Top 20 Backyard Birds in Iowa (Free Picture ID Printable)

Mourning Dove

Have you wondered what those birds are that are visiting your backyard in Iowa? Do you need help identifying common backyard birds in Iowa?

There is a great joy in putting up bird feeders and watching what comes to visit but it gets better if you know who they are. Well, now you can find out what are the most common birds in Iowa that visit feeders or hop across your lawn.

So if you’re ready to do some backyard birding in Iowa then read on to find out how to identify birds and how to attract more birds to your yard.

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Also, get free printable backyard bird worksheets with pictures for Iowa to help you identify and keep track of the birds that visit your backyard.

20 Most common backyard birds in Iowa:

  1. American Robin
  2. Red-winged Blackbird
  3. Northern Cardinal
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. House Wren
  6. American Goldfinch
  7. Dark-eyed Junco
  8. Gray Catbird
  9. Common Yellowthroat
  10. House Sparrow
  11. Barn Swallow
  12. Black-capped Chickadee
  13. Downy Woodpecker
  14. Indigo Bunting
  15. Blue Jay
  16. Song Sparrow
  17. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  18. Brown-headed Cowbird
  19. Chipping Sparrow
  20. Common Grackle

These are the most common backyard birds in Iowa that may visit your lawn or feeders.  They are the birds that appear most frequently on state checklists on ebird and the data is a combination of backyard birds most frequently spotted in summer (June and July) and winter (December and January). Find out more about winter birds in Iowa.

This data mix ensures that whatever time of year you are bird-watching in your backyard these are the birds you will most likely spot in Iowa.

Free Printable Backyard Birds Worksheets for Iowa

These free bird identification worksheets have all the common backyard birds in Iowa 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.

Backyard Birds Identification Worksheet Iowa Page 1
Backyard Birds Identification Worksheet Iowa Page 2
Backyard Birds Identification Worksheet Iowa Page 3

The 20 most common birds in Iowa

1. American Robin

American Robins are a common sight on lawns eating earthworms.  They have black heads and back 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.

They eat sunflower seeds, suet and peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms. They may even eat mealworms out of your hand.

Platform feeders are best or food scattered on the ground.

American Robin for identification

2. Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbirds are very common and easy to identify with the all-black coloring except for the bright red and yellow shoulder patches.  The females are rather dull in comparison with brown streaky coloring.

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.

To attract more Red-winged blackbirds to your backyard try mixed grain and seeds spread on the ground.  They will also feed on large tube feeders or platform feeders.

Red winged blackbird for identification

3. Northern Cardinal

The bright red male Northern Cardinal with black around their faces is a great sight, especially against a white winter background.  The females are also a little showy with their brown coloring, sharp brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.

Northern Cardinals will sometimes attack their own reflection during breeding season as they obsessively defend their territories.

You can attract more Northern Cardinals to backyard feeders with 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 a surprising number of red birds in Iowa for you to spot.

Northern cardinal male and female for identification

4. Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are graceful small-headed birds, plump bodies and long tails.  They are a soft brown with black spots on the wings.

They can be seen perching on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground.

You can attract more Mourning Doves to your backyard by scattering millet on the ground or on platform feeders.  They will also eat black sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn and peanut hearts.

Mourning Dove

5. House Wren

House Wrens are small nondescript brown birds with darker barred wings and tail and a paler throat. Breeding in most states before migrating to the far south and Mexico for winter.

House Wrens can be found in backyards, parks and open woods foraging for insects in brush piles.  You can attract more to your backyard by leaving piles of brush or putting up a nest box.

house wren

6. American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches are popular birds with the males bright yellow and black coloring in spring.  The females are more dull brown as are males in winter.

To attract more American Goldfinches to your backyard try planting thistles and milkweed.  They will visit most bird feeders and prefer sunflower seed and nyjer seed. 

American Goldfinch for identification

7. Dark-eyed Junco

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.

They can be found in open and partially wooded areas often on the ground and are common across the continent.

You can attract more 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 are best.

Dark eyed junco for identification

8. Gray Catbird

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.

You can spot Gray Catbirds in dense shrubs, small trees, and along forest edges or hedgerows.

You can attract more Gray Catbirds to your backyard feeders with fruit and fruit trees or shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry.

gray catbird

9. Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds that are brownish on the back and bright yellow underneath, with long tails.  The males have a black mask across the face.  The brightness of the yellow can vary geographically and they may be more olive in parts underneath.

They breed over much of North America and so can be found in the spring and summer often in marshy or wetland areas and brushy fields living in thick, tangled vegetation.  They eat mostly insects and will be found in large backyards that have dense vegetation.

common yellowthroat

10. House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is another introduced species that has done very well and is now one of the most common birds. They are found near houses and buildings and can be quite tame so will eat out of your hand.

