If you have a backyard, especially a backyard with a bird feeder, you’ve probably seen an abundance of bird species fly in and out of your garden. Sometimes, you don’t get a good enough glimpse of the bird to identify the species, which can be a nightmare for budding bird enthusiasts.
While established ornithologists and hobbyists might be experts in identifying species, it can be tricky for those who are new to the game. Even if you’re merely interested in what bird species keep popping into your backyard, it’s always fun to understand the beautiful animals in our ecosystem.
Here is the ultimate guide to the most common backyard birds in Washington State, complete with images and species profiles!
Undoubtedly the most common backyard bird in Washington State, there are said to be over 370 million American robins across North America. While not related to the European robin (which is in another genus), both species are renowned for their distinctive reddish-orange breast.
The wings and head are blackish gray with white markings on the underparts and scattered across the neck. Male American robins are more colorful than the females, which are dull brown or gray. This is a small species, with an average length of 9.1-11.0” and a wingspan of 12-16”.
As the distribution of the American robin spans across North America, from Canada to Mexico, it’s common to find this species in virtually any backyard in the states. During winter, most robins will migrate south to Florida and Mexico at the end of August before returning north around February.
American robins are omnivorous feeders, with their diet consisting of insects and fruits. You’re most likely to see an American robin in your backyard shortly after mowing the lawn, as this encourages earthworms to arise from the fresh earth.
If you want to encourage American robins to come to your backyard, fill your bird feeder with mealworms and animal fat suet!
If you’ve heard the distinctive “Caw – Caw – Caw” call in your backyard, it’s probably come from an American crow. American crows are one of the most common birds found across North America, and they are most distinctive for their striking appearance.
These large birds are jet black all over, with a hint of iridescence scattered amongst the feathers, making them look somewhat morbid. The average length of an American crow is 16-21”, with a wingspan of 33-39”.
Interestingly, American crows are particularly clever. After all, they have the same brain-to-body ratio as humans. These birds are known to mimic the calls of other birds, such as owls – probably in an attempt to communicate with other species in search of food.
Speaking of food, the diet of an American crow consists of carrion, invertebrates, grains, unattended eggs in nests, fish, human scraps, and virtually anything else they can fit in their bills.
This species is misconstrued as an invasive pest as they search for corn and wheat from agricultural lands, however, the birds don’t actually harm the crops as they instead feast on the insect pests that do harm the crops.
If you want to attract American crows to your backyard, fill your bird feeder with acorns and nuts. Just be cautious that they are likely to scare other species away due to their large size!
Part of the tit family, the black-capped chickadee is commonly found across backyards in the northern states of the US, including Washington State. Despite its small size, this species is well-adapted to the colder environments as it can lower its body temperature during the night, allowing for it to exist happily in the winter months.
The black-capped chickadee, as the name suggests, is most distinctive for the black cap marking on its head, a black bib underneath the bill, and large white cheeks.
Their wings are also blackish-gray while the underparts are white with a hint of rusty brown. The males and females look fairly alike, except the males are usually slightly larger. The average length of this species is 4.7-5.9” with a wingspan of 6.3-8.3”.
The diet of a black-capped chickadee consists primarily of insects in summer and seeds and berries during winter. This species is particularly brave around humans, as they have been known to take food directly out of the hands of humans.
If you want to attract black-capped chickadees to your backyard, fill the bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. Once the birds have got a seed, they will take it to a nearby tree, crack the shell open against the bark, and then consume the insides.
Song sparrows are often tricky to identify due to the numerous color variations, but they’re still amongst the most common backyard species in Washington State.
In most cases, song sparrows exhibit brown upperparts marked with sporadic white streaks, and white underparts dotted with slight brown markings. Most notably, song sparrows have grayish-brown heads with dark brown streaks going through each eye. The average body length is 4.3-7.1” with a wingspan of 7.1-10.0”.
Song sparrows aren’t fussy when it comes to habitat, as they can happily exist in marshes as well as residential suburbs.
Interestingly, those in the southern part of the range don’t migrate, but those in the north migrate south (often down to Mexico) in winter. So, you’re probably less likely to see one of these birds in Washington State during winter.
You are most likely to hear a song sparrow before you see one due to their repertoire of beautiful songs. These songs are clear, crisp, and often highly detailed. The males are particularly vocal in an attempt to both protect his territory and attract a female mate.
The diet of a song sparrow consists mostly of seeds and insects as they are keen foragers. If you want to entice song sparrows into your backyard, fill your bird feeder with mealworms, seeds, and some berries.
The spotted towhee is a large sparrow with a striking appearance. While considered a large sparrow, this species is roughly the same size as an American robin, with an average length of 6.7-8.3” and a wingspan of 11.0”.
