Birds of Massachusetts: 15 Species to Spot in Your Backyard

Adult sharp-shinned hawk

Last Updated: April 30, 2022

There's the adventure of birding in evergreen forests and walking along the forest edges.

Sneaking up on birds in marshes, and watching birds perched on telephone posts.

There's the relaxing experience of birding in your backyard, a trip to the enchanting avian world without leaving your home.

Are you up to this challenge? Yes?

Good! Let's talk about the backyard birds of Massachusetts, the food they eat, and the type of environment that'll bring them to your backyard feeders.

Massachusetts Birds: 15 Common Backyard Birds

Since there are hundreds of backyard birds, we'll only mention a few common species.

1. Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove taking a bath

Its mournful call earned it the name mourning dove. It makes an owl-like coo that'll have you thinking you have owls near your backyard feeders.

You're likely to see a mourning dove any time of the year as it goes about its business unalarmed by your presence.

It's one of the larger avians on your property as it's 12 inches long. The feathers are in shades of brown and gray, with a few dark spots on the wings. As a mourning dove flies, you'll see white feathers on its outer tail.

Other ID details are a plump body, a small straight bill, and a pointed tail.

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

2. Black-Capped ChickadeeBlack-Capped Chickadee landing on the top of a tree

It's a little over five inches long. You'll know a black-capped chickadee by its white cheeks contrasted by a black cap and throat, gray upperparts, whitish belly, and grayish wings.

Its song sounds like it's whistling here swee-tie, while its call is a fast-paced chickadee-dee-dee-dee. Have you heard it calling?

A black-capped chickadee eats suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.

It's a curious bird that'll come close to you, even eat from your palm if you let it.


3. House Finch

House Finch inside the bird feeder

It's a native of the drier western states, but it also visits MA. 

This avian is social; it sticks around human settlements, taking any opportunity to interact with people.

A house finch is small, about six inches long. Males have streaked brown bodies with rosy red on the face and chest, while females have similar streaked brown plumage with paler streaks on the belly. Both sexes have notched tails.

A house finch likes millet, milo, and black oil sunflower seeds.

4. Downy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker perched on the branch of a tree

It's about 5.5 to 6.7 inches long, the same size as an eastern phoebe. The underbelly is white, the upper parts are black, while the wings and outer tail have white spots. The head of a downy woodpecker has black and white stripes and red nape.

Do you have sunflower seeds, either black oil or hulled? Then you're ready to host the downy woodpecker. It also likes mealworms, peanut hearts, and suet. You may see it drinking water from a hummingbird feeder too.

5. Northern Cardinal Northern Cardinal walking on the ground

The male flaunts reddish plumage and a red crest, while the female has brownish feathers with a tinge of red. 

A northern cardinal isn't picky about feeder design as it can use a tube, hopper, platform, or even gather fallen seeds. Give it its favorite foods, such as millet, white milo, black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and safflower seeds.

Its sturdy, thick bill can crack seed shells, so it eats many bird seeds. It'll show up on your property throughout the year. 

A northern cardinal has a characteristic hop instead of walking on the ground. You'll also see it hop from one branch to the other.

In North America, you can only see this species in the eastern states of the US.


6. European Starling European Starling looking to its reflection on the water

This songbird is about 8 inches long, and it's a common bird in North America. Its shiny black plumage has shades of green, purple and blue.

Its bill can't crack hard shells, so foods to please a European starling include suet cakes, cracked corn, and peanuts.

Remember:

Starlings are aggressive, and they may drive away other birds.

Therefore, you may have to starling-proof your backyard feeders and cover window ledges to prevent starlings from perching in your compound.

7. Red-Winged Blackbird Red-Winged Blackbird perched on the top of the tree

It's the most common blackbird in MA, often heard in the marshes and ponds in spring and summer. Though smaller than a robin, it's slightly under 9 inches long, so it's larger than a house sparrow.

The male red winged blackbird is the most colorful of both sexes, flaunting black body plumage and red shoulder patches with an orange border at the bottom. The female looks like a sparrow except that it's larger, has a sharp bill, heavy streaking on the belly, and its face is orangish.

