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Birds of Illinois – Most Common Species You Can Spot

Black Capped Chickadee - one of the most common birds of Illinois

The birds of Illinois are an incredible 456 bird species! In Illinois, we find dozens of warblers and many other birds migrating through Chicago, grassland species, and wetlands that host Bald Eagles and thousands of ducks and shorebirds.

There’s a lot of birds in Illinois! How many birds have you seen in the state and how many could you identify?

This accurate list showing the most common backyard and wild birds in Illinois will help!

 

Most common birds of Illinois

According to eBird data from 2021 to 2023, the following list shows the 30 most common birds of Illinois.

To help with identification, we included information about field marks and their behavior (remember that the species on the bottom of the list are common birds too!).

 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Length: 8.75 inches
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Wingspan: 12 inches
Song:
pichew-pichew-pichew, chew,chew,chew,chew,chew

Northern Cardinals are medium-sized songbirds with a perky crest and big orange-red beak. Males are bright red with a black throat and face, and have dusky red on their back, wings, and tail.

Female Northern Cardinals are grayish-brown and buff with some black on their face and throat. They also have red highlights on their crest, wings, and long, rounded tail.

This species has short, rounded wings that bounce up and down as they move through the air. In flight, Northern Cardinals also make sharp chip notes.

It eats seeds, insects, and some fruit and regularly visits bird feeders. They forage on and near the ground, but males sing from a prominent perch.

This beautiful bird occurs in pairs and nests in bushes and low trees. It is common in the eastern and southwestern USA, southern Ontario, and in Mexico, making them one of the most common birds of Illinois (as well as their state bird).

Key Identifications:

  • Crested bird with a conical orange-red beak and a black face. Males are red, and females are grayish-brown and buff.
  • Forages for seeds and insects on and near the ground.
  • Makes a cup-shaped nest in bushes and low trees.
  • Sings a clear, whistled song of repeated notes. They can sound like “cheer, cheer, chew, chew, chew, chew” or a quick “birdee,birdee,birdee,birdee,birdee“. They also make loud, sharp chip notes.

 

American Robin

Female American Robin

Scientific name: Turdus migratorius

Length: 10 inches
Weight: 2.7 ounces
Wingspan: 17 inches
Song: 
“cheery, cheery, cheery, cheery, cheer, cheer

The American Robin is a familiar and common thrush that is dark gray above and brick red below. It also has an orange-yellow bill, a blackish head with white markings around the eyes and on the throat, and a white belly.

Both sexes of this thrush species are similar, but males are darker above and more reddish on the underparts. Young American Robins have more white marks on their faces and spotting on orange underparts.

In flight, this common thrush in Illinois also shows white corners in its outer tail feathers.

American Robins forage on the ground for worms, insects, snails, and other small creatures. In winter, these common birds flock together and perch in trees and bushes to eat berries and fruit.

The American Robin makes a cup nest in trees and lives in parks, woodlands, towns, and many other habitats. They reside in Alaska, most of Canada, the USA and in Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Fair-sized songbird that is dark gray above, and brick red and white below.
  • Forages for worms and bugs on lawns and other open grassy areas, also flocks together to feed on fruiting trees in the winter.
  • Makes a cup nest in trees.
  • The American Robin is quite vocal and makes a loud, sharp, “yenk!” call and quieter “check,check,check” calls. It also has a lovely cheerful song of caroled phrases, “cheery, cheery, cheery, cheery, cheer, cheer”.

 

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Scientific name: Branta canadensis

Length: 35 – 45.2 inches
Weight: 5.29 – 19.8 pounds
Wingspan: 50 – 67 inches
Song: 
uurrRUNK! uurrRUNK!

The Canada Goose is a large, grayish-brown bird with a long black neck, and black head with a white throat and cheeks. Males and females look alike and have pale barring, a white belly and undertail, and a short black and white tail.

They have strong, direct flight and make deep flaps with long, broad wings.

Canada Geese feed on grass, sedges, and other vegetation, grain, and berries. They forage by walking along and grazing, or picking food from the ground and bushes. This species also feeds by dipping its head below the surface of shallow water.

This large goose uses grass and other plants to make a large, shallow cup nest on a small mound or other elevated spot next to water.

The Canada Goose prefers open grassy areas and farm fields near water where it can feed and see predators before they get too close. They live in Alaska, most of Canada, and most of the USA, being one of the most common birds of Illinois.

Key Identifications:

  • Big, gray-brown goose with a long black neck, and black and white head.
  • Grazes vegetation and forages for berries in wide open, grassy habitats near water like golf courses, parks, and airports.
  • Makes a shallow, open cup nest on an elevated spot next to water.
  • Vocal and often makes honking calls, “uurrRUNK! uurrRUNK!”.

 

House Sparrow

House Sparrow Passer domesticus)

Scientific name: Passer domesticus

Length: 6.25 inches
Weight: .98 ounces
Wingspan: 9.5 inches
Song: 
see,chirrup,see,chirrup,see,chirrup”

House Sparrows are small, plump gray and brown birds with conical, finch-like beaks. Males have a gray and rufous head with pale cheeks, and black near their eyes and on their throat.

