The Hawkeye State is an exceptional place to practice bird watching, thanks to the many streams, bluffs, and hills that provide a natural habitat for these creatures. Iowa is home to over 428 bird species, ranging from common birds like the Black-capped Chickadee to a less common ones like the Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Don't forget the migratory birds like the Purple Martins, Barn Swallow, and Cliff Swallows that pass through Iowa right before winter.
Before you visit the great birding trails of Iowa, you should learn more about what species frequent this region and how to ID them...
- Identification of The Birds of Iowa:
- Watch This!
- Frequently Asked Questions
Identification of The Birds of Iowa:
Iowa is a haven for bird watchers, so in this article, we will help you identify the resident birds of Iowa and show you where and when the migratory birds fly over this beautiful state.
Some of the most common birds in Iowa are:
1. American Robin
Besides being one of the most popular backyard birds of Iowa, the American robin is one of the most quintessential Iowa birds that resemble the European Robin in size and shape. Despite being a famous resident of the northern U.S., this migratory bird is known for traveling to different parts of the country, including Western Iowa and the Southern U.S. in winter.
Other than having brighter colors than females, the males have a more colorful plumage.
But the first thing you'll notice when you see them is their blackheads and back with orange or reddish breasts.
Shape and Size
The males and females differ in body size and shape.
- Weight: males 2.5-3.3 oz. (72-94 g)/ females: (2.1-3.2 oz. (59-91 g)
- Length: 9.1-11.0 in (23-28cm)
- Wingspan: 12-16 in (31-41cm)
Like most of Iowa’s backyard birds, these migratory songbirds love roosting on trees in winter; therefore, you are highly likely to see them on your lawns in spring. Their caroling song is the earliest sign of spring in the north, while males use it during the mating seasons to attract females.
They feed on mealworms, fruit, peanut and suet hearts, sunflower seeds, larvae, and the seeds of small shrubs and bushes.
Being one of the common birds in Iowa, you can find it on lawns, urban parks, farmlands, and open woodlands.
2. Red-Winged Blackbird
Other than being one of the most common birds in Iowa, the Red-winged birds are easy to identify thanks to their all-black color with bright yellow and red shoulder patches.
If your favorite colors are black, red, and brown, you will love this bird's sight with its wings spread out. The female's plumage is a mixture of red, brown, and black. And thanks to the color of their plumage, differentiating between males and females is relatively easy.
Being a common species in the region, you can spot these Blackbirds on telephone wires roosting in huge numbers. Males are very territorial, and they're even known to attack people who try getting closer to their nests.
Consequently, the Red-Winged blackbird is not a breed you want near you.
An interesting fact about this small bird is that they use their black tail to warn the others in case of danger. They tend to produce a sharp sound while flicking their tail at the same time when they notice danger.
They eat small insects like spiders, worms, larvae, and berries from different shrubs and trees, insects, cracked nuts, and seeds.
Therefore, if you want to attract them to your lawn, you should pour a mixture of seeds and grains on the ground or your feeder, especially in winter.
Body Size and Shape
- Length: 6.7-9.4in (17-24cm)
- Weight: 41.5-64g (1.46-2.3oz)
- Wingspan: 3.2-5.7 in (8.1-14.4 cm)
It can be found on hayfields, brushy swamps, wooded swamps, and hayfields during the breeding season. Outside the breeding period, it can be found on mudflats and fields.
3. Northern Cardinal
Commonly known as the decorative mascot of many educational and professional sports teams, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of 7 states.
This is because they are considered one of the most beautiful small Iowa birds, with a beautiful plumage that can be found all over Des Moines.
Identifying them can be very easy as females and males have different body sizes, colors, and shapes. It may have dull colors, but males have red-colored plumages with brighter red shade than females.
A perfect combination of its bright reddish body and dark face creates an exceptional sight against the snow come winter. On the other hand, females are snowy with a sharp-brown crest, red beak, red highlights, and brown coloring.
Very few birds were gifted with powerful conical beaks like the Northern Cardinal, which they use to chew seeds. The sight of the cardinals cracking the sunflower seeds and spitting the hulls, and then plucking the kernel using their tongue is simply magical.
Like most birds, it feeds on many seeds, including black oil sunflower seeds, nuts, and berries. Therefore, you can easily attract them to your feeder.
Cardinals are year-round residents of the shrubby woodlands of eastern U.S. and Mexico.
4. Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura, which is its scientific name, is a medium-sized bird belonging to the dove family. They are graceful birds with long tails, small heads, and plump bodies.
They can be seen foraging for seeds on lawns or perching on a telephone wire.
