Yellow Birds in Illinois – Picture and ID Guide

common yellowthroat

Yellow birds are common in Illinois in spring and summer when the warblers arrive but in winter, only the American Goldfinch is a commonly spotted yellow bird here. 

This guide will help you identify yellow birds in Illinois that you have spotted by giving you pictures, identification information, and when they migrate in and out.

I have listed these yellow birds in the order of which are most commonly spotted in Illinois according to ebird checklists in spring and summer (May and June).

Common_birds_-_part_1 x

So read on to identify those yellow birds you have spotted.

Yellow Birds in Illinois in Spring/Summer:

  1. American Goldfinch 43%
  2. Common Yellowthroat 35%
  3. Baltimore Oriole Female 31%
  4. Yellow Warbler 24%
  5. Great Crested Flycatcher 17%
  6. Cedar Waxwing 14%
  7. American redstart female 14%
  8. Eastern Meadowlark 13%
  9. Yellow-rumped Warbler 13%
  10. Palm Warbler 13%

Yellow Birds in Illinois in Winter:

  1. American Goldfinch 26%
  2. Cedar Waxwing 3%

1. American Goldfinch

American goldfinch male

American Goldfinch are common yellow birds in Illinois all year.

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.

  • 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. They breed in Canada and the Mid-West and Canada before migrating to southern states. They remain all year in the rest of the US.

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.

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. 

2. Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroats breed in Illinois and arrive from April and have usually migrated south by the end of October. Some Common Yellowthroats have been spotted here in winter but very rarely.

Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds that are brownish on the back and have bright yellow breasts, paler yellow bellies and 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.

  • 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.

They can be found in the spring and summer, often in marshy or wetland areas and brushy fields living in thick, tangled vegetation. 

They eat primarily insects and will be found in large backyards that have dense vegetation.

3. Baltimore Oriole Female

baltimore oriole

Baltimore Orioles breed in Illinois between May and September before migrating south.

Baltimore Orioles females are yellowish underneath and on the head and grayish-brown on the wings, their backs or brownish-yellow. Adult males are bright orange and black with white wing bars on the black wings.

  • Length: 6.7-7.5 in (17-19 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz (30-40 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.1-11.8 in (23-30 cm)

Breeding in eastern and central North America from April, Baltimore Orioles migrate to Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean for winter, leaving as early as July. They make incredible hanging bag-like nests woven from fibers.

Baltimore Orioles can be found high up in open woodland, riverbanks, and forest edges foraging for insects and fruit and they often come to parks and backyards. Their diet is fruit and insects.

To attract more Baltimore Orioles to your yard, try oranges cut in half on a platform feeder or hanging from trees. Also, oriole feeders filled with sugar water. 

4. Yellow Warbler

yellow warbler

Yellow Warblers are common yellow birds in Illinois in spring and summer. They arrive in Illinois in April and May to breed or on the way further north and start to migrate south from mid-August until the end of September.

Yellow Warblers are small bright yellow birds with a yellow-green back, and the males have chestnut streaks on the breast, which are a common sight in summer.

  • Length: 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.3-7.9 in (16-20 cm)

Yellow Warblers migrate a long distance to breed over much of North America before heading into Central and northern South America for winter.

They can be seen during migration in the far south.

Yellow Warblers can be found along streams and wetlands in thickets and along the edges of fields foraging for insects, including caterpillars, midges, beetles, bugs, and wasps.

Warblers are hard to attract to your backyard as they are shy and eat mainly insects,  but you can try suet, oranges, and peanut butter. 

5. Great Crested Flycatcher

Great_Crested_Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatchers migrate into Illinois in late April and May for breeding and leave in September and October.

Great Crested Flycatchers are brown on the back with a yellow belly and gray throat. They have reddish flashed in the wing and tail feathers. The crest is not very obvious.

  • Length: 6.7-8.3 in (17-21 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.4 oz (27-40 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.4 in (34 cm)

Great Crested Flycatchers breed over much of Eastern North America and spend the winter in southern Florida, southern Mexico, and Central America.

They sit perched up high in woodland, waiting for large insects flying, such as butterflies, grasshoppers, moths, wasps, and spiders. They can be found in mixed woodlands and at the edges of clearings, parks, tree-lined neighborhoods, or perched on fenceposts or other artificial structures.  They will also eat berries and small fruit.

To attract more Great Crested Flycatchers to your backyard, try planting native plants and leaving brush piles to attract insects. Grow berry-producing plants and put up a nest box as they readily take up residence in them. 

6. Cedar Waxwing

cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing remain all year in Illinois, but their number increase in the summer when more migrate in for breeding between May and November.

