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Iowa Birds – Watching and Feeding Information

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch – Iowa State Bird

Iowa is a great place to watch and feed birds. Birdbaths, misters and drippers are especially effective in attracting birds, including non seed-eating species. Species that might be expected at feeders include: American Goldfinch, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove. Each of these species is shown in the Nifty Fifty mini-guide.

The Nifty Fifty

The Nifty Fifty is a mini-guide to the birds of Iowa. It includes descriptions, images, video and songs of 50 of the most often observed birds of Iowa.

According to registered bird sightings in Iowa on eBird, the following species are the most commonly observed birds of Iowa. Keep in mind that it is TOP35, so birds at the bottom of the list in this article are common birds too!

Northern Cardinal
Blue Jay
American Robin
Black-capped Chickadee
Downy Woodpecker
Canada Goose
American Crow
Red-bellied Woodpecker
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Mourning Dove
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch
Song Sparrow
Gray Catbird
Turkey Vulture
House Wren
Bald Eagle
Northern Flicker
Red-tailed Hawk
Hairy Woodpecker
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Red-headed Woodpecker
Common Yellowthroat
Barn Swallow
Great Blue Heron
Indigo Bunting
Ring-billed Gull
Eastern Wood-Pewee

Do you know which hawks are the most common in Iowa?


Bird feeding

Developing bird-friendly habitat in your yard is the best way to attract a greater variety of species and to support local and migrating species. Native plants provide food and cover, are more insect and disease resistant than non-native species, and may require less water. A list of bird-friendly native plants for Iowa are available by following the link on the left.


The Eastern Bluebirds is the only one of the three bluebird species that is regularly found in Iowa.

They are most often found in open woodlands, parks, fields, along golf courses and cemeteries. The can be found in suburban areas with adequate open space.

The Eastern Bluebird has a pleasant, musical song and a similar easy-to-identify flight call.

eastern bluebird

Eastern Bluebirds

Bluebirds can be attracted to peanut butter mixes, suet and fruit. Raisins soaked in hot water to soften them are well received. The bluebird’s special favorite is mealworms.

In Iowa, nesting commences as early as March and continues well into the summer. One and sometimes two or even three broods are produced.

Isolated reports of Mountain Bluebirds have occurred in Iowa.

Visit the bluebird section for detailed information on feeding bluebirds or building your own bluebird house.


The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species that regularly visits Iowa. It nests in the state each year, before migrating south. It flies across the Gulf of Mexico twice each year.

Visit the hummingbird section for details on attracting hummingbirds as well as images of all regularly occurring North American hummingbirds.

ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Purple Martins

Purple Martins arrive in Iowa in early spring, returning from their wintering grounds in South America. Check the Purple Martin section for information on martins in Iowa.

Detailed Purple Martin information is available in the Purple Martin section.

Purple Martins are one of America’s favorite birds. Their arrival each spring is a much heralded event in many backyards and their departure each fall marks the passing of another year for many. In the eastern U.S., Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in Purple Martin houses and gourds provided by man. In the west they nest more regularly in natural cavities.

Purple Martin Scouts

Scouts are the earliest arrivals each year. They are the oldest members of the population and head north each year to claim the best nesting locations. Scouts can be either male or female birds.

In Iowa look for scouts to start arriving in mid to late March. Martins move north as the weather warms and insect populations start to increase.

Purple Martins winter in South America. The journey can be as long as 5000 miles each way, each year! Martins follow at least three different paths as they return each spring. Some move through Mexico on their way to the West Coast. Others cross the Gulf of Mexico, leaving from the Yucatan Peninsula or take a route through the Caribbean islands to arrive in Florida.

Fall migration can start as early as mid-July in some parts of the country. In Florida migrants can be seen into September or October, with isolated reports even later in the the year. Prior to heading to South America, flocks of thousands of martins collect in roosts, some as large as hundreds of thousands of martins.