The rest of their underparts are gray and have brown, streaked backs with rufous highlights. They also have a white mark in the shoulder of each wing and a grayish rump and tail.

Females are plainer brown and buff, have paler beaks, and buff eyebrows.

House Sparrows feed on seeds, grain, and insects. They are regular visitors to bird feeders and often dominate other smaller species. They also forage on the ground in farmlands, parks, urban areas, and other open situations.

The House Sparrow nests in cavities. When searching for suitable nesting sites, they can kill and remove the eggs and young of smaller species like Eastern Bluebirds.

House Sparrows usually live near people and occur in most of North America, including Illinois.

Key Identifications:

  • Brown and gray sparrow with a bold pattern on its head.
  • Feeds on seeds, grain, and insects at feeders and on the ground in urban areas and farmlands.
  • Nests in tree cavities, including nest boxes.
  • This species is vocal and often makes short chirping calls. Its song is a friendly series of chirping sounds, “see,chirrup,see,chirrup,see,chirrup”.

 

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Scientific name: Carduelis tristis

Length: 5 inches
Weight: .46 ounces
Wingspan: 9 inches
Song: 
swit sweet, sipsipsipchichisweetsweet

The American Goldfinch is a small, sparrow-sized finch with a black and white, slightly forked tail, pale rump, and white undertail. In summer, males are bright lemon yellow with a small black cap, pale beak, and have some white markings on long black wings.

Females and wintering birds have two pale wings bars and have plain gray, buff, and yellowish plumage. This species often occurs in small flocks and has bounding flight.

American Goldfinches feed on seeds. They forage by picking them from grass, thistle, other low plants, Alders, and other trees. Goldfinches are also frequent visitors to bird feeders.

The American Goldfinch uses plant matter and other soft materials to build a small, tightly woven cup nest high in a shrub or a low tree.

American Goldfinches are summer residents in southern Canada, California, and the northern half of the USA, and winter in most of the USA and parts of Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, bright yellow finch with a black cap, wings, and tail (summer male), female and winter males are plain brown, buff, and yellowish birds with two pale wing bars.
  • Feeds on seeds in low plants, trees, and at feeders.
  • Makes a tightly woven cup nest high in a shrub or low tree.
  • Often gives a “per chickory” call in flight and sings a short, trilled song, “swit sweet, sipsipsipchichisweetsweet”.

 

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Scientific name: Zenaida macroura

Length: 12 inches
Weight: 4.2 ounces
Wingspan: 18 inches
Song: 
hooOOA, hoo, hoo, hoo”

Mourning Doves are medium-sized, grayish-brown doves with long tails. They have small black spots on their wings and a small head with a slender, dark beak.

Males and females also have narrow gray eyerings, a black mark on the face, and pale iridescent gold on the sides of their necks. They look alike except for males having more gray on the head and neck, and more iridescence.

This dove has fairly long wings and swift, direct flight. When flying, it shows black and white on its tail.

The Mourning Dove occurs in woodlands, gardens, on farms, and in urban areas. This common feeder visitor eats seeds and grains. It also forages in open situations, picking food from the ground.

This pleasant dove species can visit a feeder on its own or forage in small flocks. It builds an unkempt stick nest in bushes and trees and is very common throughout the USA, southern Canada, and Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Plain brown and gray dove with a long, pointed tail.
  • Feeds on seeds at feeders and on the ground in open areas.
  • Makes a small, messy nest of sticks in trees.
  • Sings a sad and owl-like “hooOOA, hoo, hoo, hoo”.

 

Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens

Length: 6.75 inches
Weight: .95 ounces
Wingspan: 12 inches
Song:
Pik! Ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch!

The Downy Woodpecker is a small black and white woodpecker with a short, black beak. They are patterned black and white above and have white backs and white underparts. Both sexes look alike, except that males have a small, bright red patch on the top back part of their head.

Young birds look like adults but have a reddish patch on the top of their heads. Downy Woodpeckers also have a few small black marks in their white outer tail feathers, and a small white tuft at the base of their beak.

This woodpecker eats insects, other small creatures, seeds, and small fruits. It pecks into live and dead wood and often forages on smaller branches and twigs. These friendly little woodpeckers are also common feeder birds.

Related: Woodpecker species in Illinois

They nest in tree cavities and live in gardens and a wide variety of woodlands. We see Downy Woodpeckers in much of Canada and the USA but not in arid habitats.

Key Identifications:

  • Smallest woodpecker in North America. Mostly black and white with a short, black beak.
  • Forages on trees, in bushes, and at feeders for insects, seeds, and suet.
  • Nests in tree cavities.
  • The Downy Woodpecker makes sharp “pik!” calls and also has a trilled call, “Ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch!“.

 

Blue Jay

blue jay

Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

Length: 11 inches
Weight: 3 ounces
Wingspan: 16 inches
Song: 
Nyeah! Nyeah! Nyeah!

The Blue Jay is a fairly large, crested bird with a straight black bill. Both sexes look alike and are blue above and gray and white below. They also have some small black lines on their faces and a narrow black necklace that goes up to the side of their face and crest.

