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Birds in Illinois: 14 Native Backyard Species Year-Round

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Apr 26th, 2024
black and orange bird eating orange fruit

Birds inhabit a wide variety of habitats worldwide. These creatures are sophisticated animals, keen, colorful and agile, and display behaviors evoking interest from observers.

As a birding enthusiast...

You probably wonder what birds of Illinois you might encounter during your walk in the park or even in your backyard. We aim to help you identify the birds you see close to home by providing profiles for the most common birds in Illinois.

Enjoy reading as we get to know some of the wild birds you'd likely see around the state, and let's make your birding adventure more fun.

Different Illinois Birds

Birds have been coinciding with us, hearing their songs from our window or touching their feathers as we feed them. Sometimes we think that we have already learned so much about Illinois bird identification or birds elsewhere, for that matter. 

It will still catch you by surprise to witness the black-capped chickadee with its new trick. Seeing the blue jay fix its gaze on a peanut butter log and try landing on it several times would never cease to fascinate you. 

Hence, let's take a closer look at several birds in Illinois. It would be helpful to pay more attention to their size, shape, plumage, and behavior that will point you to a bird's identity. Here are some of them:

1. House Finch

House Finch on the top of a flower

The house finch is that chunky bird, with males sporting that brick-red crown and breast, and females have brown streaks without the red shade. Its diet determines its plumage color, sometimes varying from bright to faint red or even yellow-orange. 

Bird enthusiasts call the color variation in this finch's plumage carotenoid pigmentation.

This bird's choice of habitats includes non-forest, settled environments, grasslands, city parks, and suburbia. There might be instances when you'd likely chance upon it landing briefly on treetops, which is one of its typical behaviors. 

Its kind is no longer as abundant nowadays as it once was before the avian illness that swept through their population in 1993.

Moreover, the house finch is a non-native bird throughout much of its range. But, you can still see it at a local bird feeder, where you'll probably witness its aggressive feeding habits. It favors fruit, buds, and seeds, the same food that this bird feeds to its young.

It's easy to spot its bright color and typically arrives at feeders in boisterous flocks that are impossible to miss. You can effortlessly recognize the routine song of this finch, sounding like a cherry, slightly hoarse but rapid warble.

2. Northern Cardinal Northern Cardinal spreading its wings

The Northern cardinal is among the Illinois birds that are well-loved by many. Its vivid red plumage might sometimes be the only thing that colors an otherwise dreary winter. Further, it builds nests using twigs and leaves, then places them on tree branches or shrubs.

Males of this prominently crested songbird also feature a black throat, a long tail, and brownish legs. Comparatively, the females are recognizable with their soft buffy brown hue, with a tinge of red in the crest, wings, and tail.

Males and females of Northern cardinals have thick, orange bills powerful enough to crack seeds with ease.

It inhabits riparian woodlands, brushy understory, and forest edges. A Northern cardinal primarily feeds on seeds, buds, and fruits and occasionally consumes insects, such as caterpillars and beetles.

Additionally, you might hear this eye-catching creature singing more than a dozen songs, covering a broad range of frequencies sounding like a single whistle. Let's not forget, too, that this bird has been popular enough to earn its reputation as the Illinois state bird since 1929.

3. House Sparrow

House Sparrow resting on the corner

There are bird species where the male and female do not look identical, like in the case of the house sparrow. This creature has a petite body with finch-like features. Its plumage has streaks and spots in brown and fawn shades, with a black throat and a white wing bar.

Nevertheless, there are geographic variations worth noting for any birder. House sparrows from the barren Southwest look paler, while those from moist regions appear darker. 

This bird is widespread in North America, often displaying a strong preference for cavities, nooks, and even crevices in human houses.

Although it could be the least favored bird of many landowners, it's still a familiar visitor at urban feeders and would never think twice about exploiting bird baths. The house sparrow has a bad reputation due to its aggressive nature, taking over bird houses from the Eastern bluebird.