Male spotted towhees are distinguished by their dark (often black) head, upper body, and tail, which strikingly contrasts with their white underparts and reddish-brown sides.
Their back also features white spots, and their eyes match the same color as their rufous sides. The females are similar in appearance but are more dark brown than grayish-black.
Spotted towhees are most commonly found in the northwestern states, including Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and even traveling as far south as California and Arizona. The species prefers to live in open forests and brushy fields, which is why they often appear in backyards with trees and foliage.
You’re most likely to see a spotted towhee underneath the bushes in your backyard as they rummage through leaf piles in search of food.
Speaking of food, the diet of a spotted towhee consists of beetles, spiders, and other insects found in piles of leaves in low vegetation. During winter, the species searches for protein-rich foods like seeds, berries, and acorns. If you want to attract spotted towhees into your backyard, fill your bird feeder with seeds and berries in winter.
It would be hard to misidentify an American goldfinch. Most notably known for its distinctive bright lemon-yellow coloring, this migratory bird is most commonly found in backyards in Washington during summer before it migrates south in winter towards the Mexican border.
Interestingly, the American goldfinch undergoes two molts in a year. The winter molt consists of the shedding of all feathers, and then the spring molt consists of the shedding of everything but the tail and wing feathers.
Once complete, the male goldfinch becomes a brilliant yellow bird with a jet black cap and white rumps. This unique coloration is due to pigments found in the species’ diet. Females are less yellow and more brown.
American goldfinches are most commonly found in weed-filled open country, including meadows, fields, orchards, and backyards. For the birds who don’t migrate to the south in winter, bird feeders provide the most important part of their diet, which is why some goldfinches can be found in Washington backyards.
The American goldfinch is a diurnal feeder, with a diet primarily consisting of grains, insects, and the seeds from annual plants like weeds, dandelions, sunflowers, cosmos, and more.
If you want to attract American goldfinches to your backyard, make sure to fill your bird feeder with seeds (especially Niger seeds) during winter. Alternatively, make sure to grow cosmos, bee balm, thistle, and zinnias in your backyard.
Part of the woodpecker family, the northern flicker is native to most parts of North America and Central America. This is one of the few woodpecker species that migrates, wherein those in the northern range migrate to those in the southern range in winter. These birds are light-brown all over with dark brown or black barring on their wings and back.
The upper breast is adorned with a black patch, and the males are distinguished from the females due to their black moustache-like cheeks. Males in the western part of the range exhibit a red cap on their heads.
Northern flickers are likely to be heard before they are seen thanks to their distinctive “ki ki ki” call. Their habitat mostly consists of open habitats near trees, such as the edges of woodlands, parks, and backyards. Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers mostly nest in the holes and cavities of dead trees.
In terms of their diet, the northern flicker is the only woodpecker species that eats food from the ground rather than in or on trees.
They will also catch insects in flight before removing their stings by rubbing the insect on a tree. Their primary diet consists of seeds, insects, nuts, fruits, and berries. Ants make up 45% of their diet, which is why they’re often found pecking the grass in backyards.
The most widespread swallow species globally is the barn swallow, found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and across the Americas.
The reason why this species is so widely distributed is because of its ability to live amongst humans in man-made environments, including building cup nests in barns and guttering on roofs. It’s very common to find barn swallow nests underneath the overhanging of roofs or inside large sheds in your backyard.
Male barn swallows are most distinctly recognizable due to their blue steel upperparts, white underparts, and a reddish-brown forehead and chin. These birds are most notable when in flight due to their characteristic swallow wing and tail shape.
Females look fairly similar to the males, except their tail streams are generally shorter. The average length of a barn swallow is 6.7-7.5” with a wingspan of 12.6-13.6”.
The preferred habitat for barn swallows is open country, including fields, meadows, farmland, and backyards – especially if there is a water source nearby. These birds are semi-colonial, which is why they are often found in groups from one pair to a couple dozen pairs.
The birds will team together to build a nest, which can take up to 2 weeks, made out of hair, mud, and debris.
Barn swallows are aerial insectivores, meaning they mostly catch insects mid-flight like other swallows. Large flies and aphids make up for most of their diet, and they will often hunt in their small groups.
The more food they get is directly related to the size of their clutch. While you probably won’t see barn swallows hovering around your bird feeder, you’re most likely to see their nests hidden under overhanging roofs or inside your barn (if you have one).
The dark-eyed junco is part of the sparrow family and is often hard to identify due to the range of color variants.