This insect-eating blackbird prefers mixed grains and seeds spread on the ground.

8. Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk taking a meal

This predator might not hunt most of its food in your backyard, but having it around puts the smaller birds at risk. That'd mean taking down backyard feeders until the hawk disappears.

You may also do the same if Cooper's hawk or a bald eagle comes looking for dinner in your backyard. Like these three predators, the northern goshawk can show up for easy food, to hunt blue jays and woodpeckers.

If you notice a bird that's between 10 and 14 inches long, slim, short wings with rounded wingtips, a blue-gray back, horizontal reddish-orange bars on the belly, it's a sharp shinned hawk.

It may hunt woodpeckers, warblers, sparrows, and thrushes.


9. American Robin American Robin taking a bath

Treat it to a generous portion of mealworms, sunflower seeds, suet, or chopped apples, and you'll see more of it often. It prefers a platform feeder, and if it can find fallen seeds, even better.

Do you know how to tell it's an American robin? It has brownish-gray upperparts, long wings, and a reddish-orange underbelly. The female has paler plumage. You'll be looking for an avian that's between 7.9 and 11 inches long.


10. Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow chirping at the top of the tree

It's a summer resident, one that fills the air with its cheery song all day long. You'll hear it sing, whether in spring or fall.

This streaked bird has a round head, red-brown stripes running through the eye to the crown, and a rounded tail. Even with the steaks, you can see a white belly and flanks. 

This sparrow is between 4.7 and 6.7 inches long. It has the same wing to wing length as a house sparrow. However, its body length can be smaller as a house sparrow ranges from 5.9 to 6.7 inches long.

A song sparrow likes a platform feeder or feeding on the ground. It'll expect hulled or black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, safflower, and cracked corn.

11. Blue Jay

Blue Jay resting on the tree branch

Having a blue jay around will bring a pop of color. You'll see a vibrant bird with a blue crest, bluish-gray back, and a black necklace. If you first see it flying over your yard, you may not tell it's a blue jay as its underbelly is unmarked and pale.

A blue jay is between 13 and 17 inches long, so it's one of the larger visitors to your property. This crested bird species is common in North America. It bullies other species, sometimes chasing away its own. But, a blue jay may also protect smaller species from hawks.

If you want to see it more, stock cracked con, black oil sunflower seeds, fruit, millet, and mealworms.

12. Brown-Headed Cowbird Brown-Headed Cowbird perched on the top of a tree

As its name suggests, it has a chocolate brown head. The male has shiny black plumage, while the female's body has grayish-brown feathers. Sometimes, a female has faint streaking.

This blackbird can use a hopper, platform feeder, or feed on the ground. Its favorites are sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanut hearts, milo, oats, and millet.

13. Dark-Eyed Junco Dark-Eyed Junco eating on a bird feeder

You're likely to see it in Massachusett from October to April. It's so easy to ID a dark-eyed junco as its plumage has two colors. The male's head, back, and wings are slate gray, while the belly is white. The female has brownish plumage instead of slate-colored feathers.

Like the blackbird we talked about above, this one also uses a variety of feeders. Give it sunflower seeds, nyjer, milo, millet, cracked corn, or oats.

14. Common Grackle Common Grackle eating a sunflower seed

Look out for a species with shiny black plumage and iridescent patches. It has pale eyes and a long, dark bill with a slight downward curve.

A common grackle spends summer perched on fences or foraging on the lawns of suburban areas. It joins a flock of close to a million grackles as they migrate south in the fall.

You can attract common grackles by installing a feeder with oats, milo, millet, suet, or sunflower seeds.

15. American Goldfinch American Goldfinch eating on the bird feeder

This five-inch bird has stunning yellow plumage that fades to gray and brown in winter.

Therefore, if you see a male goldfinch in summer or spring, it'll awe you with its yellow plumage, black wings, and black cap. The female doesn't have a black crown, and its feathers are more butter than canary yellow.

When winter comes, both sexes acquire a grayish-brown shade though the male has some yellow plumage here and there.

