Indiana Birds: 12 Familiar Backyard Species You'll Recognize

Two male cardinals perched on a branch

Last Updated: April 30, 2022

How does a beginner identify the backyard birds they see in Indiana? Many hobbyists and naturalists know how Indiana boasts a tremendous range of prime birdwatching spots.

But...

To make birding a worthwhile experience, your knowledge of different species would come in handy. Although you'd witness more of these birds during spring and fall migration, each season offers valuable opportunities, from merely observing to bird feeding backyard birds.

Let's begin your birding adventure by reading this article. Hopefully, it will help you get a personal overview of each species you'll likely find within the state.

The Most Familiar Backyard Birds In Indiana

If you're one to enjoy photographing birds in the wild, you can enjoy this fun activity year-round in Indiana. About five birding trails in St Joseph County are perfect not only for outdoor trips. Moreover, it is an abundant habitat for wintering birds, such as pine siskins and purple finches.

In addition to the biodiversity within the national parks, the coastline on Lake Michigan extending through Michigan City homes distinct bird species. Maybe you'll see a hairy woodpecker at the West Beach, or perhaps a great blue heron at the rookery.

These natural attractions favor the study of avian life, and soon enough, birding will be more of a passion than merely a hobby for you.

May this section be your practical companion to significant discoveries of different birds you may expect to see in such a diverse environment like Indiana.

1. Northern Cardinal A male Northern Cardinal eating a seed

Seeing the Northern cardinal in its bright red plumage against the cold winter snow can give you a warm feeling. It is one of the well-loved birds in North America and breeds throughout Indiana year-round.

You can find this eye-catching bird in riparian woodlands and forest edges across Indiana, often frequenting backyard feeders in winter. It likes nesting in shrubs, and aside from its red plumage, you will identify this bird with its striking crest, long tail, and thick bill.

This sweet-singing bird has eight to ten songs; Indiana has recognized it as its official state bird since 1933.

If you like feeding birds like this cardinal, know that it feasts on a tray feeder, enjoying high-energy seed mixes and peanuts. Such seed mixes typically contain black-oil sunflower, safflower, and assorted nuts. 

However, it would sometimes feed on insects as part of its supplementary diet. Males and females of this species do courtship feeding as part of their ritual before nesting.


2. House Finch House Finch perched on a bird feeder

You will have no trouble recognizing a breeding house finch male. It has a notable brown cap, brick-red breast, and bold brown streaks from its belly to its under tail feathers.

By comparison, non-breeding males have a pinkish head, while female house finches are grayish-brown birds with heavy streaks and white undersides. The male's bright red plumage is due to its carotenoid-rich diet in most wild fruits.

It used to be a native bird in the southwest but is now widespread across the United States.

These finches are typical urban and suburban breeders and frequent backyard visitors with a strong affinity for a tube feeder. This bird mostly does ground foraging for fruits and buds, enjoying black-oil sunflower seed or millet.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology initiated the Project FeederWatch in 1987 due to the "House Finch Eye Disease." It is a bacteria causing swollen, crusty eyes in house finches and other bird species in the north. Various citizens joined the cause to prevent this bird illness from spreading.


3. Mourning Dove Mourning Dove perched on a branch

The mourning dove is a ground-feeding bird species and likes nesting in the open. It is one of the wild birds in Indiana that makes sounds with its feathers. This whistling sound serves as the male's way of attracting female doves and a signal alarm when the bird takes off.

This slim-bodied, long-tailed dove has a warm buff plumage with greenish iridescence, pale rosy breast, and has black spots on its wings.

Although you might frequently notice it perching on power lines, a mourning dove breeds in various habitats across the state. This bird has no trouble thriving in human-altered environments but dwells primarily in open woods, towns, farms, and roadsides.

Seed is this bird's primary diet, which mourning doves consume whole. It won't think twice about eating any seed at your backyard feeder, like mixes containing sunflower seed, grain, milo, and millet. This dove also prefers roosting and nesting in evergreen trees.


4. House Sparrow House Sparrow perched on a hotel railings

The old and new world sparrow might share a name, but they are not closely related. The house sparrow belongs to the Eurasian family, Passeridae. This bird has undergone evolutionary changes since it arrived in the United States in 1850, leading to today's geographical variations.

This stocky, short-tailed bird sports a gray and chestnut upperpart in complex patterns during summer; males appear more subtle in winter with some black specks.

You can tell the male apart from its black bib that female house sparrows lack. Females also have that broad creamy patch behind their eyes, black eyestripes, and white chins. Such birds are well-known for building an untidy, flimsy nest using hair and feathers.

Native shrubs, such as holly and hawthorn, provide attractive conditions for these sparrows. Likewise, these birds prefer inhabiting cities, farms, and suburbs.

Additionally, house sparrows are aggressive cavity nesters, readily occupying them by driving birds away and killing their young to take over their nests. It is an invasive bird species that cause a declining population of native birds, including chickadees and swallows.