Cedar Waxwings are elegant social pale brown birds on the head, chest, and crest, which fades to gray on the back and wings and tail.

Their belly is pale yellow and there is bright yellow on the tip. They have a narrow black mask over their eyes and bright red on the wingtips.

  • 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 breed in Canada before heading to the southern US for winter. They are resident all year in Northern US states.

They make a high-pitched call and can be found in berry bushes, woodlands, and streams.

To attract Cedar Waxwings to your backyard, plant native trees and shrubs with small fruit such as serviceberry, dogwood, juniper, winterberry, and hawthorn. You can also try fruit on platform feeders.

7. American Redstart Female

Female American redstart

American Redstarts breed in Michigan and arrive in May and leave in September or early October. Their numbers increase during May and September when additional birds migrate through the state.

Female American Redstarts are olive-gray with bright yellow patches on their sides, wings and tail. Male American Redstarts are black and bright orange birds with a white lower belly. 

  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.2-0.3 oz (6-9 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.3-7.5 in (16-19 cm)

They have a vast breeding range across eastern US states and Canada and across to northwestern US states and Canada. They may also be seen during migration in central states.

They can be found in deciduous woodlands eating insects and backyards and thickets, eating berries such as serviceberry and magnolia.

8. Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlarks are yellow birds in Illinois all year. However, they are more commonly spotted here in the summer between March and August.

A medium-sized songbird that are bright yellow underneath and pale brown with black marks on the back. They have a distinctive black band across the chest.

  • Length: 7.5-10.2 in (19-26 cm)
  • Weight: 3.2-5.3 oz (90-150 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.8-15.8 in (35-40 cm)

Found all year across eastern US states, but they will also breed in the northeast and into Canada before migrating south.

They can be found in grasslands and prairies, eating insects. In winter, they gather in large flocks in fields looking for seeds.

9. Yellow-rumped Warbler

yellow rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped Warblers are primarily spotted in Illinois during the spring and fall migration. Some also spend the winter here.

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.

After breeding predominantly in Canada, they migrate in large numbers south across most of the southern and central states and the Pacific Coast and throughout Mexico and Central America. 

  • 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 can be found in coniferous forests, especially during the breeding season. During winter, they can be found in open areas with fruiting shrubs. In summer, they primarily eat insects, but they mostly eat fruit, including bayberry and wax myrtle, during migration and in winter. 

You can attract Yellow-rumped Warblers to your backyard with sunflower seeds, suet, raisins, and peanut butter.

10. Palm Warbler

palm warbler

Palm Warblers are yellow birds in Illinois during the spring and fall migration when migrating to breeding grounds in Canada.

The palm warbler has a rusty red patch on the top of its head and is a browny-olive color over the rest of its body and yellow on the breast and belly.

  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (7-13 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-8.3 in (20-21 cm)

The breed in Canada but can be found in eastern states during the migration and all year along the far south coast and Florida.

Spring and fall is the best time to spot them in weedy fields, forest edges, and scrubby areas. They are often found foraging along the ground for insects, mixed with other birds such as Sparrows, Juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

To attract more Palm Warblers to your backyard, try planting native plants that attract insects and bayberry or hawthorn for their berries.

11. Nashville Warbler

nashville warbler

Nashville Warblers are yellow birds in Illinois during the spring and fall migration when they are migrating to breeding grounds.

Nashville Warblers are mostly yellow with a green back and gray head. 

  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.2-0.5 oz (6.7-13.9 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.7-7.9 in (17-20 cm)

Breeding in northeastern US states and Canada and a smaller population in northwestern US states and into British Columbia. They can also be seen during migration in most states.

They can be seen in scrubby habitats and low deciduous forests hunting for insects.

12. Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warblers are yellow birds in Illinois during the spring and fall migration when they are migrating to breeding grounds.

Although not as distinctive in color as some warblers on the easy to spot list, they are common on low branches, so it’s easier to spot them during migration.

Magnolia Warblers males are black on the back and yellow underneath. They have black streaking from a ‘necklace’ on their necks down over their bellies. Females are grayer on the back and lack the distinctive streaking down the belly.

  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.2-0.5 oz (6-15 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.3-7.9 in (16-20 cm)

Magnolia Warblers breed across Canada and Northeastern US states in forests. They can be seen during migration in the Eastern US.

They spend the winter in Central America and the Caribbean.

13. Scarlet Tanager Female

scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) female

Female Scarlet Tanagers are yellow birds in Illinois during the summer from Mid-April until October for breeding.

Scarlet Tanagers are bright red birds with black wings and tails. Females are yellow birds with darker wings and tails.

