-headed Woodpecker. Female Red-bellied Woodpeckers lack the red cap and only have red at the back of their heads.
They also have a very pale red belly that can be hard to spot, but they do have the typical woodpecker black and white markings over their backs.
- Melanerpes carolinus
- Length: 9.4 in (24 cm)
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g)
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in (33-42 cm)
Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found in eastern US states, and they do not migrate.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, spiders, seeds from grasses, fruit, and nuts. They will also sometimes eat nestlings. They nest in dead trees and may use the same nest year after year. They lay 4-5 white eggs on a bed of wood chips.
The tongue of the Red-bellied Woodpecker sticks out 2 inches past the beak and is barbed at the tip, along with sticky spit. This helps catch prey from deep crevices.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Call:
Red-bellied Woodpeckers can often be seen at bird feeders, especially if you live near wooded areas. They make a distinctive loud rolling call which means you will often hear them before you see them.
22. White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatches do not migrate and are found in Illinois all year. They occur in 19% of summer checklists and 26% of winter checklists for the state.
White-breasted Nuthatches are active little birds that are gray-blue on the back and white on the face and belly, with a black cap. They will often have a chestnut color on the lower belly and under the tail.
- Sitta carolinensis
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in (20-27 cm)
White-breasted Nuthatches live all year in the US and southern Canada.
You can find White-breasted Nuthatches in deciduous forests, woodland edges, parks, and yards with trees or at feeders. They mainly eat insects, including beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, ants, and also spiders.
White-breasted Nuthatches also eat seeds and nuts, including acorns, hawthorns, sunflower seeds, and sometimes corn crops. They jam large nuts and acorns into tree bark and then whack them with their bills to open or ‘hatch’ them to get the seed out.
White-breasted Nutcracker Call:
Attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your backyard with sunflower seeds and peanuts on tube feeders or suet feeders.
23. Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers can be found in Illinois all year, but their numbers increase during the migration. They appear in 20% of summer checklists, 7% of winter checklists, and up to 37% of checklists during migration.
Northern Flickers are large brown woodpeckers with black spots and a white patch on their rump in flight, plus a red nape of the neck in the males.
Northern Flickers have red or yellow flashes in the wings and tail depending on where they originate. Red-shafted birds live in the west, and yellow-shafted birds live in the east.
- Colaptes auratus
- Length: 11.0-12.2 in (28-31 cm)
- Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz (110-160 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in (42-51 cm)
Northern Flickers can be spotted across the US all year and in Canada during summer. Those that breed in Canada migrate south for the winter.
Northern Flickers mainly eat ants, beetles, fruits, and seeds, and they can often be seen on the ground digging with their curved bill.
Northern flicker Call:
Attract Northern Flickers to your backyard with suet.
24. Brown-headed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbirds spend the summer in Illinois, from March to August, for breeding before migrating south, but a few hang around in winter. They appear in 34% of summer checklists and 2% of winter checklists for the state.
Males Brown-headed Cowbirds are larger than females, with black-bodies, brown heads, and short tails. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds are brown all over with slight streaking.
- Molothrus ater
- Length: 76.3-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
- Weight: 1.3-1.8 oz (42-50 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2 in (36 cm)
Brown-headed Cowbirds remain all year in eastern US states, southern US states, and along the Pacific Coast. However, those that breed in northern and western US states and Canada migrate south for winter.
Brown-headed Cowbird Song:
They are often considered a nuisance because they are parasite birds that destroy the eggs of smaller songbirds so they can lay their eggs in the nest and have the bird foster their chicks.
25. Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwings are mainly spotted in Illinois during summer from July to September and occur in 15% of checklists at this time. However, some do remain here all year.
Cedar Waxwings are elegant social birds that are pale brown on the head, chest, and crest, which fades to gray on the back, wings, and tail.
Their belly is pale yellow, and bright yellow towards the tail. They have a narrow black mask over their eyes and bright red on the wingtips.
- Bombycilla cedrorum
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)
- Weight: 1.1 oz (32 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in (22-30 cm)
Cedar Waxwings remain all year in the northern half of the US. Those that breed in Canada migrate to the southern half of the US for winter.