Despite being intentionally excluded in nest boxes, it thrives well in human surroundings, vigorously seeking handouts, like pizza crusts, bread crumbs, and dropped donuts. You'll least likely see this creature hovering in grasslands, forests, and extensive woodlands.

Experienced birders find it typical to see house sparrows foraging the grass in summer. Otherwise, it might be hunting for spilled seeds on the ground or chasing and fly-catching moths that they feed to their young.

4. Baltimore Oriole Baltimore Oriole perched on the twigs

This species is typically in North America from April to May, migrating towards their wintering ground in Central America as early as July. However, some of their kind would stay if there's a good food source to allow these birds to survive the cold winter.

You can lure it to your backyard if you fill your feeders with sugar water, oranges, suet, and seeds.

Likewise, this eye-catching bird enjoys feeding on insects and spiders from leaves and branches, caterpillars and fruits, and sips nectar at times.

This bird with black and orange plumage usually lingers in riparian groves and open woods. You can hear males singing a sweet, melodic song from the treetops, one of their typical behaviors when establishing breeding territory.

Females have pale yellowish-orange with brown backs, contrasting with the males' bright colors. While you may sometimes see it inserting its bill into a flower, it is only after the nectar and has nothing to do with pollination.

Baltimore orioles nowadays prefer nesting in tall trees such as sycamores and cottonwoods after the American elm's devastation due to a disease.

5. Downy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker eating on bird feeder

This woodpecker is among the common backyard birds that immensely enjoy feeding insects. It's that agile and seemingly acrobatic bird in black and white plumage, with the same stubby legs, powerful claws, and rigid tails as other woodpeckers.

This creature is the smallest of all woodpeckers with the most extensive range and a year-round resident in the United States, except farther in the Southwest.

Most of this bird's diet consists of insects, but sometimes it eats berries and reed stalks. Seeing a downy woodpecker coming to feeders is not unusual; it joins mixed feeding flocks for a suet or sunflower seed.

This bird and the hairy woodpecker might look identical, and the best way to tell these two apart is with the downy woodpecker's shorter bill. These two differ in vocalization and drumming; you can observe rapid drumming from the hairy than the downy woodpecker.

Furthermore, the downy woodpecker tends to linger in the same site even after the breeding season's over. It would wander in various habitats to acquire its food source, sometimes by inspecting the bark crevices of dead trees.

6. American Robin American Robin eating fruits

When you come across some red cedar trees, you will sometimes witness an American robin flying erratically around them while hearing its sharp clucking call. This bird will sometimes join the other of its kind in what seems like a rowdy party while feasting on cedar berries.

Such refined fruits and wild berries take up most of this robin's diet, although it sometimes feeds on insects, snails, and other invertebrates.

It occasionally roosts in tidal marshes, often detecting its prey by sound or vibration through its claws, such as a hidden earthworm. Otherwise, you can find this creature dwelling in a vast range of habitats rich in trees or bushes they can use for nesting.

Such adaptability and being in many different locations made the American Robin a well-known iconic species in North America. It's almost impossible to find a North American resident who won't be able to recognize this bird even from a distance.

These robins build their nests in bushes and trees using sticks, grasses, and mud. You can immediately recognize its males with their jet-black heads and deep-orange underparts than those of females.

7. American Goldfinch American Goldfinch perched on twigs

It often surprises new birders that the brownish bird with black wings they see in winter is the same bright yellow bird they see in summer. 

You can expect backyard birds, such as the American goldfinch, to brighten your area from late spring to early fall until it migrates to the South.

These goldies are among the backyard birds of Illinois, with males routinely shedding into new plumages.

Goldfinches are among the birds of Northern Illinois that are year-round residents, as much as it is throughout the eastern part of the United States. These finches inhabit woodland edges and areas with scattered shrubs, but they favor fields where thistles are abundant when breeding.

Breeding seasons of birds, such as goldfinches that do not feed their young with insects, often differ from insectivore birds. This finch generally feeds their young with a thistle seed; hence, these finches breed in late summer, a season when such seeds ripen.