Blue Jays also have some white markings and black barring in their wings and on their tail. Young birds look like adults but are duller blue.

They make messy cup nests at various heights in a variety of trees.

These social and intelligent birds feed on acorns, nuts, insects, and other small creatures. Like other members of the jay and crow family, they eat the eggs and nestlings of other birds.

The Blue Jay is a common bird of woodlands, forest, and towns east of the Rocky Mountains in the USA and central and southern Canada.

Key Identifications:

  • Crested, fairly large bird with bright blue above and gray below.
  • Feeds in trees and at feeders. Eats acorns, nuts, insects and many other food items.
  • Makes a messy cup nest of sticks in a tree.
  • Very vocal. In flight, Blue Jays often call as they swoop through the trees. They make a variety of sounds and mimic some other birds. Common calls include a nasal and complaining “Nyeah! Nyeah! Nyeah!” and various whistled calls.

 

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Scientific name: Poecile atricapilla

Length: 5.25 inches
Weight: .39 ounces
Wingspan: 8 inches
Song: 
see bee, see bee

Black-capped Chickadees are small grayish birds with a black cap, black throat, and a stubby black beak. Both sexes look alike and have a white face, white edging to the feathers in their wings, and some buff on their underparts.

These cute little birds feed on caterpillars, insects, spiders, seeds, and fruit. They are regular visitors to feeders but also forage on bark, twigs, and in foliage. When foraging, they often hang upside down from twigs and usually occur in small flocks.

This species makes a small, soft nest out of moss and deer hair. It builds its nest in tree cavities and can also use nest boxes.

Black-capped Chickadees live in a variety of wooded habitats and can also occur in gardens. They are year-round residents in parts of Alaska, Canada, and the northern USA south to Oregon, northern New Mexico, northern Ohio, and the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, cute, grayish birds with a black cap, white face, and a black throat.
  • Forages for insects, spiders, seeds, and fruit in wooded habitats. Also visits feeders.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • This little bird is quite vocal and often says its name, “chick-a-deedeedeedeedee”. They also make other chattering calls and sing a whistled song, “see bee, see bee”.

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus

Length: 8.75 inches
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Wingspan: 13 inches
Song:
kan-keree!”

The Red-winged Blackbird is a medium-sized blackbird species with a sharp, all-black bill. Males also have a scarlet patch with a pale yellow border on the shoulder of each wing.

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are dark, heavily streaked, brownish-gray birds with an orange-buff eyebrow and throat. She can also have a little bit of dingy red on her shoulder.

Red-winged Blackbirds often flock together and can form very large groups in the winter. They feed on seeds, grain, and insects found on lawns, in marshes, farm fields, and other open habitats.

This species builds a cup nest made of leaves and dead stems in a bush or other low vegetation in a marsh, park, or brushy field.

Red-winged Blackbirds are very common birds that live in all sorts of open habitats. We see them in parks, farming areas, and marshes in much of Canada, the USA, Mexico, and parts of the Central America.

Key Identifications:

  • Males are medium-sized blackbirds with a bright red patch on their wings. Females are heavily streaked, have a sharp black beak, and buff on the head.
  • Feeds on seeds, grain, and insects on the ground in many open habitats.
  • Builds a cup nest in a bush or other low vegetation.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds often call. Males sing a loud, “kan-keree!” and both sexes also make “check!” calls and a high-pitched whistle-like sound.

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus

Length: 9.25 inches
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Wingspan: 16 inches
Song: 
Qwerr!

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized with black and white barring on their back and wings. They have a long beak and pale gray underparts with a small red patch on the belly.

Males have red on the head from the bill to the back of the neck (the nape). Females have an orange-red spot above their bill and red on the back of their head. Both sexes have a mostly white rump and central tail feathers.

This woodpecker species has long wings and “undulating” flight, where it moves up and down as it flies. In flight, Red-bellied Woodpeckers show a small white patch in their wings.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker lives in wooded habitats. It eats nuts, seeds, insects, fruit, and can attack nestlings of other species. It also visits bird feeders.

This striking woodpecker occurs in pairs and nests in tree cavities high above the ground. It is common in the eastern USA and parts of southern Ontario.

Key Identifications:

  • Grayish woodpecker with black and white barring above, and red on the top of the head and back of the neck.
  • Forages for seeds, nuts, insects and other food on trunks and branches.
  • Nests in a tree cavity, high overhead.
  • Makes a loud exclamation, “Qwerr!“. It also makes other, briefer and quieter “chug” calls.

 

Mallard

Mallard pair

Mallard pair (Male and female)

Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos

Length: 23 inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Wingspan: 35 inches
Song: 
quack, quack

The Mallard is a fairly large, familiar duck. The male has a metallic green head, yellow bill, narrow white ring around the neck, and chestnut breast. The rest of the bird is pale gray with pale brown, and black on its back and around its tail.

Female Mallards are mottled brown and buff with a dark crown and line through the eyes, and have a dark gray and orange beak.

In flight, both sexes show a green-blue wing patch bordered with white.