In most cases, the dark-eyed junco is a totally gray bird with a slightly lighter underside and brownish wings. However, males tend to have darker heads, hence the name, than females. This is a small bird found across North America, with an average length of 5.1-6.9” and a wingspan of 7.1-9.8”.
Dark-eyed juncos are mostly found in their breeding habitat of coniferous or mixed forests, but they will often fly into and around backyards that are near these areas.
You’re most likely to see a dark-eyed junco in your backyard in Washington during winter as they search for food in bird feeders. However, some birds in the northern range will often migrate south in the winter.
In terms of their diet, the dark-eyed junco mostly forages on the ground for insects and seeds.
The main reason they either migrate in winter or head to bird feeders in backyards is when there is a lack of insects due to colder temperatures. So, to attract dark-eyed juncos to your backyard, fill your feeders with insects like mealworms and a range of seeds.
Native to western North America but found across the country is the humble house finch. This moderately-sized finch (with a length of about 5-6” and a wingspan of 8-10”) is most known for its distinctive reddish head, neck, and shoulders featured in males.
The rest of the plumage is a dull brown on the upperparts with grayish wings. The redness featured in males is dependent on the season and how much fruit and berries they consume.
House finches are adaptable to most habitats, from semi-open fields and woodland areas to urban and suburban backyards. This is actually one of the most common birds you will find in your Washington backyard, as there is estimated to be between 267 million 1.7 billion house finches across the country.
The main reason you’ll find a house finch in your backyard is because they build their nests often in man-made cavities, such as underneath overhanging roofs, inside hanging plants, and openings in buildings.
House finches are predominantly foragers that focus on the ground and vegetation, feasting on a range of seeds, grains, and berries.
They also enjoy small insects like aphids that often inhabit plants. If you want to attract house finches to your backyard, fill your bird feeders with a range of seeds and berries – especially nyjer seeds and sunflower seeds.
The Anna’s hummingbird (named after French courtier and Duchess Anna Masséna) is native to the western coastal states and regions of North America.
This species is particularly beautiful to spot in your backyard, especially if you catch a glimpse of the colorful male. Male Anna’s hummingbirds feature an iridescent crown and neck that ranges in colors from red to purple, contrasting with their similarly iridescent greenish-gray feathers on their backs.
These are medium-sized hummingbirds with an average length of 3.9-4.3” and a wingspan of 4.7”.
This species is found across western North America with a population of roughly 1.5 million, making them a fairly common species in Washington backyards.
They don’t migrate but will often travel short distances in search of food, but Anna’s hummingbirds have the unique ability to convert sugar into fat during winter, allowing some kind of body temperature regulation.
Anna’s hummingbirds have the distinctive hummingbird pointed beaks, which allows them to collect nectar. If you have an abundance of flowers and plants in your backyard, not only will you probably catch a glimpse of this species, but their presence will contribute to pollination, too. They also eat the sap from trees and various flying insects.
Also known as the common starling, the European starling consists of about 12 subspecies in a range of regions across the world, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Fiji, Mexico, and the United States.
Due to its large global population, it’s very common to encounter a European starling in your Washington backyard. This is a medium-sized bird with an average length of 7.5-9.1” and a wingspan of 12-17”.
The species is most notably recognized by its iridescent black plumage all over the body, giving hints of purple and green, that is dotted in white marks. Females tend to exhibit more white spotting, making them look duller in comparison to their male counterparts.
The European starling doesn’t have a specific preferred habitat. Instead, it flocks in large groups in a circular formation in a range of environments – including woodlands, open fields, city centers, and over backyards in residential areas.
While they do cause droppings wherever they go in their large flocks, these droppings can be highly beneficial for backyards, as they work as a fertilizer.
As for their diet, European starlings are mostly insectivorous and will eat anything from spiders and beetles to bees and dragonflies. It’s common for starlings to eat worms and small frogs or lizards in backyards, which is why they mostly appear when the sprinklers have been on or when the grass has been recently cut.
Native to western North America and parts of Central America, the Steller’s Jay is often spotted in backyards in Washington if you’re lucky.
These birds stand out for their incredibly unique appearance – most notably their black upright crests that look something like a quiff. Depending on the subspecies of the bird, the steller’s jay is often predominantly blue and black with silvery blue wings.
Sizing at 12-13” in length and a wingspan of 19”, this is a medium-sized bird that is closely related to the blue jay, which inhabits eastern North America.
The steller’s jay is most commonly found in forested and woodland areas of western North America, including Washington, which is why they mostly appear in the backyards of houses that reside near woodland areas.
These forests are predominantly coniferous, but often mixed as well. Even if you live near agricultural land, you might spot a steller’s jay nearby in search of food.
