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Small Birds – How To Identify & Common Species

Eastern Bluebird

Very Small | SMALL | Medium | Biggest

5 to 9 inches in length

Birds come in all shapes and sizes, and while some species tower above us, others are small enough to fit in the palm of our hand. In this article, we’ll be focusing on birds that are 9 inches or shorter.

These small birds come from a diverse group of species, including sandpipers, vireos, flycatchers, chickadees, titmice, thrushes, warblers, sparrows, cardinals, buntings, blackbirds, and even some owls. Each bird is uniquely adapted to its environment and plays an important role in the ecosystem.

We’ve provided a short overview of some of the small birds in North America.


Sandpipers – Family Scolopacidae


Ruddy Turnstone – 9 in.

Arenaria interpres

Ruddy Turnstone

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

  • Average size: 8.7–9.4 inches (22-24 cm)
  • Average weight: 3.0–5.3 ounces (85-150 g)

Ruddy Turnstone is a small stocky bird with an oval body, a sturdy and slightly upturned bill, and orange legs. Its breeding plumage features a calico-patterned back and black and white face, while non-breeding birds have a faint brown version of the pattern.

Ruddy Turnstones breed on the shoreline in arctic regions from Alaska to Siberia, and in winter migrate to sandy coastlines and mudflats worldwide. If you want to see one, you should go to the beach and scan the water’s edge, especially during spring and fall.


Sanderling – 8 in.

Calidris alba

  • Average size: 7.1–8.7 inches (18-22 cm)
  • Average weight: 1.4-3.5 ounces (40-100 g)

Sanderling is a plump, active, mostly pale sandpiper that blends in with sand. It has a stout black bill and rusty-mottled upper plumage during the breeding season and pale gray upperside and white underside during the non-breeding season.

They can be found along coastlines, tide flats, and lake shores worldwide, from 50°N to 50°S, including temperate and tropical areas. It’s a common bird and you can easily spot them on sandy beaches from fall to spring, running back and forth with the waves.


Least Sandpiper – 5.5 in.

Calidris minutilla

Least Sandpiper

Copyright Glenn Bartley

  • Average size: 5.1-5.9 inches (13-15 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.7-1.1 ounces (19-30 g)

Least Sandpipers are our smallest shorebirds with round bodies and short, pointed wings. They have thin, slightly decurved bills and slim yellow legs. Breeding adults have a brown upperside with dark brown patterning and a white underside, whereas non-breeding adults have a washed-out version of that plumage.

These common birds breed on tundra or in bogs of northern North America and migrate in flocks southwards as far as northern South America for winter. You can mostly see them during migration or winter on mudflats or protected beaches and are most easily found on coasts or as migrants on inland water bodies.


Owls – Family Strigidae

Eastern Screech Owl – 8 in.

Megascops asio

Eastern screech owl
  • Average size: 6.3-9.8 inches (16-25 cm)
  • Average weight: 4.3-8.6 ounces (121-244 g)

The Eastern Screech Owl is a small owl, common in wooded environments in eastern North America, from Mexico to Canada. Most commonly they have either rusty, brown, or dark gray plumage with light and streaked underside, a round head with ear tufts, yellow eyes and beak, and large feathered feet.

Since they’re strictly nocturnal, you can locate them at night by their distinct call that sounds like a miniature horse whinnying. During the daytime, they nap in cavities or next to tree trunks.


Woodpeckers – Family Picidae

Downy Woodpecker – 6.5 in.

Dryobates pubescens

Downy Woodpecker

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

  • Average size: 5.5 to 7.1 inches (14-18 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.71 to 1.16 ounces (20-33 g)

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species in North America, found in forested areas across the US and Canada, except for deserts in the southwest and northern tundra.

It has a white underside and mostly black upperside except for white spots on its wings and a white patch on its back. Males have a red patch on the back of its head and juveniles have a red cap.

They’re very common and widespread. Look for them in woodlots, residential areas, and parks, and listen for their high-pitched pik note.


Hairy Woodpecker – 9 in.

Leuconotopicus villosus / Dryobates villosus

Hairy woodpecker
  • Average size: 7.1-10.2 inches (18-26 cm)
  • Average weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces (40-95 g)

The Hairy Woodpecker is a small but common species in North America, with a population of nearly 9 million. It is remarkably similar to Downy Woodpecker, only larger in size and a bit less common.