They can be considered a pest as they are non-native but will be found in backyards even if you do not feed them.

You can attract more House Sparrows to your backyard feeders with most kinds of birdseed, including millet, corn, and sunflower seeds.

House sparrow for identification

11. Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows are small birds with a deep-blue back, wings and tail, and reddish-brown underneath and across the face. The tail has long outer feathers that give a deep fork.

They breed over most of North America 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.

You can attract more Barn Swallows by putting up nest boxes or cups and may eat ground-up eggshells on a platform feeder.

barn swallow

12. Black-capped Chickadee

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 will investigate everything including you! 

They have black-caps and beaks, white cheeks, and are gray on the back, wings, and tail.  

To attract more Black-capped Chickadees try suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts or peanut butter. They will even feed from your hand.

Black-capped Chickadee

13. Downy Woodpecker

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.

To attract more Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard try suet feeders but they will also eat black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts on platform feeders.

There are other species of woodpecker in Iowa that you can spot.

Downy woodpecker for identification

14. Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings are small birds with the males being bright blue with streaks of black in the wings and tail, females are brown.

They migrate far from breeding grounds in eastern States to winter grounds in Florida, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Indigo Buntings can be found in weedy fields and shrubby areas foraging for seeds and insects.  You can attract more to your backyard with small seeds such as nyjer and thistle.

Indigo bunting

15. Blue Jay

Blue Jays are common songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides.  They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available.

They enjoy peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet but prefer these on tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post.  They will also enjoy a birdbath.

Blue Jay for identification

16. Song Sparrow

Song sparrows are not as remarkable as other backyard birds but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.

They can be found in open, shrubby, and wet areas often perched on a low shrub singing. They are often found at backyard feeders.

You can attract more song sparrows to your backyard feeders by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.

Song sparrow for identification

17. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a pale red belly that can be difficult to spot, with a red cap and nape and black-and-white stripped back.

They make a loud call in spring and summer and are found in woods and forests, especially with deadwood.

You can attract more Red-bellied Woodpeckers with suet feeders and they will sometimes feed from hummingbird feeders.

red-bellied woodpecker

18. Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird males are black-bodied and brown-headed Blackbirds with short tails and thick heads.  Females are brown all over with slight streaking. 

They are often considered a nuisance as they destroy the eggs of smaller songbirds so that they can lay their eggs in the nest and have the bird foster their chicks.

They breed in much of the north and west of North America before heading further south but remain all year in the Eastern and Southern states and Pacific Coast.

They will come to backyards if areas of open lawn and if birdseed is scattered on the ground or if you have livestock.

Brown-headed cowbird

19. Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows are slender, long-tailed birds that have a grayish belly and brown and black-streaked back, with a rusty crown and black eye line. in winter the colors are more subdued.

Breeding over much of North America and Canada then flying to Mexico and Florida or in the far south they remain all year.

They can be found in small flocks on open ground and will come to backyards for many kinds of birdseed.

chipping sparrow

20. Common Grackle

The Common Grackle is a blackbird that is taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird and with glossy iridescent bodies.

They eat many crops but mostly corn and gather in noisy groups high up in trees.

You can attract more Common Grackles to your backyard with most mixed grain and seed, sprinkled on the ground or on platform feeders.

Common grackle

Best Bird Feeders to Attract Birds

variety of different bird feeders will attract the most species of birds to your backyard in Iowa

  1.  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.
  2. Ground Feeders or a tray below a Tube Feeder with Black oil sunflowers tube feeders attract Cardinals, Jays, Finches, and Sparrows.
  3. Platform feeders with Millet or Corn attract small and medium-sized birds such as sparrows, Blackbirds, Towhees, Juncos, Doves, Grackles, and Starlings.
  4. Peanut feeders attract Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Jays, Juncos, Finches, and Sparrows.
  5. Suet Feeders are great, especially in winter, for Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Wrens, and Chickadees.
  6. Hummingbird feeders attract these tiny fascinating birds but they also attract other birds too.

How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard in Iowa

If you would like to attract more birds to your yard in Iowa there are some tips:

  1. Provide bird feeders for different types of birds to get the most species to visit your yard.
  2. Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream.  Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant
  3.  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.
  4. Let your grass grow long to provide cover and seeds.
  5. Leave a brush pile to provide food, protection, and nesting opportunities for birds.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 whether you decide to go out birding or do some backyard bird watching in Iowa:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. Habitat – Woodlands, parks, shrubs, grasslands or meadows, shore or marsh.
  6. Use a bird identification app such as those created by ebird or Audubon