Last Updated: September 20, 2022
From its coastal plains to lush forests, Kentucky has a rich and varied landscape. Its ecological diversity makes it an avian paradise.
And because of that…
You will find more than 375 species of birds in Kentucky. Many of them are year-round residents while some are seasonal visitors.
Whether it is in national forests or public parks, you will see a long list of flying creatures in the state. With the right knowledge, you can also attract birds to your backyard.
Read on and learn more about the birds of Kentucky, including their physical characteristics and behaviors.
Identifying The Most Common Birds In Kentucky
1. Northern Cardinal
Designated as the official state bird in 1926, the northern cardinal is one of the most common birds in North America.
Also called redbirds, they have an easily recognizable vibrant red color. The color of males is vivid while the females appear reddish-tan.
Each mating pair will stay with each other throughout the breeding season, with some being together for their entire lives. Each pair will breed up to three times in a season before females will lay their eggs.
Northern cardinals have a varied diet. They will eat insects, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, and centipedes. They also love berries, seeds, and nuts.
Looking for northern cardinals in the state? Your best bet is to check dense forests.
2. Downy Woodpecker
One of the most common backyard birds in the state, the downy woodpecker is a year-round resident.
While it is the smallest woodpecker in the country, they are easy to identify. It has a short bill, white belly, and mostly black back. You will find scattered white spots around its body.
The habitat of downy woodpeckers varies. They are mostly found in deciduous woods, specifically places with nearby water sources. They have also adapted to human development, so it isn’t surprising that you will also see them in urban areas, including city parks and private backyards.
It is easy to attract them to different types of bird feeders. Lure them into your backyard by adding black oil sunflower seeds, suet, and nuts.
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
The amazing coloration of red-bellied woodpeckers makes them almost impossible to miss. These photogenic backyard birds in Kentucky have bright red streaks on the back of their heads.
With its name, a lot of you will probably assume that a red-bellied woodpecker has a vibrant-red belly. However, while the belly is red, it has a pale color, which is almost unnoticeable.
If you want to see these birds circling your backyards, then you should install a suet feeder. You might also have some luck by filling a tube feeder with nuts and sunflower seeds.
When it comes to habitat, you will find red-bellied woodpeckers in forests and woodlands. They prefer places with oak, hickory, and pine. It is also common to see them in backyard feeders.
4. House Finch
It is impossible to list the most common backyard birds in the Bluegrass State without mentioning house finches. They are common even in areas surrounded by humans, including homes and buildings.
On average, a house finch is only six inches in length from the head to the tail. It has a red head and breast while there are grayish-brown streaks throughout the body.
These small birds are among the first ones to visit new backyard feeders. You can see them eating thistle and sunflower seeds.
Aside from their appearance, house finches are also recognizable because of their song. They have a lively hoot that often ends with buzzy notes.
5. Blue Jay
If you are looking for the most beautiful birds of Kentucky, blue jays should be on your radar. It has an attractive white chest and blue wings.
Aside from its physical appearance, you will also know when a blue jay is around by listening to its sound. Its calls are similar to red-shouldered hawks.
It is common to find these birds in forests where they are eating acorns. You can attract blue jays in bird feeders where they eat grains, insects, nuts, and seeds.
More so, a blue jay is omnivorous, especially during the winter. Some of the insects that it will eat include beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars.
6. American Robin
An American robin is one of the most familiar birds in North America and Kentucky. It runs and hops on lawns, with an upright stance. In most instances, they are on windowsills and porches.
It is also known as a quintessential early bird. In the spring and summer, you will hear their song at dawn before the first sign of morning light.
Earthworms form most of their diet. They will also eat grasshoppers and caterpillars, among other insects.
These birds are most active during the daytime. They spend most of their time plucking on the ground.
7. Dark-Eyed Junco
A medium-sized bird, the dark-eyed junco belongs to the family of sparrows. The body is mostly dark gray or brown. The white tail and pink bill create an excellent contrast with its body.
It is common to see dark-eyed juncos on the ground. They are often hopping on the shrubs and trees. On the lawn, they are often looking for fallen seeds.
During the summer, most of their foods are insects. They will eat grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and true bugs.
Their habitats are coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests. They are also in open parks, woodlands, and even backyards.
8. Mourning Dove
Mourning doves are named as such because of their mournful cooing, which is one of the most recognizable bird sounds in Kentucky.