Speaking of food, the diet of a steller’s jay is omnivorous. This species will mostly eat plants and sometimes eat insects, both gathered from foraging on the ground and amongst trees. As omnivorous eaters, steller’s jays will also eat small reptiles and amphibians, seeds, grains, berries, and unattended eggs in nests.
This species also competes with the Canada jay to fight for human food such as scraps from picnics and campsites, which is why they often appear in backyards after a barbecue. To attract steller’s jays to your backyard, fill your feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet in the winter.
Another medium-sized bird in the sparrow family, the white-crowned sparrow often appears in backyards in Washington and nearby states after breeding in Alaska and arctic Canada. Once the breeding season is over, this species will migrate further south towards Mexico for the winter, though some will remain in the western states.
The white-crowned sparrow has an average length of 5.9-6.3” and a wingspan of 8.3-9.4”. This species is fairly recognizable due to its distinctive black and white head markings, aptly giving them their name. The rest of the body is gray or brownish with a long darker tail. The wings feature brown bars and white underparts, as well as white patterns across the upperparts.
The habitat of the white-crowned sparrow consists mostly of brushy areas as they prefer to forage on the ground in low and fairly dense vegetation.
Speaking of their diet, this species will mostly look for insects, seeds, and parts of plants underneath bushes and plants in flocks of varying sizes. This means that if you live near wooded areas or if there happens to be a flock near your home, you might spot a white-crowned sparrow or two underneath the brush in your backyard. They will also take short flights to catch insects in the air.
The chestnut-backed chickadee is another member of the tit family found across western North America, with the range spanning from western Canada and southern Alaska down to southern California.
These birds will sometimes move to lower elevations and further south in winter, but they have the unique ability to achieve nocturnal hypothermia to regulate the energy they use. This allows them to remain in the northern part of their range even during the coldest winters.
As their name suggests, the chestnut-backed chickadee features a rufous-brown (often described as chestnut) mantle that is the most prominent part of their appearance.
The rest of their plumage consists of a blackish-brown head with white cheeks and dark brown wings. As there are three subspecies of chestnut-backed chickadees, some birds exhibit grayer flanks than others.
This species is most commonly found in coniferous and mixed forests at low elevations, however, some of the species have adapted to living in suburban environments including backyards.
They mostly love to visit backyards due to their large dietary range, including insects, invertebrates, seeds, grains, berries, and fruit. If you want to attract chestnut-backed chickadees to your backyard, be sure to fill your feeder with seeds and suet.
Pine siskins are a North American native species with a particularly sporadic winter migratory range. Their breeding habitat is mostly across Alaska, Canada, and the northern states of the US (including Washington) as well as the western mountains.
However, if the bird opts to migrate, the migratory patterns are so unpredictable that house owners in Washington shouldn’t be surprised if they see several pine siskins in their backyards during winter. It all mostly depends on the availability of food and the success of crops.
The pine siskin is a small bird roughly the same size as an American goldfinch. Both male and female pine siskin adults are brown all over with paler underparts, all of which feature heavy streaking of dark brown. Unlike most other finches, while the pine siskin has a fairly conical beak, its bill is slim and narrow.
As their name suggests, pine siskins mostly breed in open conifer forests amongst pine trees. However, they have also been found to breed in other coniferous and deciduous trees in woodlands and at the edge of parks and cemeteries. They will forage in open woodland areas such as brushes, marshes, grasslands, meadows, roadsides, and backyards.
The diet of a pine siskin consists of anything they can find when foraging in low vegetation, including insects, parts of plants, seeds, berries, and buds.
These birds can survive in colder temperatures as the species stores 10% of their body weight from seeds during the night, which helps to keep them warm. You’re most likely to find a pine siskin in your backyard during the winter months, especially if you fill your bird feeders with a range of seeds including sunflower seeds.
The Canada goose is one of the most common birds seen across North America, Europe, parts of Australasia, parts of Asia, and parts of South America.
This is a migratory bird like all geese and prefers habitats that are close to the water. This means that if your Washington home is located near open water and if your backyard is large enough, you might spot a Canadian goose flying over or stopping by to say hello!
The Canada goose is a fairly large bird that features a gray body, a black head and neck, and a distinctive white chin strap. The average length of this species is 30-43” with a wingspan of 50-73”. You’re most likely to hear a Canadian goose before you see one thanks to their distinctively loud “honk” call used to communicate with other geese.
This species is native to North America, most notably Canada (hence the name) and the northern states of the US. They appear year-round and are particularly well-adapted to living amongst human populations, which is partly due to the abundance of food available in urban settings and the lack of predators in the water.