They make a high-pitched call and can be found in berry bushes, woodlands, and streams.
Cedar Waxwing Call:
Attract Cedar Waxwings to your backyard by planting native trees and shrubs with small fruit such as serviceberry, dogwood, juniper, winterberry, and hawthorn. You can also try fruit on platform feeders.
26. Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows can be found in Illinois during summer and appear in 31% of checklists at this time. They are mainly spotted from March to October but a few hang around until December.
Barn Swallows are small birds with a deep-blue back, wings and tail, and reddish-brown underneath and across the face. Their tail has long outer feathers that give a deep fork. The dark color of their back can make them look black-and-white.
- Hirundo rustica
- Length: 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (17-20 g)
- Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 in (29-32 cm)
Barn Swallows breed in Canada and the US before heading to Central and South America. They can be found flying over meadows, farms, and fields looking for insects and usually build mud nests on man-made structures such as in barns.
Attract Barn Swallows by putting up nest boxes or cups, and they may eat ground-up eggshells on a platform feeder.
27. Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbirds spend the breeding season in Illinois from April to October and occur in 18% of summer checklists.
Eastern Kingbirds are medium-sized, large-headed flycatchers that are blackish on the back and white underneath. Their heads are darker black and they have a white tip on the tail.
They get their name ‘king’ from the aggression they show each other and other birds when defending their nests. They have a concealed crown, of yellow, orange, or red feathers, which they raise when defending themselves or their nest.
- Tyrannus tyrannus
- Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.2-1.9 oz (33-55 g)
- Wingspan: 13.0-15.0 in (33-38 cm)
They breed in the US before heading south into Central and South America for winter. They usually breed in fields, orchards, and along forest edges. They can often be found nesting near water such as rivers or lakes.
Eastern Kingbirds catch insects in midair, including bees, wasps, ants beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, bugs, and flies. They will often perch up above fields waiting for insects to fly past. They will also eat fruit, including serviceberries, cherries, blackberries, and elderberries.
You can attract more Eastern Kingbirds to your yard with native berry bushes and having lots of native vegetation that attracted insects.
28. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warblers spend winter in Illinois, but their numbers increase during migration from April to May and September to October. They are recorded in 2% of winter checklists but up to 43% of checklists during migration.
Yellow-rumped Warblers are gray with flashes of yellow on the face, sides, and rump and white in the wings.
Females may be slightly brown, and winter birds are paler brown with bright yellow rumps and sides turning bright yellow and gray again in spring.
- Setophaga coronata
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (12-13 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)
Yellow-rumped Warblers breed predominantly in Canada and parts of the Rockies and the Appalachian mountains.
During migration, they can be seen in the Midwest before overwintering in southern and southwestern US states and the Pacific Coast and into Mexico and Central America.
You can find Yellow-rumped Warblers in coniferous forests, especially during the breeding season. During winter, they can be found in open areas with fruiting shrubs. In summer, they eat mostly insects and on migration, and in winter, they eat mostly fruit, including bayberry and wax myrtle.
Yellow-rumped Warbler Song:
Attract Yellow-rumped Warblers to your backyard with sunflower seeds, suet, raisins, and peanut butter.
These colorful and melodious migratory birds don’t stick around for long so be sure to check out all the warblers in Illinois you can spot before it’s too late.
29. White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrows are frequently spotted in Illinois during winter and appear in 11% of checklists at this time. They are mostly seen from October until mid-May.
White-throated Sparrows have a distinctive black and white striped head, bright white throat, and yellow between the eye and bill. Their backs are brown, and underneath is gray.
- Zonotrichia albicollis
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz (22-32 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
White-throated Sparrows are migratory birds, breeding mainly in Canada before heading south in winter to eastern and southern US states and the Pacific Coast.
You can find White-throated Sparrows on the ground in forests and woods and along the edges of wooded areas, often in large flocks.
White-throated Sparrows diet is mainly seeds of grasses and weeds and fruits such as grape, sumac, mountain ash, blueberry, blackberry, and dogwood. They will also eat many insects from the forest floor, especially in summer.
White-throated Sparrow Song:
Attract White-throated Sparrows to your backyard with millet and black oil sunflower seeds on platform feeders.