It is easy to identify mourning doves with their brown and gray bodies with black spots all over. They also have a slender tail and small head, giving this bird a graceful appearance.
The diet of a mourning dove is 99% seeds. You can attract them in bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts. They will forage on the ground and can eat up to 20% of their body weight every day.
Lastly, mourning doves are known for stockpiling food. When they gather seeds, they do not eat them right away. Instead, they stock them for later consumption.
9. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
The name alone will already give you an idea of their appearance. One of the most distinctive physical characteristics is the brilliant iridescent red throat, which is most visible among males.
Aside from the throat, it is easy to recognize a ruby-throated hummingbird with a golden-green or bright emerald crown and back. Plus, it has a slightly downcurved and slender bill. The wings, meanwhile, are short, and often do not reach the tail when it is sitting.
While ruby-throated hummingbirds are common in forest edges, woodlands, and meadows, you can also have them in your backyard. To do so, you will need hummingbird feeders with sugar water and suet.
10. Song Sparrow
Song sparrows are small birds that are known for their beautiful voices. It has a sweet sound, which it uses to communicate with other sparrows. The melodious song is sure to be an auditory treat.
These brown birds have black spots throughout their body. They are not as beautiful as other birds on this list.
A song sparrow has a varied diet. It will eat plants and insects, including wheat, blackberries, wild cherries, raspberries, spiders, earthworms, caterpillars, and beetles.
To attract them to your backyard, fill your bird feeders with sunflower seeds and mixed seeds.
11. Carolina Chickadee
A tiny but approachable bird, the Carolina chickadee has a large head and short neck. This combination gives the bird a noticeably spherical body. It has stark white cheeks that separate its black bib and cap from its face. The tail, wings, and back are black.
These birds of Kentucky are known for being inquisitive. They are also acrobatic, so they are great targets for bird watching. They have a beautiful flight that will surely capture your attention.
Insects and spiders form most of the diet of these Kentucky birds. In the winter, they will also eat berries and seeds, especially in bird feeders.
When it is eating, the Carolina chickadee hangs upside down and tilts its head and body to reach for insects in trees.
12. Tufted Titmouse
An agile and active bird, the tufted titmouse is easily recognizable because of its big black eyes, rust-colored flanks, and crest of gray feathers.
Especially in the winter, it is common to see a tufted titmouse in a backyard feeder. They love sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. Aside from a feeder, another way to attract these birds in your yard is to put nest boxes.
More than 2/3 of its diet, however, will be insects., In the summer, caterpillars are the most common prey, although they will also eat scale insects, true bugs, and wasps.
13. Chipping Sparrow
A slender bird with a long tail, the chipping sparrow is quite small compared to the size of other sparrows.
Even from afar, chipping sparrows are beautiful with crisp and clean patterns in its body. The crown is bright and rusty, the face is pale, the underparts are frosty, and there is a black line in the eyes.
They are known for being low-maintenance feeder birds. With a full feeder, you are almost sure to attract them to your property.
14. Eastern Meadowlark
Reaching a length of up to 10.2 inches, eastern meadowlarks are medium-sized Kentucky birds. It has a bright yellow underpart, which is complemented by a pale-brown and black back. It has a V pattern across its chest.
You will frequently see these birds walking on the ground. They can also conceal in crops and grasses, making them a bit challenging to spot.
15. House Sparrow
Known for being invasive species, house sparrows were originally from the Middle East. Because of their aggressive behavior, they now outnumber other native species in the state.
These backyard birds in Kentucky are known for being tame. They are frequently seen around houses and parks. They will even eat on your hand.
The best way to attract a house sparrow is to fill your bird feeder with grains, nuts, corn, and millet.
Unfortunately, because house sparrows are non-native species, they can also be considered pests. Even if you do not feed these birds, you can find them in your backyard.
16. Pileated Woodpecker
Being one of the largest woodpeckers not just in Kentucky but in North America, pileated woodpeckers are unmistakable. It has an average length of 16 to 19 inches with a wingspan of 26 to 30 inches. The weight, meanwhile, ranges from 8.8 to 12.3 ounces.
Aside from their size, these Kentucky birds are also recognizable because of their hammering sound, which you can hear even at a distance. They produce a drumming sound to attract mates and defend their territories.
