There are roughly 10,000 bird species in the world, and more than 900 have been recorded in North America. Among all these, only a handful of birds have become favorites because of their beautiful colors, harmonious songs, charming personalities, and amusing behaviors. But while they may be familiar and welcome to many birders in the field and the backyard, how much do you know about each of these top species?
These 15 birds are among the most popular in North America.
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Aptly named for the male's brilliant red throat, ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most common hummingbird species east of the Mississippi River. Their appearance in their northern breeding grounds is eagerly anticipated every year, and they readily come to yards with nectar-bearing flowers or where hummingbird nectar is offered.
02 of 15
The state bird of seven states, the northern cardinal is widespread and easily recognized. The male's bright red plumage and perky crest give it a simultaneously regal and whimsical look, and the female's softer fawn and pink-tinged plumage make her equally lovely. Year-round guests in many yards, these songbirds are always welcome and readily visit feeders offering sunflower or safflower seeds.
03 of 15
Boldly colorful, the Baltimore oriole is the most familiar oriole in eastern North America. These orange-and-black birds were once lumped with their western counterpart, the Bullock's oriole, as one species. Today, Baltimore orioles are welcomed as songbirds and have also found a place of honor as mascots for teams and schools and the state bird of Maryland. These birds visit yards where oranges and jelly are offered.
04 of 15
A familiar bird found on lawns as it searches for worms, the American robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These thrushes have an orange-red breast and gray upperparts, and males have a darker gray-black head. While they are often considered spring birds, American robins actually stay in much of their range year-round. They are also frequent performers in the dawn chorus.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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The smallest backyard woodpecker in North America, the downy woodpecker is easily recognized by its black and white plumage and small bill. It will frequently visit suet feeders and also dines on seeds, fruit, and nuts. These woodpeckers are popular guests, even taking up residence in birdhouses. Identify males by the red spot on their nape, while females are simply black and white.
06 of 15
Any birder feels rich when American goldfinches visit their yards, and these birds love Nyjer seed. Males are easily recognized by their brilliant yellow plumage and contrasting black markings, though females are paler and less boldly marked. The melodious song of these birds gives them another nickname, the wild canary. In southwestern regions, the lesser goldfinch is a similar and equally beautiful bird.
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Curious and feisty, the black-capped chickadee is a dynamic bird whenever it visits feeders, which it does often if black oil sunflower seed is offered. These birds are easily recognized by their black caps and throats, buffy flanks, and gray upperparts. In southern regions, these birds are replaced by their nearly identical cousin, the Carolina chickadee; both can be attracted to yards.
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Bluebirds are highly sought after garden guests, and the eastern bluebird is the most familiar of the three North American bluebird species. Their rich colors, insectivorous diets, and friendly personalities make them backyard favorites, and every birder can try to attract bluebirds. Adding bluebird houses to the yard is a great way to encourage nesting pairs, and mealworms are bluebirds' favorite treats.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Smart and sassy, the Carolina wren isn't the only wren that will visit yards, but it is the most noticeable with its bold eyebrow, warm chestnut coloration, and yellowish flanks. All wrens are a treat to watch with their cocked-up tails, energetic behavior, and curious attitudes. These and other wrens will also nest in appropriate birdhouses, making them easy to see in the yard.
10 of 15
One of the most widespread sparrows native to North America, the chipping sparrow has bold markings with its dark eye line, chestnut crown, and mottled back. Look closely in fall and winter, however, as the dull juvenile plumage of young birds can easily be confused with other types of sparrows.
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Warblers are popular in North America, but none is as widespread and willing to visit yards and feeders as the yellow-rumped warbler. The Audubon's and Myrtle plumage variations look quite different, but both have the bright yellow rump these "butter butts" are named for. These birds are very early and late visitors during the year, allowing birders to indulge in their passion for warblers for months.
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Blue jays are crafty. Not only do they store nuts for winter, but they may mimic hawk calls to scare other birds away from a good food source. Their loud calls are easy to identify when birding by ear, and their colorful plumage makes them fun to see year-round. Any birder can take steps to attract jays and welcome blue jays, or their western cousins, the Woodhouse's and Steller's jays, to their yard.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Purple martins are one of the largest swallow species in North America, and one of the most elegant with their jewel-toned plumage and aerobatic flight. These birds have a close association with humans, and nest almost exclusively in specialized houses with multiple compartments to accommodate several families at once. These are social birds, and it's not unusual to see a large flock feeding together.
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There are many different doves and pigeons in North America, but none are as beloved as the soft, gentle mourning dove. Their mournful cooing call is easily recognizable, and they visit feeders and clean up spilled seed on the ground. Their long, tapered tails, iridescent patch on the neck, and black spots on the wings are other helpful identification characteristics.
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The killdeer is a shorebird that can live far inland; they are often found in parking lots or rocky vacant fields. They will even nest in gravel driveways, and their highly camouflaged eggs are a challenge to spot. You can't miss the adult's dramatic display, however, when it fakes a broken wing to distract predators from threatening its nest or chicks.