Mallards eat a variety of items, including insect larvae, snails, other small aquatic creatures, acorns, seeds, and grain. They forage by filtering and picking up food items in and near shallow water, and in farm fields.

This Illinois duck species makes a shallow nest with sticks and lined with down feathers. It builds its nest on the ground, hidden in grass or under a bush.

The Mallard lives in ponds, marshes, and many wetland habitats in Canada, USA, and Eurasia.

Key Identifications:

  • Feeds on insect larvae, grain, seeds, and other items picked up with its bill in and near shallow water.
  • Makes a shallow stick nest hidden in grass or under a bush.
  • The female Mallard makes the classic “quack, quack” duck sound. Males make similar but softer sounds and a whistling call.

 

European Starling

European Starling

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris

Length: 8.5 inches
Weight: 2.9 ounces
Wingspan: 16 inches
Song: 
tiktiktitZHREEree..tiktiktik..ZHREE”

European Starlings are plump, short-tailed birds with long, sharp beaks and longish, pointed wings. In summer, they have yellow beaks, glossy black plumage with purple and green highlights, and some small white spots.

Males and females are similar, but males have less spotting and glossier plumage. In winter, they have black beaks, white spots, and more reddish colors in their wings.

Young starlings are shaped like adults but are grayish birds with a dark beak and a pale throat.

This species feeds on a variety of insects, fruit, and seeds. They can dominate bird feeders and are common species in urban areas, parks, farmlands, and other open habitats.

This European Starling builds a soft cup nest in a tree cavity, nest box, or suitable cavity in other structures.

European Starlings flock with each other and blackbird species, especially during the winter. They live across a large part of Canada and the USA.

Key Identifications:

  • Rotund, short-tailed bird with a long, sharp beak, and pointed wings. Glossy black with some spotting in the summer and blackish with heavy white spotting and streaking in the winter.
  • Feeds on seeds, fruit, and insects. Visits feeders and forages on the ground in flocks.
  • Builds a soft cup nest in nest boxes and other cavities.
  • The European Starling makes a wide variety of mechanical and whistled sounds. They also mimic other birds and sounds in their environment. They sing long, jumbled mechanical-sounding songs, “tiktiktitZHREEree..tiktiktik..ZHREE”.

 

American Crow

American Crow

Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos

Length: 17.5 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Wingspan: 39 inches
Song:
Caw! Caw!”

The American Crow is a big, all-black bird with a strong, stout bill. In certain lighting, it can have metallic purple and blue iridescence.

Both sexes look the same and have some feathering on their beaks, long, broad wings, and a broad tail.

American Crows have a direct flight with strong, steady wing beats. Crows are very social and intelligent birds that are usually seen in flocks. They forage together on the ground or in trees and eat just about anything they can find.

Some of their more regular foods include carrion, fruit, nuts, seeds, insects, and small animals. Like most jays and crow species, they also eat the eggs and nestlings of other bird species.

This species builds bulky stick nests high in trees and lives in most habitats except for high mountains and arid zones.

The American Crow occurs in southern Alaska, Canada, and the USA.

Key Identifications:

  • Big, all black bird with long, broad wing and a broad tail.
  • Forages for carrion, fruit, seeds, insects, and small animals.
  • Builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
  • American Crows are very vocal birds. They can make several calls but their most common one is, “Caw! Caw! Caw!”.

 

House Finch

House Finch

Photograph © John Hansen

Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus

Length: 6 inches
Weight: .88 ounces
Wingspan: 10 inches
Song: 
chip,chip,chiprididip,ZREEYachip”

House Finches are sparrow-sized birds with dark, rounded beaks and fairly long wings. Males are orange-red or rose-red on their head, throat and breast, and have some red on their rump. They also have brownish streaks on their back, flanks, and white belly.

Like the male, female House Finches have two white wing bars on long, gray-brown wings. However, they lack red and are mostly streaked, dull brown-gray birds.

House Finches feed on seeds, buds, fruit, and flowers. They often visit feeders in Illinois but also forage on the ground, and in bushes and trees.

We see these pretty birds in deserts and arid zones, and in parks, farmland, urban areas, and other semi-open habitats.

The House Finch makes a soft cup nest built on a tree, building ledge or other spot with some overhanging cover. They often occur in small groups and live in southern Canada, most of the USA, Mexico, and Hawaii.

Key Identifications:

  • Reddish or plain gray-brown, streaked, sparrow-like bird.
  • Eats seeds, flowers, buds, and fruit. Can visit feeders but also forages on the ground and in bushes and trees.
  • Makes a soft cup nest in trees, on building ledges, and other places.
  • The House Finch often makes a soft, “fidip” call. Males also sing a warbling song from prominent, high perches. It sounds like, “chip,chip,chiprididip,ZREEYachip”.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis

Length: 5.75 inches
Weight: .74 ounces
Wingspan: 11 inches
Song: 
wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a sparrow-sized bird with a longish, sharp, slightly upturned beak and a short black and white tail. It also has long wings, is mostly blue-gray above, and white and gray below, with some chestnut on its belly and undertail.