It is one of the most beautiful forest birds on this list. The body is mostly black with white stripes. The flaming-red crest creates an excellent contrast to the rest of its body.
17. Hairy Woodpecker
Often confused with a downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker is a small but powerful Kentucky bird. It has a long bill and soldier-like look, making it fierce.
This bird is predominantly black and white. It has checkered wings with two white stripes on the head. There is a white patch that runs up to its back. Plus, it has white outer tail feathers.
It is most common to see hairy woodpeckers hitching on tree trunks. At times, they will gather on the base, especially when there are fallen logs.
As for their habitat, they thrive in mature and burnt forests. You can also see them in open woodlands, especially those with pine and oak.
18. Eastern Bluebird
Are you interested in photographing birds in the Bluegrass State? If yes, then an Eastern bluebird is one of the species you should look for.
Males are more colorful than females. They have deep blue heads and backs. The breast is warm red-brown. Females, on the other hand, have blue tinges. Meanwhile, both the male and female Eastern bluebird has a white stomach and rust-colored throat.
Up to half of its diet consists of caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. When it gets cold and insects are scarce, these birds will also eat berries and fruits.
19. White-Breasted Nuthatch
While it is a small bird, it is the largest amongst nuthatches. The average length ranges from 5.1 to 5.5 inches. Its wings, meanwhile, can extend at a maximum of 11 inches.
White-breasted nuthatches are blue-gray on the back. It is frosty white on its face and in its underparts. A gray or black cap frames the neck, which makes it look like it is wearing a hoodie.
They are known for being agile birds. Most of the time, you will see them creeping on large branches and trunks. You will see them as well clinging to tree bark.
It is common to see these birds in deciduous forests in Kentucky, including those with basswood, hickory, oak, and maple.
20. Northern Flicker
These large woodpeckers are present in Kentucky throughout the year. Some of them will breed in Canada but will migrate south as they seek warmth in the winter.
It is a flashy bird, so you can spot them easily if you are on a bird-watching trip. It has bright colors under the wings and tail, which are most noticeable in flight.
They are often seen on the ground hunting for food, which they take using their curved bill. Some of their favorites include beetles, ants, seeds, and fruits.
You can attract them in bird feeders with suet. They are not habitual visitors to backyard feeders, but there is a higher chance that they will come when you live near the woods.
21. Eastern Kingbird
Dark gray on the top and clean white underneath, the Eastern kingbird is another common species in Kentucky. Its head is darker black compared to the color of its wings and back.
Eastern songbirds are aggressive. It is uncompromising when chasing its predators. They are hostile when they spot threats, including large crows, hawks, and even snakes.
You can see most of them perching on the top of trees and utility lines. This is where they utilize their vision to hunt for food.
Most of these birds live in open habitats, including wetlands, pastures, fields, and yards. In the winter, they migrate to South America. Here, they change their diet from mostly fruits instead of insects.
22. Brown-Headed Cowbird
The most common identifying characteristics of this bird include its dark-brown head, black body, short bill, and medium-length tail. Females are paler compared to males.
These birds have a bubbly and repeated song. They make a high whistle followed by two quick notes when they are flying. When disturbed, they make a sharp note.
It is common to see these birds in open habitats with an abundance of insects. You will see them on farms, barnyards, and roadsides.
Brown-headed cowbirds are also known for being nest parasites. Females will lay their eggs in the nests of other species. The host bird will accept the egg and treat it as its own. After hatching, the young bird will develop quickly and occupy most of the nest, forcing the smaller nestmates out.
This small blackbird is called a cowbird because it follows cows to eat the insects that they stir when they ruminate.
23. Northern Mockingbird
The Latin name of this bird translates to "a many-tongued mimic". The latter is a reference to its habit of learning and replicating the song of other birds instead of singing their own. In its lifetime, northern mockingbirds can learn over 200 songs.
It is known for making a wing flash. It will open its wings half or fully in jerky steps, showing off white patches. In turn, it will scare insects, making them easier to catch.
Their diet varies by season. In the spring and summer, they will eat mostly insects. Come fall and winter, their diet switches to predominantly wild fruits and berries.
Unlike other backyard birds, they will rarely visit feeders. If you want to encourage them to your yard, a better strategy is to maintain an open lawn with fruit trees and bushes, including hawthorns and mulberries.