Despite many bird lovers referring to this sparrow as a nuisance bird, you may still find it visiting a backyard feeder. It enjoys feeding on white proso millet, whole and cracked corn, bread crumbs. Several landowners would even use a trap to prevent this bird from visiting their yards.


5. Song Sparrow Song Sparrow feeding in the snow

The Mounds State Park features a rich habitat of gentle streams and feeding grounds, making it an inviting spot for birds like the song sparrow. Park visitors often hear woodpeckers drumming in the area, spotting an Eastern towhee and the golden-crowned kinglet.

Its appearance is as variable as its songs due to the twenty-nine subspecies the song sparrow has.

Across the country, differences in size and color are apparent, including song sparrows with grayish, chocolate, and rusty brown plumages. The bird also tends to repeat one of its songs before proceeding to another. 

This sparrow is one of the three species, including Carolina wren and indigo bunting, that learn their songs by imitating adult birds of their kind. Generally, song sparrows are small and come in gray and brown plumage with boldly streaked white chests.

You might find it equally fascinating that even this sparrow has a diverse diet, like its appearance and songs. You can see this bird in small to large flocks during the cold months, scouring for seeds and grit along weedy edges.

Alternatively, this bird mainly feeds on insects in summer. Song sparrows also like inhabiting areas near water, brushy spots, beaches, parks, and forest edges, rarely visiting a backyard feeder.


6. American Robin American Robin perched on a fruit tree in fall

The American robin is the most sizable thrush in the United States, with males having darker heads than females.

It is reddish underneath, dark gray above, with females having faint-colored heads, a rounded body, long legs, and a long tail. You may also notice this creature having a broken eye-ring.

While American robins initially preferred nesting in open woodlands, these birds have already learned to adapt well to suburb gardens. This species enjoys eating all kinds of fruits and is one of the specific bird species, including the Eastern bluebird, that uses birdhouses.

However, its requirements for a high-protein diet, like the Eastern bluebird, wrens, and brown thrashers, is why it would visit feeders full of live mealworms. You might even notice this bird in a hummingbird feeder sometimes.

Nowadays, some birdwatchers even stock their feeder with fruits to attract this robin, the blue jay, and the gray catbird. In addition to its feeding habits, it is a tame bird but can be very loud. 

Its adaptability to several habitats is somewhat predictable, with migration patterns that can be repetitive. You may spot it flying exhaustively among the trees, falling off perches, enjoying a birdbath, or on lawns everywhere.


7. European Starling European Starling perched on a picnic table

This medium-sized passerine is well-known for exploiting various habitats, like cities and towns, savannahs, and forests. Starlings often win over nesting cavities when competing with native birds, such as kestrels and the enormous Northern flicker. 

The bird is highly vocal; you would never encounter a silent European starling, as it often mimics sounds from other birds.

You will identify this starling with its black face with iridescent purplish-black plumage in spring and summer and paler with white specks in fall and winter. Further, it has a sharp yellow bill, bluish-black belly, and pinkish-brown legs.

Due to its undesirable behavior, many people are not so fond of this creature since it robs many hole-nesting birds of their homes. The good thing about this seemingly annoying bird is that it also eats destructive insects.

European starlings are attracted to open water and birdbaths, sometimes drinking or bathing from them. These birds dwell in towns, cities, open woodlands, and farmlands; they enjoy meals like fruits, insects, and seeds and sometimes visit a suet feeder.


8. Blue Jay Blue Jay perched on a branch of autumn foliage

The bright blue-colored bird you encountered with white wings and tail, a black necklace, and a pointed crest is likely the blue jay. It is a handsome but rather noisy creature, alternating a series of screams and cries, although this bird also has a sweet song of soft whistles.

Blue jays have the reputation of recognizing a bitter taste, spitting out a probably foul-tasting monarch butterfly.

This cunning bird typically travels in small but noisy flocks when foraging for acorns. It visits a rural and suburban feeder; otherwise, you'll encounter this jay in parks and woodlands or anywhere where oak trees are abundant.

A blue jay prefers consuming seeds, insects, nuts, fruits, snails, tree frogs, and fish. You may chance upon this blue-colored bird at ground feeders with the American crow and common grackle or tray feeders with the Carolina chickadee.


9. Downy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker poses on the deck

Trees are a vital source of seeds and fruits, even insects and larvae. Birds like downy woodpeckers forage trees with their long, slender beak to probe the barks for insects. You can spot this bird in various habitats, a staple in every backyard, especially with suet feeders.

The downy woodpecker is a native cavity nester and the smallest, most familiar bird of its kind in North America.

These species create nest cavities well-suited for a Carolina chickadee, a house wren, and a white-breasted nuthatch. If you happen to notice an acrobatic bird, sometimes hanging upside down on weed stalks at your feeder, that's probably this woodpecker.

A downy woodpecker has dark bars on its outer tail feathers and a bill more diminutive than the hairy woodpecker. Its black shoulders, white underparts, and red nape patch are noticeable. 