  • Piranga olivacea
  • Length: 6.3-6.7 in (16-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-1.3 oz (23-38 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.4 in (25-29 cm)

They breed in eastern forests in summer before migrating to South America.

Scarlet Tanagers can be hard to spot as they stay high in the forest canopy. 

You can attract more Scarlet Tanagers by planting berry plants such as blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, juneberries, serviceberries, mulberries, strawberries and chokeberries.

14. Orchard Oriole Female

orchard oriole female

Orchard Orioles visit Illinois between May and September for breeding.

Orchard Orioles females are greenish-yellow overall, paler underneath and darker on the back, with darker wings and white wingbars. Males look very different with black heads and backs and with reddish undersides.

  • Length: 5.9-7.1 in (15-18 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-1.0 oz (16-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8 in (25 cm)

Orchard Orioles breed in central and eastern states in summer before migrating south to Mexico and Central America. 

Preferring open woodland, Orchard Orioles can also be found along river banks and open shrubland and farms as well as backyards. They build hanging pouch-like nests.

Their diet is primarily insects such as ants, caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders. However, they will also drink nectar from flowers and eat fruit such as mulberries and chokeberries.

To attract Orchard Orioles to your yard, try hummingbird feeders or platform feeders with cut oranges or mango.  Also, plant native berry plants such as mulberries or chokeberries.

15. Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green warbler (Setophaga virens)

Black-throated Green Warblers are in Illinois during the spring and fall migration in May and September.

A small yellowish-green songbird with a yellow face and head and olive-yellow back. They have black streaking on the sides and wings and are whitish underneath.

  • Length: 4.3-4.7 in (11-12 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (7-11 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.7-7.9 in (17-20 cm)

Black-throated Green Warblers can mostly be seen during their long migration over the Eastern US up to their breeding grounds in Northeastern US states and Canada.

16. Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Credit: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarrens

Yellow-throated Vireo breed in Illinois and can be spotted here between April and mid-October.

Yellow-throated Vireo are bright yellow and gray birds with olive-colored heads. Their throats and chest are bright yellow with white bellies and their backs are grayish-brown with white streaks.

  • Length: 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (15-21 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.1 in (23 cm)

Yellow-throated Vireos breed in eastern US states and spend the winter in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

They can be spotted in mixed woodland hunting for insects and sometimes berries.

17. Wilson’s Warbler

wilsons warbler

Wilson’s Warblers migrate through Illinois in May and September.

Wilson’s Warblers are small yellow warblers with a black cap in the males and an olive cap in females.

  • Length: 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm)
  • Weight: 0.2-0.3 oz (5-10 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.5-6.7 in (14-17 cm)

Breeding in Canada, Alaska and northwestern states, Wilson’s Warblers can also be seen across all states during migration. They winter in Mexico and Central America.

To find Wilson’s Warblers look along streams in thickets.

18. Canada Warbler

canada warbler

Canada Warblers are not very common in Illinois. They are, however, mostly spotted during migration in May and late August until October.

Canada Warblers are similar in appearance to the Magnolia Warbler and have a similar range. However, they are grayish-black on the back and the black ‘necklace’ does not extend over the belly, in the males, only over the chest. They have yellow chests, bellies and throats.

Females and immatures are similar but paler on the back and with a less prominent ‘necklace.’

  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-13 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.7-8.7 in (17-22 cm)

Canada Warblers breed in Canada and northeastern US states, but they can also be seen during migration across the eastern half of the US.

They live in mossy forests and forage for insects. Unfortunately, they are difficult to find as their numbers have been declining.

19. Summer Tanager Female

summer tanager

Summer Tanagers are not very common in Illinois, but some breed here between late April and mid-October.

Summer Tanager males are bright red birds and females are yellow. 

  • Piranga rubra
  • Length: 6.7 in (17 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1 oz (30 g)

They breed in southern and eastern states before heading to Central and South America for winter.

They are forest songbirds and can be found in open woodlands and feed on bees and wasps in mid-flight. They catch them and kill them by beating them against a branch and rubs the stinger off before eating them.

You can attract more Summer Tanagers to your backyard with berry bushes and fruit trees.

20. White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireos can be spotted in Illinois between April and October.

A small songbird in gray and yellow tones. White-eyed Vireos have a gray head, white chest and throat and yellow sides with darker wings and two white wingbars with black streaking.

They have yellow across the eyes and forehead and a white eye.

  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (10-14 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.7 in (17 cm)

They spend the summer across the southeastern United States, hidden in thickets out of sight. They winter along the southeast coast, Mexico and the Caribbean.

White-eyed Vireos feed on insects, flies and spiders found in overgrown pastures and brambles.