Nevertheless, not having this American goldfinch in plain sight should not disappoint you. You will know this bird is nearby once you hear its tinkling calls, a typical sound when this bird is in flight.

8. Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow perched on the top of a tree

When someone tells you about a colorful bird, I suppose that a sparrow is probably the last that comes to mind. Your thoughts would go to a painted bunting or a hummingbird, perhaps.

The song sparrow has numerous subspecies, each with distinct plumages and appearance. Its variation ranges from the sizable, dark Southern Alaska resident to the paler birds of Southern Arizona.

It would never say no to any seed, especially black oil sunflower, nyjer, and cracked corn.

These birds got their name due to their melodic songs, consisting of loud, clear, and similar-pitched whistles. The song sparrow is one enthusiastic songbird that can sing about 300 times in an hour.

During summer, you will hear its endearing call where thickets, brambles, and shrubby areas are nearby. But in wintertime, this songster will appear in small or large flocks while foraging for seeds in weedy edges in most of their wintering grounds in the United States.

9. Northern HarrierNorthern Harrier perched on the top of a tree

The Northern harrier is among some Illinois birds enjoying the grasslands in the Prairie State Natural Area. Even from your car window, you can revel in the view of this bird, as they only allow roadside birdwatching in this area.

This grassland raptor belonging to the family of hawks is a close relative of the old world hen harrier. Its males are easily identifiable with their bluish-gray upper parts, while females have dark brown shades. 

Additionally, the harrier is slim-bodied with a long tail; its face looks like an owl's with stiff feathers that help connect with its prey.

Bird watchers often notice an increase in this bird's population in Illinois during fall migration and throughout the wintering season. When in flight, the harrier holds its wings upward as it flies low to and fro over swamps and agricultural fields in Northeastern Illinois. 

It's also pretty interesting that birds such as this harrier have a unique parenting style. Harriers help their fledglings enhance their prey‐catching skills.

10. American Crow American Crow resting on the flowery twig of a tree

Hunters and birdwatchers are well aware that this species is among the typical birds you can find in Southern Illinois. Together with the blue jay, they are the only members of the Corvidae family you will often see in the Midwest.

Both birds are cunning, boisterous, and sneaky, except that the blue jay is one to visit feeders frequently. The American crow enjoys foraging the ground for insects, fruits, and seeds.

It is one of the birds in Illinois well-known for being notorious egg raiders, like the raccoons and skunks, and even devours nestlings.

These bird species are ground foragers and well-adapted to a vast range of habitats. You can spot them in agricultural fields, woodlands, and urban centers.

It has considerable geographical variation, as expected from birds with extensive ranges. These birds are primarily black throughout the continent, but their body sizes and bill shapes differ from one region to another.

11. Red-Tailed Hawk Red Tailed Hawk resting on its nest

Like this red-tailed hawk, several birds in Illinois belong to the birds of prey, together with the black vulture and the great horned owl. It is not an unusual sight to see it flying over Illinois Beach State Park along with the other migrating birds.

Red-tailed hawks are famous nest predators, and even ground-nesting birds are their prey at times.

It's one of the three Buteos with an abundant population in the North and with fourteen subspecies. Even new birders can recognize this hawk with its broad wings.

Due to plumage variation, this hawk's light form features reddish-brown streaks on its head, some white spots on its back, a rufous tail, and yellowish legs. The Harlan's hawk from Alaska and Northwestern Canada has intensely dark plumage with white spots all over its body.

The fences and roadway poles are this hawk's favorite perching spots. It hunts for prey in these places, while the others are permanent residents of the state. Moreover, this raptor feeds amphibians, reptiles, squirrels, birds, mice, and rabbits.

12. American Tree Sparrow American Tree Sparrow picking up seeds from the ground

The perky American tree sparrow is a tundra breeder that birdwatchers sometimes confuse for the chipping sparrow. This bird is recognizable with its unstreaked upper section with a brown mark on the breast, a rusty head, and a rust patch on its shoulder.