Like most birds, they mate in winter and spring, but the males have to attract their mates using a beautiful mating song/call.
Males and females look similar in dimensions and shape; they also come with the same white and brown plumage, making it easy to identify them. After all, Mourning Doves are known to be frequent feeders.
These common backyard birds can visit any feeder, provided you give them insect-based feeds, seeds, and nuts. They also eat worms which they pick from the ground.
Shape and Size
- Length: 31 cm (12 in)
- Weight: 112-170g (4.0-6.0oz)
- Wingspan: 37-45cm
It occupies a wide range of semi-open and open habitats like grassland, farms, urban areas, and lightly wooded places. It always avoids thick forests and swamps.
5. House Wren
The House Wren is one of the world's smallest songbirds belonging to the Wren family.
Like other birds in this state, the House Wrens are highly social and brave creatures who can't hesitate to come near human beings.
They love building their nests near places with human presence.
They come with a brownish-colored plumage with Patterns and dark brown and white stripes. Fortunately, the non-breeding birds are a bit different from the breeding adults.
They can be found in open woods, parks, and backyards foraging for insects.
Some of the insects this bird eats include small invertebrates, moths, and caterpillars. They also consume seeds and grains of different weeds and plants. Like the other birds in Iowa, you can attract them to the backyard by building a nest box, feeder, and brush piles.
6. American Goldfinch
The American continents are home to many songbirds, but only the American Goldfinch is native to numerous parts of North America.
Fun Fact: This stunning bird has one of the brightest plumages on the planet!
Female and male species resemble each other, and the only difference is the males have a black spots on their heads. It has a yellow plumage; its upper part and belly are yellow. Other than its beautiful plumage, you should wait for it to spread its wings, and you will be amazed by the whitish feathers below its wings.
They feed on various seeds and berries from small shrubs and herbs. Therefore, you can easily attract them to your feeder.
Unlike most birds, they are very social and tend to maintain a small distance between themselves and humans.
7. Downy Woodpecker
Dryobates Pubescens, which is its scientific name, is smaller than most of the common Iowan birds. Just like the Red-Winged Blackbird, they are bigger than the House Finch of Junco.
It has the same size as White-crowned Sparrow but has a shorter tail. Downy Woodpecker has a short chisel-shaped bill and a huge stocky head. It has black wings with some whitish spots and a black back. It has a white belly with some whitish spots on its wings and tail.
There are many Woodpeckers in the United States, but the Downy is the most popular.
They can be found in small willows, deciduous trees, and weed stocks like the teasels situated next to the water. But the females can be found on tree trunks while the males are on twigs and small plants.
They feed on seeds, fruit, and insects. It also feeds on the gleaned arthropods from the trees' bark.
8. Blue Jaybird
Blue Jay is a very aggressive bird that is known to decapitate other birds and even raid their nests. But they're very beneficial to their ecosystem.
They're a popular noisy species that travel in groups eating food where available.
They have a crown on their head, which they use to express their moods or feelings.
Jaybirds come with a black collar around their neck. The females and males have a similar wingspan, body, shape, weight, and color.
They love the woodland environment and breed in the forest.
They eat fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, worms, and insects and they're exceptional at cracking nuts.
9. Black-Capped Chickadee
Black-Capped Chickadees are beautiful birds with tiny bodies and substantial round heads that are native to North America.
It has a black cap, white belly, and white and black streaks covering its plumage, with the lower part of its wings being brown. To differentiate the females from males, you have to look at their body size. Females are pretty small, weigh less, and have dull colors.
They have a robust and small beak that helps them crack hard nuts and get their food. They love to dine on berries, insects, seeds of bushes, and nuts from a feeder.
Black-Capped Chickadee is one of the few common Iowa birds that like getting closer to human beings.
If you give them seeds, then they might sit on your hand. On some occasions, these birds would just gather around you and do their usual habits.
Birdhub Talk: Get to learn about the close relative of the chickadee by reading our comparative post here -- Coal Tit vs Great Tit: 5 Unique Differences Between Them.
10. Indigo Bunting
Belonging to the cardinal family, the Indigo Bunting is a small seed-eating bird that inhabits open woodland, brush area, and farmland.
They travel from northern South America to Southern Florida in winter and from northern Florida to southern Canada during the breeding season.
These migratory birds navigate using the stars while migrating at night.
Females are brown, while the males are bright blue with black streaks on their tails and wings.
Chickadees can be found in the shrubby region and weedy fields foraging for insects and seeds. If you love chickadees, then you can attract them to your lawn using some minute seeds like thistle and nyjer in your feeder.
