Birds in Delaware – Interesting and Common Birds of the First State

Delaware is home to some very common but still interesting birds, particularly for a small state. In this post, we are looking at some of those birds that we often overlook because they are commonly seen.

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Delaware State

Delaware sits in the northeast of continental America. In the northern area is the Piedmont Hills. These give way to coastal plains rolling down towards the Atlantic coast. In the east, these shorelines are sandy beaches, and in the south, swamps, and marshes dominate. There are 3 state forests in Delaware – Blackbird, Taber, and Redden. These geographical features mean that Delaware offers a home to a wide range of bird life.

On the eBird database, Delaware is ranked as the 38th state with 424 reported species, which seems quite low down. However, Delaware is 49th in the state size ranking and there are another 30 states within the 400 plus species count. So Delaware is not doing too badly! The state bird of Delaware is the Blue Hen, so let’s start there.

State BirdDelaware Blue Hen

The Delaware Blue Hen is not a recognized bird species by any wild bird organization. It is a variation of the American Game Fowl and has a rather unpleasant breeding history around cock-fighting. Nowadays, it is kept for domestic purposes and has become a mascot for Delaware and its sporting teams.

Shorebirds and Waterbirds of Delaware

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Identification

Unusually, the Sanderling is probably more striking in non-breeding plumage with snowy white and gray tones. In breeding, the entire back is a mass of gold, red and brown patterns. It is one of my favorite Delaware birds.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 7.1-7.9 inches (18-20 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4-3.5 ounces (40-100 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.8 inches (35 cm)

Range

Seen all year round, the long coastline of Delaware is a great place to see the Sanderling as it inhabits beaches where it searches for food. It is one of the common birds of the coast in the U.S.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

Sanderlings eat mollusks and small crustaceans whole. It will then regurgitate the shell parts wrapped in sand as pellets.

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Identification

The male (on the left) is a striking large duck with black white and brown patterning on the body. The head is jet black with a wispy crest. The bill and eye are bright red. The female is brown and gray with a red bill.

Size

  • Length: 20.1-25.2 in (51-64 cm)
  • Weight: 28.2-47.6 oz (800-1350 g)
  • Wingspan: 26.0-29.1 in (66-74 cm)

Range

The red-breasted Merganser can be found along the coast of Delaware where it fishes. It may also be present on freshwater lakes.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

The Red-breasted merganser is also known as a sawbill. This is because it has tiny ridges on its bill that it uses to hold on to the fish it catches and to help it maneuver them into its throat.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Identification

A very large heron with gray blue plumage and paly gray neck. A dark blue eyebrow extends into short plumes. Streaks down the front blend into white plumes.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 38.2-53.9 in (97-137 cm)
  • Weight: 74.1-88.2 oz (2100-2500 g)
  • Wingspan: 65.8-79.1 in (167-201 cm)

Range

The Great Blue Heron is a common Delaware bird and can be found in any body of water or the coast.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know


The Great Blue Heron spears fish with as its head darts into the water. Then it must maneuver the fish around into its mouth. If you see the heron with a catch, stay and watch as it looks like play but it is a serious matter for the heron.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Identification

The Osprey is a large fish eating raptor that is related to the hawk family. It is brown and white on the back and pale underneath. The brown markings through the eye are distinctive and make it easy when identifying it.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 21.3-22.8 in (54-58 cm)
  • Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz (1400-2000 g)
  • Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in (150-180 cm)

Range

The Osprey is a summer visitor and can be seen throughout Delaware state over any water but in particular the coastline.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

The Osprey is the only bird that plunges into the water to grasp fish that are close to the surface. It then holds the fish in its talons underneath its body for flying efficiency.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Identification

This tiny plover is sparrow sized and one of the smallest shorebirds in Delaware. It has a black breast band on a plain belly. The face is white with an unusual black band across the head. The short bill is orange tipped with black.

Photo by Mdf

Size

  • Length: 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-2.3 oz (42-64 g)
  • Wingspan: 14-16 in (35-41 cm)

Range

The Piping Plover is a summer visitor and is seen only on the shorelines of Delaware.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

While the Piping Plover is endangered because of loss of habitat, it is an incredible little bird. Running around on the beach, it is so well camouflaged that most people never even know it is there.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Identification

The Laughing Gull is a striking bird with typical gray and white body. The head stands out with a full dark gray hood, bright red bill and broken white eye ring.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 15.3-18.1 in (39-46 cm)
  • Weight: 7.2-13.1 oz (203-371 g)
  • Wingspan: 36.2-47.2 in (92-120 cm)

Range

Seen from spring to fall, the Laughing Gull is a common sight around the coast of Delaware.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

While we are used to seeing the Laughing Gull in the breeding plumage above, when it is in non-breeding colors it is very plain and difficult to distinguish from other species of gull.

Birds of Open Country Delaware

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Identification

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a richly colored bird of prey with fine barring on the breast and red patches on the shoulders.