Canadian geese are mostly herbivorous eaters, but they will also eat small insects and fish if available. When on land, they will graze on grass and grains if available. In the water, they will dive to reach aquatic plants.
You’re most likely to see a Canadian goose pecking away at the grass in your backyard – but don’t be tempted to feed it scraps of human food, as this can be detrimental to their health. It will also encourage more Canadian geese to return to your backyard, which can cause a mess of excretion.
The smallest woodpecker species in North America, downy woodpeckers are fairly common backyard feeders across various states.
There are seven recognized subspecies of the down woodpecker, including two that are found in west and central Washington, which is why they are so often found pecking away at backyard trees in Washington.
As the smallest woodpecker species, the downy woodpecker has an average length of 5.5-7.1” and a wingspan of 9.8-12.2”.
The downy woodpecker has a distinctive appearance, most notably due to the contrastingly bright red cap on its head. The rest of the body is white with black and white wings and head. Only the males feature the red cap, unlike the females that are just black and white all over.
Downy woodpeckers are most commonly found in deciduous forests, woodland areas, and virtually anywhere with large enough trees. This means that if you have an oak, birch, maple, or other deciduous tree in your backyard, you might get visited by a downy woodpecker.
They roost in the cavities of these trees (and search for dead trees to nest in), but they also rely on the trees for their food intake.
Like virtually every woodpecker, this species will use its pointed bill to dig into the tree, sucking out the sap and any insects residing inside. However, they will also eat seeds and berries, so make sure to fill your bird feeder up with seeds to entice them into your backyard!
Found across North America and Central America, the red-winged blackbird is another commonly found bird in backyards across Washington. Populations of these species are generally migratory, so you’re most likely to see one of these birds in your backyard during summer and fall.
The red-winged blackbird is arguably one of the most abundant birds in the world, and is thus one of the best-studied species, too.
The male red-winged blackbird is categorized by its jet black body with distinctive red and yellow shoulder patches, hence the name. Females are generally blackish-brown all over and do not possess the red shoulders.
The red markings on the male are a sign of an adaptation used to defend their territory, and the larger the patches, the more success the male has at scaring away rivals.
This species is spread across North America but does not appear in deserts, high mountain ranges, or areas of dense forestation. Instead, they prefer to live in open grassy areas like wetlands, fields, meadows, prairies, and even backyards if there is a presence of food.
Speaking of food, the red-winged blackbird’s diet is omnivorous and consists of seeds and other materials from plants, as well as insects, carrion, small amphibians, and more. These birds use a mixture of foraging and catching bugs mid-flight to consume their food.
The red-winged blackbird is most commonly found in backyard that contain bird feeders filled with suet, seeds, and bread crumbs.
Also known as the rain dove and the turtle dove, the mourning dove is a widespread and abundant species of bird scattered across North America. This is partly due to a generally large population, but also because the species is a popular game bird.
There are five subspecies of the mourning dove, wherein one of which is particularly common in western states such as Washington.
Mourning doves are medium-sized birds with a light-brown plumage that is often pinkish or grayish. They exhibit the classic broad elliptical wings of dove species as well as their long, tapered tails. Their eyes are distinctively dark in comparison to the rest of their body, which is only emphasized by the white circle surrounding them.
This species has an expansive range due to its high population, spanning all the way from Canada down to parts of South America.
As they enjoy a variety of open habitats such as fields, parks, grasslands, farms, and urban areas, they are often found visiting backyards in virtually every state, including Washington. This is especially true as they have adapted well to living alongside human habitation.
This species is mostly migratory, but there are some instances where flocks of varying sizes will remain in their breeding habitats during all seasons.
The diet of the mourning dove mostly consists of seeds, though they will sometimes consume insects and snails. It’s fairly common for these doves to swallow grit to help their digestion, another reason why they’re often found in urban settings.
To attract mourning doves to your backyard, fill your bird feeders with an array of seeds, specifically corn, wheat, amaranth, and canary grass.
A small songbird, the red-breasted nuthatch can be found in northeastern and western states (as well as Canada and Alaska) throughout the year.
These 4.5” long birds are distinctive for their rust-colored underparts and bluish upperparts. Their blackish faces feature two thick white streaks, making the black streak over the eyes look like a blindfold.
This species is most commonly found in conifer forests, though it is a semi-migratory bird that will often travel distances depending on the abundance of crops.
It mostly tends to forage on the branches and amongst the trunks of trees, but it will also catch insects mid-flight. Even if you don’t live near conifer forests, you may be able to attract red-breasted nuthatches to your Washington backyard by filling bird feeders with suet, sunflower seeds, mealworms, and peanuts.