During the winter season these birds are apparently concentrated chiefly in the Amazon Valley of Brazil (Manaqueri, Barra do Rio Negro, and Itaituba) but are found in other parts of South America. A list of possible martin roosts in Alabama is available on the Purple Martin Conservation Association web site.

Martin nests typically have from five to six white eggs. One egg is laid each day at sunrise and no days are skipped until the egg-laying stops. Incubation lasts about 15 days but may last longer in cool weather. Purple martins fledge about 25-35 days after hatching.

Visit the Purple Martin section of the main Birdzilla Web site for information on martin houses, attracting purple martins and becoming a good purple martin landlord.

purple martin

Purple Martin, male

From the Bent Life Histories

Finally, here’s a glimpse at what noted ornithologist Alexander Sprunt Jr. said about purple martins in the Bent Life History series:

“It has always seemed to me that literature has been somewhat chary of the purple martin. Song and story have long stressed the advent of robin, bluebird, and goose as heralds of spring, and so they are, but is the martin any less so? True, it comes somewhat later than these others, but who can fail to thrill when, on waking early one morning, one hears the rich, gurgling calls of the first martin! It is a signal that spring is really at hand, indeed, at one’s very door. When the martins come, can summer be far behind? This largest of the swallows, in its handsomely glossy livery, whether slurred by literature or not, has ken a favorite with humanity for many generations. Even before the White man came to America’s shores it was a dooryard bird in Indian villages, and its status as such is unchanged today. It is, beyond all doubt, the “bird-box” species of this country. Its range is extensive, almost universal indeed, and it occurs from coast to coast and border to border. Young and old admire it, encourage it, and protect it, and those who have a word of criticism for it are few and far between. Alexander Wilson said that, in his day, he never found but one man who disliked the martin, and many a modern ornithologist will have had the same experience, if indeed it can be matched! Some birds occupy high pedestals in human regard, typified by the robin in the North and the mockingbird in the South, but in North and South the purple martin comes and goes as a welcome arrival and regretful departure; an always invited avian neighbor. Few are those anywhere who would fail to subscribe heartily to the wish: may its tribe increase.” (Mr. Sprunt and Mr. Wilson are two of America’s best known and most respected early ornithologists.)


Iowa provides birders with a variety of exciting birding locations.

The birding section of this site has tips on birding locations and bird identification. The state-based birding information section provides additional birding related information.

Iowa Resource Information

Big Bluestem Audubon Society

Cedar Rapids Audubon Society

Dubuque Audubon Society
PO Box 3174
Dubuque, IA 52004
Maggie O’Connell, President

Loess Hills Audubon Society
PO Box 5133
Sioux City, IA 51102-5133
Northern Iowa Prairie Lakes Audubon Society

Prairie Rapids Audubon Society
PO Box 682
Waterloo, IA 50704

Quad City Audubon Society
PO Box 81
Bettendorf, IA 52722

Rolling Hills Audubon Society
317 6th Av
Des Moines, IA 50309

Southeast Iowa Audubon Society
908 E Briggs Ave
Fairfield, IA 52556

Tallgrass Prairie Audubon Society
9 College Park Road
Grinnell, IA 50112

Upper Iowa Audubon Society
24589 70th St
Cresco, IA 52136

Iowa Birding Festivals

Keokuk Bald Eagle Appreciation Days
Usually in January
Keokuk, Iowa
Phone: 800-383-1219
Bald Eagles along the Mississippi River with live eagle demonstrations and information booths

Annual Rivers & Bluffs Fall Birding Festival
Usuallly in November
Lansing, Iowa
E-mail: [email protected]
Field trips on land and by heated excursion boat to gain close-up views of 20,000 elegant Tundra Swans, half a million+ other waterfowl, plus scores of Bald Eagles and numerous other species. Explore best local habitats in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, with expert field trip leaders providing on-site education and interpretation of birds and Mississippi River ecology.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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