It is among the winter birds of southern Illinois with a knack for hanging around at a backyard feeder despite the cold weather.

This bird species is highly sociable and sings with a delightful melody of pure tones. You will mostly notice that this bird is frequently on the move in its quest for a reliable food source.

As such, if you'd like a close encounter with this sparrow, you can expect it to bring a large flock as it exploits bird feeders. This species likes habitats, such as brushy areas, open fields, and any backyard with a generous supply of good seed mixes.

The creature is mainly a ground-feeder; you may find it handy to scatter the seeds on the ground or have a platform feeding station in place.

13. Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron hunting prey on the water

The great blue heron is one bird that strays away from human disturbance. You can find it in coastal and marshy areas across the borders of Lake Michigan shoreline and Illinois Beach State Park.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources monitors various wetlands to ensure habitat conservation for this species. Even educational resources to spread awareness of the different birds in the state are readily available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Its adult male has a bluish-gray body, white face, gray neck, shaggy plumes, and dark legs; the sandhill crane looks like its duller version.

This heron is one of the birds in Illinois that is mostly quiet. That can be a good thing since its call sounds like gagging chatters of white noise.

But make no mistake, because as silent this heron is, it can swallow a huge fish whole. You might be surprised at how this creature helps itself to a goldfish in a fishpond.

14. Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle hunting fish on the water

You'll never be disappointed if you go looking for shorebirds in Southern Illinois. If you're lucky, you might as well see this bald eagle in flight while on your way to go fielding on Grand Tower Island across the state border.

This species is unmistakable with its white head and tail; it is the United States' symbolic bird you can only see in the North.

The eagle has an undeniable reputation for being a nest predator, and adult gulls are often prey. Despite being an opportunist, it forages carrion and wouldn't hesitate to snatch prey from other birds.

Its habitat preference includes seacoasts, large inland lakes, and major rivers; hence, it is one of the so-called sea eagles. Bald eagles from the North are migratory birds searching for open fish-bearing waters.

Aside from their white heads, these eagles also have massive yellow bills and long wings but very short tails and yellow legs. This species also has high-pitched vocals and likes nesting in the tallest trees.

Birdhub Talk: There are more birds to be found in the various states of the USA. We'll drop by one of them here -- Birds of Utah.

Frequently Asked Questions

What bird is the most observed in Illinois?

Among the familiar birds in Illinois, the Northern Cardinal is the most observed by many birders worldwide. You can see this species throughout the state year-round. Even the mourning dove is a familiar bird in the state, and so is the blue jay, a native bird to the North.

Watch this video to find out what you didn't know about the mourning dove:

What kind of blackbirds are in Illinois?

You may encounter several types of blackbirds and identical species flocking together during the fall season in Illinois. It is easiest and most convenient to identify red-winged blackbirds due to their abundance in the area. 

Medium-sized rusty blackbirds have had a declining population for the last 40 years, with the cause still unknown to this day. Others are the common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and the European starling.

Further, the brewer's blackbird and the yellow-headed blackbird occasionally appear in the state.

What are the winter birds of Illinois?

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources constantly reminds citizens to feed birds in winter. Some of these birds in Illinois that linger through the cold season need a constant food supply like the blue jay, house finch, and mourning dove, to name a few.

Here are other familiar or popular birds likely to grace your feeding stations in winter:

  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Northern cardinal
  • Downy woodpecker
  • American tree sparrow
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • American goldfinch
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Black-capped chickadee

Read Also: Hummingbirds in Illinois

Final Thoughts

Most bird watchers would agree that there is nothing more enriching and exciting than watching birds, especially since you can do it virtually any time. You don't even need to go far because the exciting adventure with these Illinois birds can start in your backyard.

Luckily for the citizens, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has several conservation projects contributing to habitat protection. As such, our feathered friends will continue to inhabit the state and offer more birding opportunities to enthusiasts.

Hopefully, this guide will be helpful as you learn more about these beautiful, engaging creatures. May your outdoor adventure be as fascinating as these birds you'll meet across the state.

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