11. Song Sparrow
There are many sparrows in North America, but only the song sparrow resembles most streaked brown sparrows. They're smaller than the eastern/Spotted towhees or White-Crowned Sparrows.
They resemble Juncos and House Finch in size, but they're bigger than the Goldfinches and Chickadees.
Song Sparrows have a gray-brown back with some dark brown streaks and a complicated pattern on their head.
These beautiful songbirds can be found in thickets, particularly near a water source. They're residents of the northeastern U.S., Alaska, Western U.S., and Canada, but they migrate to the northern half of the United States and mid-Canada in summer.
Song Sparrows feed on insects and seeds located on the ground. It is also known to visit the tray feeder and hopper for a mixture of bird seeds.
12. Brown-Headed Cowbird
Unlike most stocky blackbirds, this bird has a fascinating approach to rearing its chicks. They forgo building nests and instead produce more than 3 dozen eggs in summer.
The Brown-Headed Cowbird is considered a nuisance since it can destroy the songbirds' eggs and lay their eggs in the same nest and have the songbirds foster their chicks.
These birds have either brown-head or black-head with thick heads and short tails. Females are brownish with some streaking all over their bodies.
The Brown-Headed Cowbirds are small-sized obligate brood parasitic icterid that is indigenous to subtropical and temperate North America. It breeds in the western and northern parts of North America before heading to the southern side. It remains on the Pacific Coast and the Southern and Eastern states all year long.
They can visit your backyard if you have an open lawn with bird seeds all over the ground or in a feeder. It can also visit your garden if you have livestock.
13. Gray Catbird
Catbird is indigenous to the United States, but it can also be found in other parts of North and Central America. But, they tend to migrate to the Caribbean, Mexico, and the southeastern U.S. in winter.
It has lead-gray feathers covering its body. Plus, its head and wings are darker than its neck, tail, and belly. The female and male are identical; therefore, differentiating between the two can be quite challenging.
Male gray catbirds have a melodious voice that they use to attract females during the breeding season.
This songbird will visit your feeders more frequently than most species for food.
Catbirds eat insects, small worms, berries, and fruits. They can also consume grains and seeds of numerous small grasses and shrubs from a feeder.
14. House Finch
Numerous small birds frequent our backyards, but very few are as social as the House Finch. They're indigenous to the west, but they can be found in different parts of the United States.
Very few birds are as brave and bold as a House Finch and it doesn't hesitate to come near human beings.
Like most birds, the make House Finch has a high-pitched voice to attract females for breeding purposes.
The males have some brownish spots on their wings, while females have grey and brown colored plumage. This species has a longer tail and shorter wings.
House Finch loves eating berries of certain plants, seeds, insects, and small worms. Plus, these common birds in Iowa can visit your bird feeder frequently to get some food.
Birdhub Talk: Do raisins attract birds in some way? What do you think? The only way to know the answer is by reading our post here -- Birds of California.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Official Iowa State Bird?
The General Assembly of Iowa made the American Goldfinch their official bird in 1933. This species was selected because it's one of the most common Iowan birds, and it usually stays in winter.
What Is the Biggest Bird Species in Iowa?
Iowa's largest bird is the American White Pelicans. This bird has a wingspan of about 9 feet and can weigh up to 20 pounds. These birds are white, but they do come with some black flight feathers.
Are There Ravens or Crows in Iowa?
Yes, there are three crow species in Iowa, but only the Common Raven and American Crow are the most common species in the Midwest. Ravens resemble crows in appearance, but they are differentiated by their call, wedge-shaped tails, and large size.
Is a Bald Eagle a Popular Eagle in Iowa?
Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of bald eagles in Iowa, and they can be seen everywhere in winter. You can find a flock of bald eagles in most waters in Iowa, including the Des Moines River and Loess Hills.
What Is the Most Important Bird Area in Iowa?
Iowa is home to numerous natural lakes, but the creation of huge reservoirs along the Charlton and Iowa Rivers helped improve the bird population in the state. The reservoir is there to protect the natural resources in the region, and in return, it's protected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Most Wild birds like the Eastern Bluebird, Northern Harrier, and Hairy Woodpecker can be found in these reservoirs.
Are House Sparrows and the Chipping Sparrow the Same?
No. A House sparrow is fuller and chunkier around the chest region. This species has a stouter bill, a shorter tail, and a rounded and larger head than a huge percentage of the American Sparrows.
Iowa is home to some of the most beautiful birds in North America that are protected by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab. Therefore, before visiting Jester Park, Iowa, you have to know the difference between these birds and how the Iowans attract them to their backyards.
Knowing where you can find them guarantees that you'll see these beautiful creatures and know which ones are not afraid of people. What are you waiting for?