24. European Starling
The European starling is one of the most common blackbirds in Kentucky. It has shiny black wings and plumage. Meanwhile, the beak is long and slender while the tail is short.
If you find it hard to spot their mostly black bodies, listen to their song. They are vocal, so it is easy to identify their presence. Their notes and squeaky and rasping. More so, they are known for imitating the sounds of other species.
With their widespread distribution, you can see them almost anywhere, including rural, urban, and suburban areas. Their nesting sites include tree holes and buildings. Meanwhile, they are often foraging in pastures, fields, and lawns.
When they are in small groups, European starlings are a good sight. Meanwhile, they can be a headache when they appear in large flocks. They are aggressive and can quickly scare other birds.
25. American Crow
A large bird with long legs, it is easy to identify an American crow if you see one in Kentucky. It has a thick neck and a straight, heavy bill.
Another defining characteristic of an American crow is its color. It is all black including its bill and legs. New feathers are glossy, but when they molt, they can appear paler.
American crows are social species. It is common for them to form large flocks. They are also aggressive, making it easy to scare even larger birds, including hawks.
Being intelligent birds, they are resourceful when it comes to their feeding habits. Since they are smart, they are also hard to trap, a problem that has been plaguing researchers for years.
If you want to see American crows, head to open areas with surrounding trees. They frequent grassland and agricultural areas, which is where they forage.
26. Carolina Wren
Known for being shy birds, Carolina wrens are dark brown on the top and light brown underneath. On the eyebrow, you will find a white stripe. The tail, meanwhile, is upright.
Although they are small birds, Carolina wrens are vocal. Only the males produce songs, and they are more outgoing. Compared to other birds, they have louder songs per volume.
The most common place to spot these birds is in the woods. They love areas with thick vegetation. They can also visit backyards with bird feeders, especially those with suet, hulled sunflower seeds, and peanut hearts.
27. American Goldfinch
At approximately 4.3 to 5.1 inches, the American goldfinch is a small finch. It has a small head, a short tail, a conical bill, and long wings.
One of the best things about an American goldfinch is its color. In the spring and summer, adult males are mostly bright yellow with black wings with white markings, black forehead, and white patches on its tail.
In terms of behavior, American goldfinches are active and acrobatic. It is fun to see them in flight. They also have a distinct call when flying, which makes them captivate attention.
Its natural habitats are weedy plains, especially those with asters and thistles. You can also find them in backyards, orchards, and roadsides. You can even see them in a bird feeder in your garden throughout the year, but they are most common in the winter.
28. Indigo Bunting
Beautiful and cheerful, an indigo bunting is one bird that should be on your list of species to watch out for in Kentucky.
When you see indigo bunting, it is easy to fall in love with its attractive blue color. However, such is an illusion. It is a result of the diffraction of light through the feathers. When you see them in poor lighting conditions, they will look like a plain finch.
29. Barn Swallow
The barn swallow is one of the common birds you will find in Kentucky, especially in semi-open and rural areas. They can often be seen skimming low on the fields. When they are flying, these birds are flowing and graceful.
Barn swallows will rarely glide. Instead, they will fly in a fluid motion. They feed through their wings, catching insects from the water or ground at a height of up to 100 feet. They are also known for executing tight turns and quick dives up in the air.
The steel blue color of its back, tail, and wings is one of the first things that you will notice in a barn swallow. The forehead and throat, meanwhile, are cinnamon-colored, creating an excellent contrast to the rest of its body.
As they are named, you will find these birds mostly in barns. They are also abundant in fields, parkways, roadsides, marshes, ponds, and meadows.
30. Red-Winged Blackbird
A common sight in Kentucky, red-winged blackbirds belong to the family of songbirds. They are medium-sized. The body is mostly black, but males have bright red and yellow colorations on their shoulders. Females, on the other hand, are paler and have brown stripes throughout their bodies.
Males are showy and will do anything so that they will be noticed. They spend most of their time perched in high places and singing. On the other hand, females are often lower, weaving their nests.
In Kentucky, the best places to see red-winged blackbirds are in saltwater and freshwater marshes, old fields, wet roadsides, dry meadows, and golf course hazards. Meanwhile, in the winter, they are more common in crop fields and pastures.