An American goldfinch will come to your backyard looking for nyjer, but in the wild, it eats insects, berries, and seeds.

How To Attract Backyard Birds

Give Them A Home

Here's when you put all your construction skills to good use and build a birdhouse for your avian friends. You can also buy a ready home designed with a particular bird in mind.

Sometimes, the most appropriate home is a dense shrub or a dead tree trunk. 

Bring Water To Your Backyard

They need a birdbath and drinking water. However, the birdbaths shouldn't be too deep as the small birds can drown. 

Know What Birds Eat

Earlier, we mentioned the favorite foods for each species. It's easy to get most of them, but for fruits and berries, you may have to plant some in your backyard.

Clean The Feeder & Bath Regularly

Be the host who remembers to spring clean your bird feeders often and prevent avian diseases and food contamination.

Plant Trees They Love

Before you do so, know the trees to plant for specific species and the growing environment. For example, white dogwood, scrub oak, and winged sumac grows in dry, acidic soils. But, the common elderberry grows in wet, acidic soils.

Keep Predators Away

As soon as squirrels and other predators realize there's a bird feeder nearby, they camp there to analyze it and see how fast they can raid it. Even worse, predators eat birds. So, before preparing your feeder for its visitors, consider the predators attracted to the bird species you're hosting.

Leave Foliage And Snags

Yeah, a neat lawn boosts curb appeal. But, if possible, when you're hosting avians, it's okay to have the backyard strewn with leaves to attract invertebrates that make up the diet of some birds. Some species, such as the Carolina wren, use leaf piles as shelter.

Prevent Window Collisions

You may want to check the reflection on the windows if there are several injured or dead birds in your backyard. More so, if you find such birds under the same window. The window might be in the way of their flight as they leave the feeder. 

If that's the case, move it away, more than three feet from the window, so birds can pick up speed as they fly. 

Another solution is installing a window screen to break up the reflection and cushion birds in case of a window strike.

Since you're passionate about birds, would you mind if we share with you a list of some endangered species in MA?

Endangered & Threatened Birds in Massachusetts

The population of some species, such as grassland birds, is declining due to habitat loss, predation, and lack of prey.

By 2020, MA had nine endangered birds and seven threatened species. Of these, one was federally endangered and two federally threatened.

Let's look at a few of them.

Piping Plover

There's a breeding range in the eastern section of the state. You're likely to see this shorebird on lakeshores and sandy beaches. 

It’s listed as threatened in MA and federally because such habitats are decreasing daily. Such reports are disheartening because this state has the largest population of breeding piping plovers.

Watch this conservation effort to protect Piping Plovers in Massachusetts:

Northern Harrier

You'll enjoy watching northern harriers sky dancing, a courtship ritual where males dive, tumble, call, and somersault. This ritual marks the breeding season from March to August. 

Golden-Winged Warbler

It's on the endangered list due to population decrease. Interbreeding with blue-winged warblers might be contributing to this decline, albeit minimally.

Have you seen any of these endangered birds of Massachusetts?

Before we let you go work on your backyard feeder, here are:


Frequently Asked Questions About MA Birds

What birds are in Massachusetts in spring?

These two seasons are excellent times to go birding as the species will be returning to the state after wintering elsewhere. 

Look out for the American robins, the colorful red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, American goldfinches, and northern mockingbirds, among many other species.

You may need Stan Tekiela's Field Guide to know over 100 species and their ID details.

What is the MA state bird?

It's the black-capped chickadee, declared in 1941.

What is the largest bird in Massachusetts?

The bald eagle is the largest as it measures 27.9 to 37.8 inches long with a wingspan of 80.3 inches. Common loons are also large, measuring 26 to 35.8 inches long, but their wing to wing length is 40.9 to 51.6 inches.

Final Thoughts

Bird sightings on your property bring the excitement of feeding birds and watching them from dawn to dusk. It'll turn your property into an avian paradise with songs and calls.

But, your backyard may have all the good things an avian wants, such as food, a bath, and trees, but still, be unfriendly due to window collisions. As you prepare your yard, do everything you can to keep off predators and make avian friends feel at home.

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