Photo by Andy Morffew

Size

  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)

Range

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a year round resident of Delaware and can be seen in any forested area or on utility poles and wires.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

While the Red-shouldered Hawk is a vicious predator, it is also a social animal and will work with other birds to achieve a common goal. That includes crows to drive out larger predators.

Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

Identification

The Brown Thrasher is a large thrush-like songbird with a rich brown back and streaky belly. Its bright yellow eye helps pin point it.

Photo by Rhododendrites

Size

  • Length: 9.1-11.8 in (23-30 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz (61-89 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 in (29-32 cm)

Range

The Brown Thrasher is a common bird particularly down the center of the state. It is more easily seen in the summer as it skulks about in the undergrowth.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

On the gentle side, the Brown Thrasher has a wide repertoire of song and is a prolific songbird, which we love to hear. But don’t think that it is a totally benign bird. If you get too close, that bill is capable of drawing blood.

American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

Photo by Charles J. Sharp

Identification

The American Black Vulture is a scary sight in Delaware. It is often seen soaring in large groups over open country and road. Jet black plumage is topped with a bald black head.

Size

  • Length: 23.6-26.8 in (60-68 cm)
  • Weight: 56.4-77.6 oz (1600-2200 g)
  • Wingspan: 53.9-59.1 in (137-150 cm)

Range

The American Black Vulture is a common resident in Delaware and can be seen across the state.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know


The American Black Vulture is less aggressive than its cousin the Turkey Vulture but as they are usually in groups, the Black Vulture will outnumber the Turkey Vultures and drive it from a kill.

Common Backyard Birds of Delaware

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Identification

A more patterned sparrow than others, the Song Sparrow is a rich mix of brown and cream. The strong streaks on the breast are indicative.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 4.7-6.7 in (12-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz (12-53 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in (18-24 cm)

Range

The Song Sparrow is one of the most widespread sparrows in the U.S. and it can be found in a range of habitats that include human spaces. It is a common backyard bird.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

While the populations of the Song Sparrow vary in plumage and coloration, their song is consistent across the country. It is a sound that represents the countryside, I always think and you can find samples of it on xeno-canto org.

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Identification

In breeding colors as below, the Common Starling is stunning with an oil slick sheen that shines in sunlight.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz (60-96 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in (31-40 cm)

Range

A common backyard bird of Delaware, the Common Starling is hugely adaptable to different environments. Thus, it is seen across the state in all types of habitat.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

The Common Starling is indeed a common sight around the world, not just in the U.S. However, it is actually feral as it originated in Europe. It is so classed on eBird which is why it appears in orange in the eBird Range Map above.

Common Birds of Delaware

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Identification

This is a large and striking woodpecker with brown plumage and black spots on the belly. A large black crescent sits on the breast and there is yellow or red on the tail.

Photo by naturespicsonline

Size

  • Length: 11.0-12.2 in (28-31 cm)
  • Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz (110-160 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in (42-51 cm)

Range

The Northern Flicker is another of Delaware’s common birds. It can be found in forests or on the ground where it looks for ants and worms.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know


Although it is a woodpecker, it does not climb trees too much and doesn’t probe bark for grubs. It prefers searching with its decurved bill on the ground and hoovering up ants.

Favorites at Backyard Feeders

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Identification

One of our favorite backyard birds. This must be the most fabulous bird in Delaware. It is a rich brown, ranging from light to dark with a long white eyebrow and decurved bill.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Size

  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz (18-22 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.4 in (29 cm)

Range

The Carolina Wren is a resident of Delaware and can be seen in urban and rural environments. If you listen out for its sweet song, you won’t be disappointed.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

The Carolina Wren looks for warm places to roost in the winter and may settle in unused nest boxes. So keep putting them out for these little bird during the cold and another tick for your winter checklists.

A Rare Bird of Delaware

Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)

Identification

I always think that Frigatebirds look prehistoric, a Pterodactyl perhaps. Their huge wingspan and kinked shoulders make them unmistakable in the air. The female (on the left) has a white throat against all black plumage and the male, a brilliant red throat.

Size

  • Length: 35.0-44.9 in (89-114 cm)
  • Weight: 35.3-67.0 oz (1000-1900 g)
  • Wingspan: 85.4-88.2 in (217-224 cm)

Range

The Magnificent Frigatebird is a rarity in Delaware and as a seabird, will only be seen off the coast.

Courtesy of eBird

What you might not know

In the breeding season, the male puffs up his red throat into a huge sac to impress the female.

Conclusion

So, there are some of the most interesting birds found in Delaware. I tried to give a range of different types of birds and environments so hopefully you found it interesting.

Related Questions

Where is the best place to see birds in Delaware?

Undoubtedly it is the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. It is a magnificent place with different environments and a huge variety of birds. The visitor’s center can help with any information you need. If you are in the area, it is a must do.

What birds migrate through Delaware?

Lots of birds migrate through Delaware to Canada to breed. In the spring and fall look out for warbler and tanager species as well as waterbirds and shorebirds.

What is the most common bird in Delaware?

It would probably be the Northern Cardinal. It is widespread across the U.S. and its brilliant coloring means that it is easily identified and reported.

Photo by Chris F.