The Lakeview Activity Center, easily accessible through Indiana State Park, has feeders that attract this woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, and tufted titmice. Such an incredible spot offers many birders countless opportunities to observe a wide selection of bird species.


10. Common Grackle Common Grackle perched on a branch

The common grackle is another Indiana bird that is also a ground-feeding species. It's that bird that you might typically encounter near water, as the female likes nesting there. Due to its adaptability to human surroundings, you can also find it in parks, groves, and suburbs.

Despite its abundance in many habitats and being a resident in most of its range, it is typical for common grackles to migrate in winter.

A common grackle has a pale yellow eye, keel-shaped tail, and long, pointed bill; the males with purple or greenish iridescence and females are less glossy. It is taller and has a longer tail than most blackbirds.

This sizable creature can be loud and conspicuous as it takes advantage of farm fields for feeding and nesting opportunities, breeding in open forests and edges. During their winter migration, you will see these birds in massive flocks, foraging residential and pastoral lands.

It enjoys cracked corn and sunflower seeds, even stale pieces of bread, although this bird is an unwelcome visitor at backyard feeders. Common grackles have a well-known reputation for being opportunists, devastating crops, and nestling birds or eggs.


11. Northern Flicker Northern Flicker perched on a snowy branch

A Northern flicker is a largely migratory bird breeding from North to Central America. It comes with a geographical deviation, varying in head patterns and body size, namely the red-shafted and yellow-shafted flicker, easily distinguishable when in flight.

This bird is noticeable for its distinctive pattern on its gray-brown plumage with black streaks on its back and wings and a light-colored underbelly.

Northern flickers retreat to the southern part of their breeding range during the fall season. You will often see it foraging the ground for insects, although this woodpecker also has a reputation for exploiting suet feeders.

It has a strong affinity for ants and beetles, which is why these are prominent in this bird's diet. This woodpecker also shows a preference for backyard nest boxes made from sawdust, although it is one to re-use an old nest too.

You will find more of these Northern flickers in most open woodlands, marsh edges, suburban backyards, city parks, and mountain forests.


12. Carolina Wren Carolina Wren perched on a branch

The chunky Carolina wren comes with a round-shaped body and a long tail, often cocking upward, while the bird seems to look around nervously. It also has a rufous and warm brown to buffy plumage with white spots on its wings, pinkish legs, a bluish bill, and a white eyebrow.

It is not unusual to witness a mated pair of Carolina wrens singing a persistent duet.

You might hear its loud sound, almost startling with its repetitive whistles, as this bird holes up in lush brushwood of honeysuckle. This bird's curiosity would sometimes lead it to enter open doors and windows in residential neighborhoods while seeking food. 

While this wren typically forages the ground for insects, it enjoys consuming peanut butter or suet at feeders. Carolina wrens are likewise fond of inhabiting bushy woodland habitats rich in tangles, vines, and shrubs.

However, this bird doesn't seem to mind lingering in garden brush piles or concealing its nest from the clutter in garages, open porches, or sheds.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why are there dying birds in Indiana?

Indiana DNR spearheaded the investigation of the sick or dead bird in the area. DNR biologists were uncertain what caused the increase in sick birds in almost five counties in Indiana. The American robin is the most affected songbird by this illness, based on the reports. 

Yet these experts confirmed that the songbirds tested negative for the West Nile virus and avian influenza. However, Indiana DNR still encouraged citizens to take down any bird feeder from their backyards to prevent the illness from spreading.

Are there wild canaries in Indiana?

The American goldfinch, also well-known as the wild canary, is among the common backyard birds breeding in Indiana. You can find the American goldfinch year-round across the state, widespread throughout North America. 

This bird has seasonal plumage variation, sporting a vibrant yellow color in summer and spring before molting into a plain greenish-brown shade in the fall. It graces tall meadow shrubs in parks or enjoys almost every feeder in residential areas.

Watch this video all about the American goldfinch:

What songbirds are in Indiana?

Of all the well-known songbirds in North America, the indigo bunting is the most abundant in Indiana. The Northern cardinal male and female sing a duet to strengthen their bond. The Northern mockingbird has a broad repertoire, and the European starling has a sweet voice.

You'll often hear the chattery house sparrow at almost every feeder; the song sparrow has several melodies, and the American goldfinch sometimes sings non-stop. Even the house finch is an early singer.

Final Thoughts

Indiana's abundant wildlife makes it a prime spot for many outdoor activities. The biodiversity of several habitats in the area, including grasslands, open waters, and forests, offers natural resources supporting various bird species.

The American crow is abundant in Hovey Lake, and the pileated woodpecker frequents a county park in southwestern Indiana. Even the Eastern towhee is a typical sight throughout Clifty Falls State Park in Madison; the Eastern bluebird draws attention in picnic areas in Clark County.

You see, you'll never run out of extraordinary bird sightings in this part of the Midwest. Whether it's a winter birding trip or side adventures, you will have many enriching activities across the state.

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