Both sexes look similar and have a white face, but males have a black cap and nape. Females have gray on their head and nape.

This small bird forages for insects, nuts, and seeds by creeping along branches and going down trunks, head-first. It uses its beak to pick food items from bark and also visits feeders.

The White-breasted Nuthatch makes a cup nest out of grass and soft bark inside a tree cavity or nest box.

White-breasted Nuthatches live in various wooded habitats in parts of southern Canada, most of the USA, and mountains in Mexico. They are frequent visitors to gardens near woodlands.

Key Identifications:

  • Sparrow-sized, short-tailed songbird that is blue-gray above, mostly white below, and has a longish, slightly upturned beak.
  • Creeps on branches and down tree trunks for insects, nuts, and seeds. Also visits feeders.
  • Uses grass and soft bark to make a cup nest in a tree cavity or nest box.
  • Quite vocal and makes nasal calls “yank yank, and sings a nasal, laughter-like song, “wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn wehn”.

 

Dark-eyed Junco

dark eyed junco

Scientific name: Junco hyemalis

Length: 6.25 inches
Weight: .67 ounces
Wingspan: 9.25 inches
Song: 
sipsipsipsipsipsipsip

Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrow-like birds with pale conical bills and dark eyes. This small bird has variable plumage, with most being slate gray or gray and brown with white on their bellies, and white under their tails.

Other plumages include birds with dark masks and faint white wing bars, juncos with pale gray hoods and pinkish sides, and birds with blackish hoods and chestnut sides.

In flight, all Dark-eyed Juncos show extensive white in their longish tails.

This species feeds on seeds, insects, and some fruit and grain. Juncos forage on the ground in wooded areas, parks, and other habitats. They also feed on fallen seeds beneath feeders.

They build cup nests on the ground under fallen logs, in roots, and other hidden spots. After breeding, juncos form flocks that forage together in similar wooded and semi-open habitats.

Dark-eyed Juncos are common birds in Canada, the USA, and parts of Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Sparrow-like gray and brown bird with dark eyes, a pale beak, and white in the tail.
  • Forages for seeds and insects on the ground, can feed on seeds at and beneath feeders.
  • Builds a cup-shaped nest on the ground in tree roots, under logs, and other hidden places.
  • This species often makes a sharp, high-pitched chip note, “pik!”. On breeding grounds, males sing a short, plain trill, “sipsipsipsipsipsipsip”.

 

Song Sparrow

Song sparrow

Scientific name: Melospiza melodia

Length: 6.25 inches
Weight: .7 ounces
Wingspan: 8.25 inches
Song: 
seet serate sitsziziziziziziziz seet

The Song Sparrow is a small, gray and brown, streaked songbird with a thick dark mark on each side of its white throat. Males and females look the same and have white underparts with a dark brown mark on their breast, and dark brown streaks on their breast and sides.

Most Song Sparrows also have two narrow wing bars and show a rounded tail when fluttering between bushes.

This species feeds on insects, seeds, and small fruits. Pairs forage by picking up food items on and near the ground. They are also frequent visitors to bird feeders.

Song Sparrows use grass, stems, hair, and other materials to make a cup nest placed on or near the ground. They nest in dense vegetation, shrubbery, or low trees, often near water.

This species uses a wide variety of brushy habitats in open and wooded situations in southern Alaska, most of Canada, and all of the USA.

Key Identifications:

  • Small brown, streaked sparrow with a dark mark on its breast.
  • Forages on and near the ground for seeds and insects in brushy habitats.
  • Builds a cup nest on or near the ground in a shrub or low tree.
  • Makes high-pitched “tink”, chirping calls, and has a cheerful song with a trill, “seet serate sitsziziziziziziziz seet”.

 

Common Grackle

Common grackle

© Shawn McCready

Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula

Length: 12.5 inches
Weight: 4 ounces
Wingspan: 17 inches
Song:
Sherink!”

The Common Grackle is a jay-sized, glossy black bird with pale eyes and a long, wedge-shaped tail. Depending on lighting, this bird shows metallic purple, blue, green, and bronze highlights.

Males and females look very similar, but females have shorter tails and less iridescence. Both sexes also have stout, black beaks, and strong, black legs and feet.

In flight, Common Grackles move up and down as they move through the air. They usually flock together and often forage in farm fields, on lawns, and in other open habitats. These omnivores feed on a variety of items, including insects, seeds, grain, small animals, garbage, and the eggs and nestlings of other birds.

Common Grackles build bulky stick nests, usually in conifers in woodlands, parks, near water, and urban areas.

This species can form big flocks in the winter and lives in a variety of semi-open and open habitats in eastern Canada and the eastern USA.

Key Identifications:

  • Fairly large, black bird with glossy purple, greenish, bronze, or dark blue highlights. It also has pale eyes and a long, wedge-shaped tail.
  • Forages for insects, seeds, and other food on the ground in a variety of open habitats.
  • Constructs a bulky cup nest in a conifer.
  • Common Grackles are vocal birds. They frequently give raspy, metallic calls, “Sherink!”, and “kek” calls.