This bird is primarily found in mature deciduous forests, often foraging on the trunks and branches of large trees. Look for its bold pattern and listen for its abrupt whinny, peek call, or energetic tapping.


Tyrant Flycatchers – Family Tyrannidae

Eastern Phoebe – 6 in.

Sayornis phoebe

Eastern Phoebe
  • Average size: 5.5-6.7 inches (14-17 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.6-0.7 ounces (16-21 g)

The Eastern Phoebe is a small brown bird with a dirty-white underside. You can recognize it by its habit of pumping its tail up and down while perching.

The Eastern Phoebe is highly adaptable to urban environments and primarily found in wooded areas, particularly streamsides, and farmlands, but avoids open areas. It breeds from northern Canada to the southeastern U.S. and winters primarily in the southeastern U.S.

It is quite a common bird with a population of 35 million and increasing.


Great Crested Flycatcher – 7.5 in.

Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher on a branch
  • Average size: 6.7–8.3 inches (17–21 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.95–1.41 ounces (27–40 g)

The Great Crested Flycatcher is widely found in North America, mainly in eastern and mid-western regions. It resides in treetops and prefers deciduous or mixed-deciduous forests with a semi-open canopy. The adults have a similar appearance with brownish upperparts, yellow underparts, and a gray throat and chest.

It can be found in urban areas with large canopy trees. During the breeding season, listen for its loud rising whistle to track one down.


Vireos – Vireonidae

Red-eyed Vireo – 5 in.

Vireo olivaceus

red-eyed vireo

red-eyed vireo

  • Average size: 4.7-5.1 inches (12–13 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.4-0.9 ounces (12-26 g)

The Red-eyed Vireo is widespread in North America, with adults sporting olive-green upperparts and white underparts, red iris, gray crown with black edging, a black line through the eyes and a white stripe above it, blue-gray legs, and a stout bill.

It is a migratory bird, inhabiting the Nearctic and Neotropical regions, and winters in northeastern South America east of the Andes.

They are commonly found in Eastern forests during summer but can be hard to spot. Their distinctive, rising-and-falling song is heard all day and makes them easier to locate.


Chickadees and Titmice – Family Paridae

Tufted Titmouse – 6 in.

Baeolophus bicolor

Tufted Titmouse
  • Average size: 5.5–6.3 inches (14–16 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.6–0.9 ounces (17–26 g)

The Tufted Titmouse is a small bird with a white underside and gray upperside, rust-colored flanks, a black forehead, and a tufted gray crest.

They are non-migratory and native to the Nearctic region, found in the southeastern, eastern, and midwestern United States and southern Ontario. They are commonly found in deciduous and mixed woods, gardens, parks, and shrublands, especially in moist woodlands near swamps and river basins.

You can see them flitting through tree canopies and recognize them by their high, whistled peter-peter-peter song.


Black-capped Chickadee – 5 in.

Poecile atricapillus

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

  • Average size: 4.7–5.9 inches (12–15 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.32–0.49 ounces (9–14 g)

The Black-Capped Chickadee is a small, non-migratory songbird found in North American deciduous and mixed forests. It has a black cap and throat, white cheeks, rusty brown flanks, a gray back, and a slate-gray tail. Sexes look alike, but males are slightly longer and larger than females.

This common bird is found in Alaska, Canada, and the upper United States, and can be seen near wooded areas and backyard feeders, frequently heard before seen.


Thrushes, including Bluebirds and Robins – Family Turdidae

Eastern Bluebird – 7 in.

Sialia sialis

Eastern Bluebird

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

  • Average size: 6.3–8.3 inches (16–21 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.95–1.20 ounces (27–34 g)

The Eastern Bluebird is a North American migratory thrush that inhabits open woodlands, farmlands, and orchards east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to the Gulf states.

The males have a bright blue head, back, and wings, and a brownish red breast, while the females are lighter with gray on the head and back, blue on the wings and tail, and an orange chest.

They prefer perching, nesting, and feeding in open land with sparse ground cover. They can be seen in parks, gardens, hedges, and other areas with perches, often sitting on fences and utility wires.


Western Bluebird – 7 in.

Sialia mexicana

western bluebird
  • Average size: 5.9 to 7.5 inches (15 to 19 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.8-1.1 ounces (24-31 g)

The Western Bluebird is a small bluebird that is found in western North America, from California to Mexico, and as far north as British Columbia.