31. Eastern Towhee
While it is found throughout the year in Kentucky, it is seldom that the eastern towhee will visit backyard feeders. Its preferred habitats are semi-open and forested areas, including those with dense trees, shrubs, and weeds.
An oversized sparrow, eastern towhees have a black upper part in males and brown in females. Meanwhile, its underparts are white while the sides are rusty.
When foraging, an eastern towhee spends most of its time on the ground looking for food. It is easy to notice them as they are noisy as they go through the leaf litter.
The diet of eastern towhees varies depending on the season. In the summer, they will eat mostly insects, including bugs, moths caterpillars, and beetles. It is also known for having a thick beak, which it can use to open peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds.
32. White-Throated Sparrow
One of the most common winter birds in the Bluegrass State, a white-throated sparrow can be often seen in Kentucky from October to May.
Can you guess the most distinctive characteristic of the white-throated sparrow? Well, the name is already a giveaway! It is known for its white throat.
Other physical features include the distinct black and white marking on its head. Meanwhile, it has a yellow spot between the bill and eye. It is brown at the back and gray underneath.
Their diet consists mostly of seeds. They also eat a variety of fruits, including grapes and blackberries. They also eat insects, but such happens in the summer, a time when they migrate to cooler locations.
33. Baltimore Oriole
Come spring, it is easy to detect the presence of Baltimore orioles in Kentucky. All you need is an open ear. You can hear their whistling songs from treetops next to parks and houses.
Aside from their songs, you can also spot them through their plumage. Males are brilliant orange, so you can easily find them even when they are atop trees. Females, on the other hand, are duller.
Planning a trip to see Baltimore orioles in their natural habitats? Your itinerary should include a visit to open woodlands and forest edges with leafy deciduous trees.
Even in the backyard, you can easily attract Baltimore orioles with the right feeders. You can lure them with nectar, peanut butter, and oranges. They will also eat caterpillars.
These birds are agile feeders and acrobatic foragers. They will hang upside down and comb through high branches in search of their food.
34. Green Heron
A stocky heron with almost the same size as a crow, it is reddish-brown with white streaks in the front. The bill is long and straight while the neck is elongated. On the top of its head, you will find a black crest. Meanwhile, the wings are gray.
One of the most common places where you can spot green herons is next to water edges. Here, they are often standing motionless searching for fish or amphibians. You can also see them around wooded ponds, estuaries, reservoirs, rivers, and marshes. For the best chances of spotting these herons, go out at dawn or dusk. They are inactive during the day.
They are intelligent when they hunt food. They will drop insects and other items in the water and wait for fish to pick them up. Once there is fish in the water, the green heron is ready to attack.
35. Eastern Phoebe
Wrapping up our list of the birds in Kentucky is the eastern phoebe. Its top is gray to grayish brown. The head is often the darkest part of its body. Underneath, the bird is dirty white.
It is common to see eastern phoebes in low perches, including fence lines and trees. If they are not resting, they are actively flying. And once they catch insects as food, they will return to their perch. It will also pluck insects on the ground. When insects become scarce, they will eat berries and fruits.
This winter bird is easy to observe in the state. They are tame and will often appear in nests in bridges and buildings.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is the state bird of Kentucky?
The state bird of Kentucky is the Northern Cardinal, which is the most common among the bird species in the state. It is also the state bird of Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, and Virginia.
What is the rarest bird in Kentucky?
The rarest bird in the state is the common raven. Despite the name, it is not so common in Kentucky. During the European settlement, these birds are common around the Bluegrass state, but their population dwindled as humans occupied their territories.
What kind of red birds are in Kentucky?
Kentucky is home to many kinds of red birds, including a northern cardinal, scarlet tanager, American robin, house finch, common redpoll, red-bellied woodpecker, and rose-breasted grosbeak.
Where can I see birds in Kentucky?
From public parks to private gardens, you will see Kentucky birds almost anywhere in the state. Some of the best birdwatching spots in Kentucky are Red River Gorge Geological Area, Berea College Forest, John James Audubon State Park, Ballard Wildlife Management Area, Mammoth Cave National Park, and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge.
Seeing a bird in Kentucky is a visual treat. Whether you are hiking in a lush forest or seated in a quiet park, there are plenty of opportunities for spotting birds in the Bluegrass State. They might even come to your property, especially if you install the right bird feeders.
Are there other birds in the state that you would like to add to the list? Let us know by leaving a comment below.