 

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Scientific name: Larus delawarensis

Length: 17.5 inches
Weight: 1.1 pound
Wingspan: 48 inches
Song: 
KLEE..KLEEE..kleeya,kleeya,kleeya

The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized pale gray and white gull with a black ring around its yellowish beak. Males and females look the same and have yellowish legs and feet, pale eyes, and black wing tips with a few white spots.

These gulls have a direct, fairly quick flight with leisurely wing beats. Young birds have pink and black bills, a white tail with a black tip, and mottled black and gray wings.

Ring-billed Gulls are scavengers and opportunists that feed on carrion, fish, worms, small animals, grain, and other food items. They usually occur in flocks that roam lakes, rivers, urban areas, and other habitats in search of feeding opportunities.

The Ring-billed Gull breeds in colonies, often on islands, and makes a shallow stick nest on the ground.

This gull species occurs not only in Illinois, but also in many parts of Canada and the USA south to Central America.

Key Identifications:

  • Medium-sized pale gray and white gull with a black ring on its bill and yellow legs and feet. Juveniles have pink and black beaks.
  • Forages for fish, carrion, and many other food items in wetlands and open habitats.
  • Nests on the ground, in colonies.
  • Ring-billed Gulls often call. In flight, they often make a high-pitched “kleea” sound. On the ground, displaying birds make a loud, laughing, “KLEE..KLEEE..kleeya,kleeya,kleeya”.

 

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker is Alabama state bird

Scientific name: Colaptes auratus

Length: 12.5 inches
Weight: 4.6 ounces
Wingspan: 20 inches
Song: 
kick,kick,kik,kik,kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik!

Northern Flickers are fairly large, tan and gray woodpeckers with barring on their backs. They have a black mark on their breast, black spotting below, and a dark, stout beak.

Males in the east have a tawny throat and face with a black mustache and small red spot on the back of their heads. Males in the west have mostly gray heads with a red mustache.

Female Northern Flickers look like males but lack the mustache mark.

In bounding flight, they have white rumps and flash color on their underwings. This is bright yellow in eastern birds and reddish in flickers west of the Rocky Mountains.

This woodpecker eats many ants and other insects that it catches on the ground. It forages by flying to the ground, locating anthills, and lapping them up with its long tongue.

Northern Flickers nest in tree cavities and live in wooded and open habitats in Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Tan and gray woodpecker with black barring above, black marks below, and a bright, white rump.
  • Forages for ants and other insects on the ground.
  • Nests in tree cavities.
  • A vocal woodpecker, the Northern Flicker often gives loud, “flicka,flicka,flicka” calls, and another loud, single note that sounds like, “Keer!” They also have a long, laughing vocalization of repeated notes, “kick,kick,kik,kik,kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik.kik!”.

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Scientific name: Ardea herodias 

Length: 46 inches
Weight:
 5.3 pounds
Wingspan:
72 inches
Song: 
Grunk! Grunk!”

The Great Blue Heron is a large, gray and pale brown heron with a long neck and legs. It has a strong, yellowish beak, black and white head with a wispy black crest, and rufous thighs.

Both sexes are alike and have pale bellies and black flanks. Juveniles have streaked underparts.

In flight, they make slow, deep flaps with long, broad gray and black wings. In Southern Florida and the Caribbean, Great Blue Herons are all white and sometimes considered a separate species, the Great White Heron.

These powerful herons feed on fish and small animals such as rats, snakes, and birds.

Great Blue Herons build messy, stick nests and breed in colonies, often in swamps.

We find these impressive birds in and near a wide variety of wetlands in large parts of Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean.

Key Identifications:

  • Huge gray and pale brown wading bird with a thick, yellowish beak and a wispy crest. In southern Florida, it is all white but still has a crest and a strong yellowish beak.
  • Stalks and preys on fish and small animals.
  • Builds messy stick nests and breeds in colonies.
  • Great Blue Herons aren’t all that vocal. When taking flight they make a croaking sound, “Grunk! Grunk!“.

 

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Scientific name: Momothrus ater

Length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 1.5 ounces
Wingspan: 12 inches
Song: 
qwuipuh see!

The Brown-headed Cowbird is a smallish blackbird with a short beak and fairly long wings. Males are glossy black with a dark brown head. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds are dark grayish birds with a dark beak, black eyes, and a white throat.

These small blackbirds forage for seeds and insects on the ground. They usually occur in flocks that forage on pastures and around farms. Cowbirds do most of their foraging with cows, horses, or other large animals to catch insects that the big mammals scare out of hiding.

Brown-headed Cowbirds do not build a nest. Instead, females lay eggs in nests of other birds. Host species can be Northern Cardinals, various warblers, vireos, and many other small birds.

The Brown-headed Cowbird is dependent on cattle, horses, and other large grazing mammals but occurs in a wide variety of habitats. It prefers fields, pasture and other open areas, and lives in southern and western Canada, the USA, and much of Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Smallish blackbird with a brown head (males) and rather short beak. Females are dark gray with a white throat.
  • Flocks forage for seeds and insects on the ground.
  • Lays eggs in nests of other birds.
  • This species is fairly vocal and often makes a rattling call. Males sing a brief song with bubbly and high-pitched notes, “qwuipuh see!”.