Common Birds at Different Times of Year in Illinois
The birds that are attracted to backyards in Illinois change throughout the year. The lists below show the backyard birds most commonly seen at different times of the year in Illinois.
These are the backyard birds most often seen in Illinois that may visit your lawn or feeders. In addition, they are the birds that appear most frequently on state checklists on ebird. The data combines birds most commonly spotted in Illinois in summer (June and July) and winter (December and January).
Birds that are not often seen at feeders or backyards were removed to give you the birds in Illinois you are most likely to see from home.
This data mix ensures that whatever time of year you are bird-watching in Illinois, these are the birds you will most likely spot at feeders or on your lawn.
Backyard Birds in Illinois in Summer:
American Robin 65.7%
Red-winged Blackbird 58.7%
Northern Cardinal 53.7%
American Goldfinch 44.7%
Mourning Dove 38.0%
Common Grackle 37.4%
Song Sparrow 37.4%
Blue Jay 35.7%
Gray Catbird 34.2%
Brown-headed Cowbird 34.2%
Backyard Birds in Illinois in Winter:
Northern Cardinal 45.6%
Dark-eyed Junco 42.9%
Downy Woodpecker 37.9%
House Sparrow 35.1%
Black-capped Chickadee 33.8%
American Crow 29.7%
European Starling 29.7%
Red-bellied Woodpecker 29.0%
Mourning Dove 28.1%
White-breasted Nuthatch 26.3%
Best Bird Feeders to Attract Birds
A variety of different bird feeders will attract the most species of birds
- Tube Feeders can be filled with different types of birdseed and depending on the seed different birds will be attracted. Black oil sunflower seeds attract Goldfinches, Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Pine Siskins.
- Ground Feeders or a tray below a Tube Feeder with Black oil sunflowers tube feeders attract Cardinals, Jays, Finches, and Sparrows.
- Platform feeders with Millet or Corn attract small and medium-sized birds such as sparrows, Blackbirds, Towhees, Juncos, Doves, Grackles, and Starlings.
- Peanut feeders attract Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Jays, Juncos, Finches, and Sparrows.
- Suet Feeders are great, especially in winter, for Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Wrens, and Chickadees.
- Hummingbird feeders attract these tiny fascinating birds but they also attract other birds too.
How to Attract Birds to Your Backard in Illinois
If you would like to attract more birds to your yard in Illinois here are some tips:
- Provide bird feeders for different types of birds to get the most species to visit your yard.
- Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream. Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant
- Grow native plants that will provide food and shelter. Plants, trees, and shrubs that provide fruit, berries, and nuts. Blackberries, wild grasses, elderberries, serviceberries, Oaks, Beeches, Cherries, sumacs, hemlocks, Purple Coneflowers, Sunflowers, Milkweed, Cardinal Flowers, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper, Buttonbush, and Dogwoods.
- Let your grass grow long to provide cover and seeds.
- Leave a brush pile to provide food, protection, and nesting opportunities for birds.
- Don’t use pesticides and herbicides as these may be toxic to birds and prevent the natural foraging opportunities for insects and seeds that birds will seek in your yard.
- Set up nest boxes to attract breeding birds and ensure they are cleaned every year.
How to Identify Birds
Here are some tips to help you identify birds so you can keep track of all the new birds you see whether you go out birding or stay backyard birding in Illinois:
- Size – Size is the easiest thing to notice about a bird. Birds are often measured in inches or centimeters in guide books. It’s best to take a note of the bird in terms of small, medium, or large to be able to look for it later. A small bird is about the size of a sparrow, a medium bird is about the size of a pigeon and a large bird is the size of a goose.
- Shape – Take note of the silhouette of the bird and jot it down or draw the outline. Look at tail length, bill shape, wing shape, and overall body shape.
- Color pattern – Take a note of the main color of the head, back, belly, and wings, and tail for the main color and then any secondary colors or patterns. Also take note of any patterns such as banding, spots, or highlights.
- Behavior – Are they on the ground or high up in the trees. Are they in flocks or on their own? Can you spot what they are eating?
- Habitat – Woodlands, parks, shrubs, grasslands or meadows, shore or marsh.
- Use a bird identification app such as those created by ebird or Audubon