The male has a bright blue head, throat, and back, with an orange breast and sides, while the female is much duller with a gray throat, blue wings, and an orange breast.

Western Bluebirds live in open woodlands and areas with sparse vegetation and often build their nests in conifer trees. They can be found at the edges of forests, in backyards, in burned areas, and on farmland, from sea level to high in the mountains.


Wood Warblers – Parulidae

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5 in.

Setophaga coronata

  • Average size: 4.7-5.5 inches (12-14 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.4-0.5 ounces (12-13 g)

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is a highly adaptable bird found throughout North America, from Alaska in the spring and summer to the West Indies and Central America in the winter. They can be found in a variety of habitats including forests, woodlands, bogs, forest edges, and openings.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have four subspecies with differences in their appearance, however, overall, their plumage is a mix of blacks, grays, and whites and all of them have a distinctive yellow rump.

They are often seen perching on tree limbs and are known for their aerobatic pursuits after insects. Yellow-rumped Warblers are most easily spotted during migration when they can be seen in large numbers along the Eastern Seaboard.


Yellow Warbler – 5.5 in.

Setophaga petechia

Yellow warbler
  • Average size: 3.9 and 7.1 inches (10-18 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.25-0.88 ounces (7-25 g)

The Yellow Warbler is a small yellow songbird with a rounded head and medium-length tail, characterized by its large, straight, thin bill and bright yellow plumage.

Yellow Warblers are found throughout North America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Females’ and males’ winter plumage is greenish-yellow on the upperside and dull yellow on the underside.

During the breeding season, they live in thickets and disturbed habitats near streams and wetlands, while on their wintering grounds, they can be found in mangrove forests, dry scrub, marshes, and forests at low to mid-elevations.

Tanagers – Family Thraupidae

Western Tanager – 7 in.

Piranga ludoviciana

western tanager

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) perched on a branch in Victoria, BC, Canada.

  • Average size: 6.3-7.5 inches (16-19 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.8-1.3 ounces (24-36 g)

The Western Tanagers are small yellow birds. Adult males have a red face, yellow nape, and black back, wings, and tail. Female Western Tanagers appear dull yellowish overall with olive coloring on their back and darker colors on their wings and tail.

They can be found from Alaska to Panama on the western coasts of North America and Central America. During the breeding season, they inhabit open coniferous woodlands and can often be observed foraging in the upper foliage in forest edges, burns, wetlands, and suburban parks and gardens.

During migration, they can be found in a variety of habitats including human-made environments like orchards, parks, gardens, and suburban areas.


Towhees and Sparrows – Family Emberizidae

Eastern Towhee – 8 in.

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Eastern Towhee

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

  • Average size: 6.8-9.1 inches (17-23 cm)
  • Average weight: 1.1-1.9 ounces (32-53 g)

Eastern Towhees are large sparrows with black or brown upperside, warm rusty-colored sides, and a white belly. They’re widespread in the brushy habitats of the eastern parts of the United States and southeast Canada.

To spot an Eastern Towhee, stroll near brushy forests, thickets, and old fields. Listen for its chewink call and rustling sounds in dry leaves as it forages on the ground.


Song Sparrow – 6 in.

Melospiza melodia

Song Sparrow
  • Average size: 4.3-7.1 inches (11-18 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.42-1.87 ounces (12-53 g)

Song Sparrows are fairly bulky, streaked sparrows. It is common across almost all of North America and you can find it in nearly any open habitat, including fields, backyards, forest edges, desert washes, and marsh edges.

You can see it hopping and foraging on the ground or flitting between low branches, pumping its tail up and down.


White-throated Sparrow – 7 in.

Zonotrichia albicollis

white throated sparrow
  • Average size: 5.9-7.5 inches (15-19 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.78-1.13 ounces (22-32 g)

The White-throated Sparrow is a common bird in almost all of the United States with a brown back, gray underparts, and a distinctive black and white striped head with a white throat and yellow mark near the bill. It also has a less bold tan-striped face pattern.

White-throated Sparrows are usually seen near the ground, scratching for food in flocks and sometimes in bushes. They sing frequently, even in winter, and can be found in various habitats such as woods, forest edges, regrowth areas, pond and bog edges, and suburban areas.