 

Red-tailed Hawk

red-tailed-hawk in flight from back

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis

Length: 19 inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Wingspan: 49 inches
Song: 
Kreeeyahh!

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large and chunky raptor with a broad, orange or reddish tail. Males and females look alike although females are larger.

These raptors are dark brown above and are pale below with dark markings on their belly. Young birds are more streaked on their underparts, and have brown tails with dark barring.

Red-tailed Hawks often soar and have long, broad wings that can show pale square patches on the bases of their primaries. While soaring, they watch for squirrels and other small animals that they feed on.

When they spot prey, these big birds drop down to catch it with their talons. This hawk also hunts by watching for prey from a perch.

Learn more: Hawks in Illinois

The Red-tailed Hawk builds a large, bulky, stick nest high in trees. They thrive in a wide variety of habitats, but especially in woodlands near fields and other open habitats.

This raptor lives from Alaska and Canada south to Central America.

Key Identifications:

  • Large, bulky hawk with a broad, reddish tail.
  • Catches squirrels, rats, pigeons, and many other small animals on the ground.
  • Nests in large, bulky nests made of sticks.
  • A vocal raptor, Red-tailed Hawks often call in flight. They usually give a “classic” but quiet-sounding raptor scream, “Kreeeyahh!”.

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

Scientific name: Charadrius vociferus

Length: 10.5 inches
Weight: 3.3 ounces
Wingspan: 24 inches
Song: 
tideer, tideer, tideer, tideer”

The Killdeer is a fair-sized, slender plover that is dark brown above and white below. They have two black bands on their breast, a patterned, black, white, and dark brown face, and a longish, orange tail.

Both sexes look alike and also have a slender, black bill, narrow, red-orange eyerings, and long, pale legs. In flight, we can see a white stripe in each of their long, dark wings, and a black tip on their long, wedge-shaped, orange tail.

Killdeers often fly high overhead in fast, direct flight, but we usually see them foraging on the ground. They pick insects, other small creatures, and seeds from the edges of wetlands and other, open grassy areas.

This species lays its camouflaged eggs on the ground, in gravel and open fields. When people and pets approach too close, they give loud calls and pretend to have a broken wing.

The Killdeer lives in large parts of Canada, the USA, Mexico, and also Illinois.

Key Identifications:

  • Fair-sized plover with two black breast bands and a wedge-shaped orange tail with a black tip.
  • Picks seeds and small creatures from open ground.
  • Lays camouflaged eggs on the ground, in gravel and open fields.
  • Very vocal and sounds like it says its name, “tideer, tideer, tideer, tideer”.

 

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Scientific name: Dumatella carolinensis

Length: 8.5 inches
Weight: 1.3 ounces
Wingspan: 11 inches
Song: 
rheah!

The Gray Catbird is a slender, gray songbird with a black cap, and chestnut under its tail. Both sexes look alike and have beady, black eyes on a gray face, a longish tail, and a smallish, black beak.

This reclusive bird feeds on insects and berries in thickets and second growth. It forages by moving through dense vegetation and picking food items from leaves and twigs.

Gray Catbirds make bulky, open cup nests constructed with grass, strips of vegetation, and hair. They build their nests in shrubs, bushes, and small trees.

The Gray Catbird is often heard before it is seen, and loves to skulk in low thick vegetation. This migrant species spends summers in southern Canada, and in much of the eastern and northern USA. In fall, it migrates to coastal areas in the eastern and southern USA, and Florida south to northern South America.

Key Identifications:

  • Small to medium-sized, slender gray bird with a black cap and chestnut under the tail.
  • Feeds on insects and berries in low, dense vegetation.
  • Builds a bulky cup nest in small trees and bushes.
  • The Gray Catbird is quite vocal and often makes a cat-like mewing call, “rheah!”. It also has a melodious, complex song made of jumbled, chattering sounds and phrases.

 

House Wren

House Wren

Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Scientific name: Troglodytes aedon

Length: 4.75 inches
Weight: .39 ounces
Wingspan: 6 inches
Song: 
sipsipsip twee tereesupsupsup

The House Wren is a small plain, grayish-brown bird with a thin, sharp, slightly downcurved beak. Males and females look alike, have pale throats, and dark barring on their wings, tail, and under the tail.

They feed on insects, spiders, and other small creatures on logs, in thickets, and in foliage. These inquisitive little birds search for food in low vegetation, rocks, and around structures on and near the ground.

These wrens also find food in dead leaves and other tangled vegetation, and aren’t shy about picking bugs from windows or briefly entering houses. They often hold their tails cocked up.

The House Wren nests in tree cavities and nest boxes. Inside the cavity, it makes a platform out of sticks and constructs a small cup nest on top.

House Wrens occur alone or in pairs in gardens, forest edge, and open, wooded areas in much of Canada, the USA, and Central and South America.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, plain grayish-brown bird with a sharp, slightly decurved beak and a pale throat.
  • Forages for insects and other small creatures on and near the ground.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • The House Wren is a vocal bird that often makes short raspy calls. They also frequently sing a bright and bubbly song, “sipsipsip twee tereesupsupsup”.

 

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Scientific name: Hirundo rustica

Length: 6.75 inches
Weight: .67 ounces
Wingspan: 15 inches
Song: 
chipchipfitfibitchipfibitfwip”

Barn Swallows are small to medium-sized swallows with long forked tails. They are dark, steel-blue above, peach-orange below, and have rich chestnut on the throat and above their bill. It also has some white in its tail.

Males and females look similar, but females are paler and have shorter tails. Young birds are like females, but their tails are even shorter.

The Barn Swallow is one of the most common birds of Illinois. It has long, pointed wings and fast flight. When flying, they often flap their wings a few times between brief glides.

Barn Swallows live in farming areas, meadows, parks, and other open habitats. They feed on insects as they fly through the air. Although they can fly high overhead, Barn Swallows often swoop low over the ground.

This handsome swallow builds a mud nest on the wall of a barn, bridge, or other structure. Barn Swallows live in large areas of Canada, the USA, Mexico, Europe, and Asia.

Key Identifications:

  • Beautiful dark blue and orange swallow with a long, forked tail.
  • Forages for insects in flight over fields and other open habitats.
  • Constructs a cup nest out of mud in barns and other structures.
  • Often makes brief “fwip” calls in flight, and has a long, complex song, “chipchipfitfibitchipfibitfwip”.

 

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor

Length: 6.5 inches
Weight: .75 ounces
Wingspan: 9.75 inches
Song: 
peter peter peter

The Tufted Titmouse is a small, crested, blue-gray bird with a white face. Males and females look the same and have a small black mark above their stubby black beak. They also have pale underparts with peach-orange flanks.

These cute little birds occur in small groups that forage for insects and seeds in parks and woodlands. They move through the trees and use their bills to pick food from leaves, bark, and branches. Tufted Titmouse are also regular visitors to bird feeders.

These small birds nest in woodpecker holes and other cavities in dead trees, and can also use nest boxes.

We find the Tufted Titmouse in hardwood forests and forested urban areas. They are often heard before they are seen, and flock with other small birds. When they see a predator, they are some of the first birds to harass it.

The Tufted Titmouse occurs in the eastern USA and some parts of southeastern Canada.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, crested blue-gray bird with pale underparts and a white face.
  • Feeds on seeds and insects and visits feeders.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • The Tufted Titmouse is a very vocal bird. It gives constant whistled calls over and over, “peter peter peter“.

 

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis

Length: 6.75 inches
Weight: .91 ounces
Wingspan: 9 inches
Song: 
Ohhh Canada Canada Canada”

The White-throated Sparrow is a chunky, gray and brown sparrow with a white throat, and black and white stripes on its head. It has dark streaks on its back, a gray rump, and a bit of yellow in front of its eyes.

Males and females look the same and have reddish-brown wings with two white wing bars. Young White-throated Sparrows and some adults are duller brown with tan stripes on their heads and a dingy white throat.

White-throated Sparrows forage for seeds and insects on the ground, and also eat fruits in short trees and bushes. They reveal hidden food items by using their feet to scratch and kick away leaves.

This sparrow breeds in northern forests and builds a cup nest with grass and twigs. They construct the nest at the edge of forest, on or close to the ground, in dense vegetation.

These sparrows usually occur in flocks and winter in the eastern and southwestern USA and parts of California.

Key Identifications:

  • Large sparrow with a white throat and bold black and white or tan stripes on its head.
  • Scratches leaves on the ground to find seeds and insects. They also eat berries.
  • Makes a cup nest of grass, bark, and twigs, on the ground, under dense vegetation.
  • Flocks of White-throated Sparrows often make sharp “tink” calls. They also sing a clear, whistled song, “Ohhh Canada Canada Canada” or, “Ohhh, Cana, Cana, Cana”.

 

Birds of Illinois – Frequently Asked Questions

How many bird species are native to Illinois?

In total, 456 bird species are native to Illinois. There are 456 species on the official Illinois bird list.

What is the most common bird in Illinois?

The most common bird in Illinois is the Northern Cardinal. According to eBird and breeding bird surveys, this beautiful bird has been seen more often than any other bird species in the state.

What is the largest bird in Illinois?

The largest bird in Illinois is the American White Pelican. This big waterbird is 62 inches long, has a wingspan of 9 feet, and weighs 16.4 pounds. Other big birds in Illinois include the Trumpeter Swan (the heaviest bird in North America), and the Whooping Crane (the tallest bird in North America).

How many owl species live in Illinois?

In total, there are eight different owl species living in Illinois. Some of them live here year-round, while others only stay for winter months.

What is the smallest bird in Illinois?

The smallest bird in Illinois is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This tiny bird species is 3.75 inches long, has a wingspan of 4.5 inches, and weighs .11 ounces.

What is the fastest bird in Illinois?

The fastest bird in Illinois is the Peregrine Falcon. This quick raptor is the fastest bird in the world; it can fly as fast as 200 miles per hour!

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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