Cardinals, Certain Grosbeaks, Certain Buntings – Family Cardinalidae

Indigo Bunting – 5 in.

Passerina cyanea

indigo bunting
  • Average size: 4.5-5.9 inches (11.5-15 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.4-0.75 ounces (11-21.5 g)

The Indigo Bunting is a small blue bird that ranges from southern Canada to northern Florida in the breeding season and from southern Florida to northern South America in the winter.

Males have vibrant azure plumage in summer and brown in winter, while females are brown year-round.

Look for Indigo Buntings near field-forest edges and in weedy, brushy areas, as they forage for seeds among shrubs and grasses. Listen for the males singing from treetops, shrubs, and telephone lines in the summer.


Blackbirds, including Meadowlarks, Blackbirds, Grackles, Orioles – Family Icteridae

Red-winged Blackbird – 8 in.

Agelaius phoeniceus

red-winged blackbird
  • Average size: 6.7-9.1 inches (17-23 cm)
  • Average weight: 1.1-2.7 ounces (32-77 g)

This common yet stunning bird with glossy black plumage and red shoulder patches can be found in most of North and Central America. Females are brown, heavily streaked, and have a yellowish throat and modest red shoulder patches.

The Red-winged Blackbird is a common bird that can be seen in both wet and dry habitats. Male Red-winged Blackbirds sing loudly from high perches, while females stay low, foraging for food. In winter, they gather in large flocks to feed on grains. Look for them in marshes, meadows, golf courses, fields, feedlots, and pastures.


Baltimore Oriole – 8 in.

Icterus galbula

Baltimore Oriole
  • Average size: 6.7-8.7 inches (17-22 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.79-1.48 ounces (22-42 g)

The Baltimore Oriole is a migratory bird found in eastern North America. Males are flame-orange and black, while females and immature males are yellow-orange and grayish.

The birds are heard more often than seen as they feed high in trees for insects and fruit. They can also be seen lower down feasting on fruit, and berries, and sipping from bird feeders.

Baltimore orioles can be found in open woodland, forest edge, orchards, and stands of trees along rivers, parks, and backyards. Look for their slow, fluttering flight and listen for their wink call or chatters.


Finches, Crossbills, certain Grosbeaks, Siskins, Redpolls – Family Fringillidae

House Finch – 5.5 in.

Haemorhous mexicanus

House Finch
  • Average size: 5-6 inches (12.5-15 cm)
  • Average weight: 0.6-0.9 ounces (16-27 g)

The House Finch is a small finch found in western North America. Adults are brown or dull brown with some shading into deep gray on the wing feathers. Males have reddish heads, necks, and shoulders, with the coloration varying in intensity based on their diet. Females are plain grayish-brown with thick streaks and indistinct markings.

House Finches are social birds that gather at feeders or perch high in trees. They feed on the ground, on weed stalks, or in trees, and have a bouncy flight. They can be found in city parks, backyards, urban centers, farms, and forest edges in the eastern United States, and in their native habitats such as deserts, grasslands, chaparral, and open woods in the western United States.


People Also Ask

How long do small birds live?

Most smaller-sized birds live for around 2-5 years due to predation, lack of food and resources, and poor weather conditions.

What is the most common small bird?

The most common small bird depends on your specific state and area, but overall, some of the most common ones include Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and House Finches.

Do hawks eat small birds?

Hawks mostly hunt prey smaller than them and it may include small birds.

What to feed small birds?

Depending on the species, you can offer them different seeds, such as black sunflower seeds, special seed mixes for birds, and oatmeal, or different worms, such as waxworms, mealworms, and mixes for insectivorous birds.

Why do smaller birds chase hawks?

Smaller birds swoop at hawks to chase them away from their nest, territory, and from their offspring since they’re a potential predator and threat.


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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.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Clydene Simms

Sunday 4th of June 2023

I saw a small bird , black except for white breast. Looked like a black phoebe but I live in North Carolina. Any ideas?

Patrick O'Donnell

Wednesday 7th of June 2023

Thanks for your comment! Offhand, without more information, it's hard to guess what that bird might be. The next time you see it, try to get a good look at the shape of the beak and see if it has wing bars, streaks, or other features. Often, the shape of the beak helps us know what family a bird belongs to, and the pattern on the head helps tell us which species it is.

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